This post is the first in a series reporting the key learnings from my recent #NoSearch project, where I went two months without using an internet search engine.
Do you think internet friendship and being hyper-connected is all it’s cracked up to be?
There have been several posts recently by well-respected bloggers covering the subject of social media fatigue: the feeling of being overwhelmed by the constant demands of your Facebook friends, blogging community and Twitter followers, and that you’re getting little back for the time you’re putting in. And in a recent Observer column by the extremely insightful Aleks Krotoski, she explains that she too feels that “the online world has become increasingly empty”. Having just completed the #NoSearch project, where I’ve been very reliant on my social networks, this is thought-provoking stuff.
Aleks says that as the number of connections she’s made through social networks has grown, she’s started to suffer from what she terms “social network emotional anaemia”, where she’s “no longer receiving the same degree of closeness I feel I need” from the online communities she once loved, and that “my online world is full of strangers with whom I’m too scared to interact”. This description of ultimately meaningless online connections is classic social media fatigue, and it’s something that I personally recognise. Maybe because of #NoSearch and my dependence on social networks over the last nine weeks, maybe just coincidentally, I’ve been experiencing my own social media angst recently. I’ve been growing a little tired of the self-righteous and sycophantic nature of some blogging communities and, conversely, the argumentative and aggressive nature of others. I know, I know…I’m contradicting myself and essentially it’s my problem, not theirs. Suck it up, Sutton.
But from a less gloomy and more constructive perspective, what #NoSearch has taught me is that what Aleks is describing is correct: when it comes to social networks, bigger isn’t better. When I started the experiment, I fully believed that I needed to further expand my networks in order to help me out, with the theory that the larger my number of connections, the greater the collective intelligence and the greater the number and quality of responses I’d receive to any given question. But it’s not true. When you’re using social media as a search engine, it becomes very apparent that the social web is extremely fragmented, and that makes developing closer friendships and finding relevant information far more difficult than it should be when the concept of the web in the first place was to connect us all. So I’d theorise that, beyond a certain level, there’s an inverse relationship between the size of a personal network and its value/usefulness.
Going back to a post I wrote a few weeks ago, there was a fantastic quote I’d read that stands out for me: “When everything’s social, nothing is”. The more details of our lives we share across ever-more platforms, the less impact each ‘share’ has. All the information from all the people merely becomes white noise. And that’s why I love Google+ so much; the effortless ability to filter what you see and hear using Circles. So for me at least, I’ve started to pair down the networks I’m using (goodbye LinkedIn) and started to concentrate more on the people with whom I have friendships and whom I can truly learn from on the social web. #NoSearch tells me that being slightly less social is actually the key to developing meaningful connections.
Part two of this series will look at the power of social networks as ‘personal search engines’.
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