It all started with Facebook. Four years ago, like 3065132 million billion Americans, I set up a Facebook page to keep in touch with relatives, network with friends, and trade YouTube clips and photos. It was simple to set up, easy to navigate, and made communication time-efficient.
Then I started a blog, and was drawn into a vast world of social media. I discovered Twitter, and quickly learned how to increase my blog traffic through tweets with post links. Then I created a separate professional Facebook account. From there, it was a hop, skip and a jump into Klout...which led me to Pinterest...followed by Instagram, Hootsuite, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Tribber, and Faveous. (You can look for me on all of them.) And now I am officially a social media addict. My iPad accompanies me wherever I go. I get visibly twitchy when the battery level on my phone dips below 40%. In addition to blogging, my hobbies including sending out friend requests, checking in, and having anxiety attacks that I'm not doing enough to maintain my social media presence.
As I'm drawn more into the world of blogging, I feel a relentless pressure to join the newest networks. According to Nielsen, social networking is now the most popular online activity, ahead of sending e-mails, searching the Internet and playing games. One in every four-and-a-half minutes spent on the Web is spent on a social networking site or blog. And last year the average visitor spent 66 percent more time on such sites than in 2009, when early adopters were already feeling digitally burnt out.
The New York Times recently examined this trend, which they dubbed "digital fatigue." But as far back as 2008, Scientific American Mind magazine examined the increasing digital fatigue we are facing as a result of always being plugged into technology. According to a study conducted by the article's authors, our neural circuitry actually becomes rewired as we become more reliant on social media.
After only five consecutive days of internet use (one hour/day), subjects newly introduced to the internet rewired their brains to match those of the computer-savvy subjects in the study. While the adaption of our brains to optimize internet use might sound enticing, the study warned that this rewiring forces us into a state of "continuous partial attention", in which we're keeping tabs on everything, while never truly focusing on anything.
The result? A condition called "techno-brain burnout", where people place their brain in a heightened state of stress through the continuous partial attention to anything and everything. Because our brains were not built to sustain this level of stress, "techno-brain burnout" (or digital fatigue) threatens to become epidemic. Some side effects of digital fatigue include reduced attention span, anxiety, digestive problems, and insomnia. Clearly, this is a very real problem.
So how can a social media savvy blogger avoid digital burnout while still maintaining an active online presence? Here are some tips:
- Set a strict amount of allotted hours for internet usage: There is no doubt that forcing yourself to spend time away from the computer will help reduce digital fatigue. The simple act of unplugging your computer and relocating it into a different room is effective at reducing internet usage.
- Link accounts (which is possible with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google +): This strategy makes it possible to communicate one message across multiple platforms simultaneously.
- Use Internet management software: Software such as Freedom restricts internet usage for a certain amount of time, and can help set limits on the amount of minutes spent on your computer.
- Wean down your follower list: This technique has proven to be hugely successful at managing social media stress. I am in the process of cutting down my followers on Twitter and Facebook, and already feel less anxious when scrolling through my feed.
- Use syndication tools: Applications such as Ping and Hootsuite help reduce the amount of time spent on social media.
As a blogger, how reliant are you on social media tools? Which ones do you use? Do you ever feel "left out" in regards on maintaining an active online presence? How many hours a day do you spend on the internet? Do you feel a sense of anxiety when you're away from your computer? Do you have any advice for those looking to avoid social media burnout?