by Kimberly Moynahan
Science in Society subject editor
Yup, those were the days. Dialing in. Enduring hours of busy signal. Waiting interminably for the connection. Peering hopefully at the little AOL mailbox, wishing…wishing … wishing for …yes! The red flag’s up!
Okay, those weren’t really the days. The online world was frustratingly slow and, for most of us, was confined to little gated communities like AOL. There you could converse in chatrooms with up to 23 random people, most of whom were “single, well-built, 6’2”” men with names like SwordBearer87604, whose conversational prowess was limited to typing “a/s/l.”
Or you could choose from directories to read news, find recipes, or read other information, all curated by AOL, and you could do email – all for an hourly fee.
So why am I taking you on this trek into our archaic past?
Because we couldn’t have known then that our Pavlovian response to that little red flag would turn into this:
Today, not only do we go online to engage in our social networks, but those networks come to us. Our email, desktops, and phones bring us a veritable flood of reminders of things we need to do to “stay connected.”
And with those reminders comes the nagging feeling that we’re missing out; that other people are talking about events, reading articles or books, or arguing over things we should be aware of.
For science bloggers this unease can extend beyond just feeling like we’re missing the latest viral cat video, trending hashtag, or a Facebook friend’s birthday.
We’re trying to keep up with our own fields of science and those that interest us, we’re monitoring the state of science and science communication in general, we’re scanning for story ideas, and we’re trying read and support our fellow bloggers.
So every Tweet or update from Facebook or Google+ has a feeling of urgency about it. And that feeling can become overwhelming.
Taking part in social media is a necessity for bloggers, at least those trying to gain readership beyond our friends and families. We have to engage with our peers and audience, and it’s important that we do our share to promote and support them.
But every minute spent dealing with our social media stream is a minute not blogging. And when those minutes add up to hours and days, a blogger can quickly end up in the ranks of the “Sorry.”
So what’s the answer to managing this flood?
When you pose that question online, the answer usually comes back in the form of tools – Tweetdeck, Twitter list managers, Feedly, Tweet schedulers, email filters, and apps that claim to manage all your social media in “one convenient location.”
Some of these tools are really useful. But I don’t think tools are the solution.
Here’s the thing: Turning out blog posts one after the other is the only path to blogging success. Your 3,000 Twitter followers mean nothing if you’re not writing. It’s a little bit like showing up to a cocktail party and never having anything original to add to the conversation.
So, this won’t come as a surprise when I say: I think the only answer is to unplug from social media. Not permanently, but regularly and at length.
How and when you do that is an individual choice. For me it means carving out a sacred few hours every morning before I even look at my phone or computer. For you it might mean unplugging your modem, scheduling an hour of #madwriting, packing up and “writing away,” or enlisting the help of an app to prevent you from checking your Twitter stream “just for a minute.”
I’m never one to advocate going back the “good old days.” But I think it’s worth thinking about occasionally making our social media a little more like logging onto AOL, an act of intention that entails enough effort to make us think twice before committing the time.
It’s a good reminder that we are not slave to the modern descendants of the little red flag.