I’ve been having a crisis of faith lately related to social media. It started with my Facebook account about a year ago and then about 6 or 8 months ago I deactivated my account. I’m still too chicken to actually delete it – I have family that I “may” want to stay in touch with in the future and I do use messenger to have conversations. I do still use Twitter, but even that is becoming less and less interesting.
See, I use social media for fun.
I like to post what I consider witty one-liners and what everyone else considers drivel. I like to see the humor my other humans attempt as well. Rarely does it afford me any sort of real intellectual stimulation unless it is a back and forth with one or two really specific people about one or two really specific topics. The actual ongoing stream of consciousness on Twitter (and I can still imagine now on Facebook) is a lot more like the green letters in the Matrix movies, continuously falling in front of my vision with little or no real meaning or purpose.
But I see people who are immersed in social media. Retweeting, listening, commenting on everything. Participating in every HR focused Twitter chat event possible. (I know – how would I know if I’m not there? You’re right – I’m infected too… but now I’m on appropriate meds.) This idea of being on social media constantly didn’t use to bother me. In fact, I would have been the one arguing the benefit of being exposed to all the various ideas and points of view. More is better. But even with the most accurate BS meter in the world, I think social media is hurting our collective professional ability.
No Future – No Past
I’m reading a book called “Mastery” by Robert Greene. The name may be familiar. He wrote “The 48 Laws of Power” and a few other best sellers. I’m just digging in right now, but he sets up the discussion that the way our vision and eyes evolved is what really helped humans “master” our environment and survive in prehistoric Africa, even though we weren’t the biggest or most agile predators in the neighborhood. He suggested our powerful vision, initially designed to grab branches in the moment as we quickly moved about the treetops, adapted to life on the savannah as we left the trees to explore our bipedalism. We learned how to use our vision to focus on details. Because our eyes are in the front of our faces, we are much more adept at depth of field and 3-D imaging. He suggests that our eyes were not built for “scanning” like, say, a cow, who can see changes in the environment quickly. To quote the author… (I promise it will bring me back to social media) …
“Animals are locked in a perpetual present. They can learn from recent events, but they are easily distracted by what is in front of their eyes. Slowly, over a great period of time, our ancestors overcame this basic animal weakness. By looking long enough at any object and refusing to be distracted – even for a few seconds – they could momentarily detach themselves from their immediate surroundings. In that way they could notice patterns, make generalizations, and think ahead. They had the mental distance to think and reflect, even on the smallest scale.”
I read that and immediately thought of my Twitter and Facebook streams requiring I see one thought after another, constantly jumping from one idea to another, always needing to be in the present, never having time to reflect on one idea before another takes its place in my field of view.
Social media is a constant presence.
Social media has no past or future – only a continuous now.
Professionals Need Distance to be Professional
I have watched clients and associates delay decisions because they are so afraid they will learn something new in the next few hours, days or months that could make their decision wrong. How can you move an organization forward when you’re constantly worried the next tweet, post, or snap “may” hold the secret to a better decision?
The idea of a constant now and the fear of missing out makes it almost impossible to truly think. It makes it almost impossible to make a decision.
I’m no Luddite. I know these tools are helpful and there is no way to put the genie back in the bottle. I also know business changes fast and we need to be able to react quickly. But there is a big difference between reacting quickly to changes in the environment and being paralyzed by not seeing the bigger picture and taking time to pull the camera back and bring in more of the context of our decisions. Remember, making no decision can still be as bad of a decision as actually making a bad decision.
Our feeds are full of half-truths, intentionally misleading statistics and pithy (yet wrong) quotes designed to make us want to read the next post and the next. Social media is designed to eliminate anything outside that particular moment. Their business model is built on you never leaving the feed.
I suggest, to be better people, to be better professionals, we pull back from social media and stop being cows – stuck in the perpetual present – and make the effort to truly focus on the things that really matter – the people and their needs. Have a conversation where you can get context.
Don’t worry. You’re not missing anything.
If you don’t believe me – think about what is in your feed right now. If it is like mine – it is probably still full of things about employee engagement, cloud computing, better ways to analyze data – you know – the same exact things that were in your feed 5 years ago.
Ask yourself. Have you really missed anything? Has anything really changed?
Go get coffee. Get on the real social network – hang around the company cafeteria or the hallway coffee pot.
(PS: Please share this on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and your personal blog. Thanks.)
Paul Hebert is Vice President of Individual Performance Strategy at Creative Group Inc, writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. He is dedicated to creating true emotional connections often overlooked in our automated, tech-enabled world. Using proven motivational theory, behavioral economics and social psychology he has driven extraordinary company performance for his clients. Paul is widely considered an expert on motivation, incentives, and engagement.