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This So-Called Digital Life: Re-Evaluating the Value of Social Media


I think I’m getting tired…

My connectedness is slowly seizing my quiet moments.

My sanctuary of enjoying my thoughts alone is now threatened.

The moments of watching life pass by as I take pause are now replaced by the need to plug in and socialize without truly socializing.

I swipe, pinch and zoom, and scroll as if I’ve become a digital conductor of sorts.

The light of my mobile screen is the calming I need to fall asleep each night and the stimulus that starts each day. I’m not alone in this statusphere.

The truth is that my thumbs hurt every now and then. It can only be from relentless txts, emails and updates. I know I’m not alone.

I often feel alone when I’m not connected or that I’m missing out when I read the updates of my friends. It makes me rethink my priorities in ways that wouldn’t be the most productive…at least by yesterday’s standards. Should I have joined them? Maybe getting out would be just what I needed. Again, I know I’m not alone.

I’m not addicted. I’m not in need of a digital intervention or digital detox. I intentionally live this connected lifestyle because I find value more times than not. It’s a choice. But, still I wonder. I wonder if the value I get out of my interaction across a dizzying array of networks is right or simply right in the absence of discovering alternative value or utility.

It comes down to virtue I suppose and where I choose to rank the qualities of social networks and connectedness in what ultimately defines who I am and what I do. Again, it’s a choice

In social media, there has to be something more fulfilling than attention and validation around this digital self-expression. There must be something more rewarding than the measure of people who see or respond to my expressions.

A Like, Retweet, comment, response, or view shouldn’t mean as much as they appear to, yet I see those who are consumed by the duality of a social life support system…living life in the real and digital life and trying desperately to tie them together. By way of illustration, Millennials and Generation Z kindle an unhealthy fixation on the number of interactions and followers they have on Instagram and Tumblr. Just follow the activities of a 13 year old on Tumblr, SnapChat or to see appreciate the inordinate worth placed on the number of people that follow them or respond to updates. If they don’t get what it is they solicit, they’ll try again…this time with a bit more fervor. As time passes, they’re self-conditioned to expect a baseline reaction.

With every action, we expect an equal or greater reaction…

New profile pictures.
Provocative questions or random icebreakers.
Humble brags.

We invite attention because we’re learning to lean on it and the reactions that pour through our screens warms us. It reminds us that we’re appreciated, that we’re loved, that we’re alive.

But, perhaps it’s this value system that requires reevaluation. I believe we can invest differently in order to get more out of this digital lifestyle

I refer to today’s value system in social engagement as the 5 Vs. With each update, we look for something in return and each represent a shifting balance between…

1) Vision (I learn something, I’m inspired);
2) Validation (I’m accepted or justified);
3) Vindication (I’m right, cleared);
4) Vulnerability (I’m open); and
5) Vanity (Not egotism, but accidental narcissism. I’m important),

These 5 V’s coalesce differently with each update and produce distinct emotional results based on the measure we apply to our own actions, reactions and inactions.

Whether we realize it or if it’s simply a matter of our subconscious seeking attention, inspiration, empathy or any other stimulus, we are compelled to share. That’s just human nature of course. In a connected society though, we owe it to ourselves reflect and deliberate new possibilities. This is for us and those whom we influence and inspire. Yes. This is bigger than just you and me. None of us have the answers. We’re learning. And, that’s what this is about…learning to learn.

I had the opportunity to interview Anil Dash at Pivot Conference in New York. Both a friend and someone whose work inspires me, Dash and I explored the state of the social web and its impact on a digital culture. The spirit of the conversation embraced the notion that the value system of the social web may have evolved upon a crumbling foundation of wrong and right. What is wrong and right anyway? Maybe the answer lies in the web we lost according to Dash.

“We will spend three-to-four years with our thumbs on our cell phones,” he shared with me during our interview. That statement caused the audience to gasp. It was obvious that they were thinking about it in the moment and long after the discussion was done. But our time together would only produce additional reflection. “The fact that I spend more time reading my social streams than I do reading to my young son is a problem,” he continued.

Dash believes that the answer lies in rethinking value to re-train ourselves in how we use and appreciate social media. Dash along with Lifehacker Founder Gina Tripani co-founded Thinkup, a new startup that connects your social networking accounts and tells you what matters about the time you spent there. ThinkUp aims to also help you “learn a little bit about yourself” and to “feel good about social networking.”

He, like you and me, seek not only balance, but significance and meaning to help us become something more than an accidental narcissist. It’s the only way to save a social web that we may be losing. The value we take away from this digital lifestyle must only be surpassed by what we invest in it. That’s for each of us to define. And define it we must.

My new book…#WTF

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72 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “This So-Called Digital Life: Re-Evaluating the Value of Social Media”

  1. When Brian Solis admits he feels jaded about social media, you don’t feel so all alone.

  2. mckra1g says:

    I’ve noticed that as a result of my immersive, integrated digital life, I have allowed IRL life social skills to either atrophy (or become less dextrous in the transitioning/translating). Also, being saturated by and within social media reminds me of witnessing an out of body experience while walking through fun house mirrors. I have to shut off the firehose on occasion, so that I can determine which “mirror” reflects my core: those present online or offline. The answer for me is usually “both.” I’ve always admired your approach to how we as a species operate within an emerging and amorphous medium. Thanks for helping me think today. Best, M.

  3. Kathleen Schmidt says:

    This is a very thought-provoking post! I actually find myself thinking the same way much of the time, and I am a college student, pursuing a degree in digital marketing!

  4. Lee Odden says:

    As a natural introvert, social has been an important appetizer of sorts for my real world interactions. That online to offline dynamic of learning and sharing is where a lot of my social “magic” happens. Distractions and temptations of time suck are all around, but as you say Brian, it’s a matter of choice, as well as priorities and values. I’m hungry for more though, so sign me up for a big plate of balance with sides of significance and meaning to go 🙂

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