Social Media Use: How Much Is Too Much?

There’s little question that social media and hyper-texting can be a hyper distraction. As social media pervades our every minute in every venue of our personal and professional lives, we all recognize that, paradoxically, it can also be an obstacle to the very things we are trying to accomplish in terms of relationships and productivity.

Hyper Connectivity = Hyper Time Suck

We recently completed a series of interviews among college students, who nearly all admitted that Facebook was their favorite way to procrastinate. When my daughter needs to really focus on an exam or paper, she asks me to change her Facebook password to something she can’t guess until she’s finished.

“I check facebook 3-4 times a day (maybe thousands but I’m not admitting to that here.”  Male College student

“I use Facebook constantly, it’s a really good procrastination tool and way to stay in touch with everyone. I use it all the time. It’s the first thing I check when I turn my computer on.” – Female College Student

A widely cited study by Retrevo revealed 18% of those under 25 cannot go even a few hours without checking Facebook, and 55% check it at least daily.

Other Risks

Excessive social media use may have negative effects beyond distraction and loss of productivity. Research in a 4000-student Cleveland high school revealed a correlation between hyper-texting (defined as 120 or more texts a day) and hyper-networking (defined as 3 or more hours of social network use a day) and health issues.  Specifically, they learned that students who participate in hyper-texting and hyper-networking are as much as 3.5 times more likely to engage in risky behaviors:

  • The 19.8% of respondents who qualified as “hyper-texters” were:

–350% more likely to have had sex
–200% more likely to have tried alcohol
–55% more likely to have been in a physical fight
–41% more likely to have tried illicit drugs
–40% more likely to have tried cigarettes

  • The 11.5% of respondents who qualified as “hyper-networkers” were:

–340% more likely to have an eating disorder
–240% more likely to have attempted suicide
–94% more likely to have been in a physical fight
–84% more likely to have tried illicit drugs
–79% more likely to have tried alcohol
–69% more likely to have had sex

I asked my 17-year son, a high school junior, to comment on these statistics. He expressed no surprise, but also no concern. After all correlation is not causality. He quickly pointed out that the students who text a lot have more active social lives. That may suffice as an explanation, but it is little consolation to parents wondering if they should limit social media use in some way.

Getting a Grip

I recently read an article that purported to have a quick test to see if technology was in danger of becoming a destructive force in your life. Of the ten indicators, our family exhibits more than I quite like to admit. Is this a problem? I’m not sure. We don’t seem unusual, and our Twittering, blogging and Facebooking doesn’t seem all that  damaging — but how can you tell? After all, my parents thought I was addicted to my Princess Slimline telephone when I was 17 years old.

Benefits of A Social Media Vacation

JWT has listed a social media de-tox as one of the 100 trends to watch in 2011. Communications Professor Bill Sledzik did just that with a two-month break from the business side of social media. Sledzik intended 90-days but only made it to 69.  As he teaches social media and PR at Kent State, this was no casual decision.

Sledzik’s blog post on the experience, “How I Spent My Social Media Vacation” indicated that he discovered many productive ways to use the time, preparing a new class and rereading classic books like the “Cluetrain Manifesto” and “Groundswell”, as well as simply focusing more on relaxation. He claims he didn’t really miss it:

It just doesn’t matter. How many bloggers produce such compelling content that you can’t live without it? While I love the digital world, I believe more than ever in the Meatballs Mantra. It just doesn’t matter — at least in the scheme of life.My blog stats went in the crapper during this break, but so what? Still, I’d be lying if I said links and re-tweets don’t motivate me. When people share my ideas, its affirmation of my work and fuel for me ego. And you don’t do this unless you have a sizable ego. Longtime readers know that my conflict with the Web demons goes way back. I love this space, but I hate it, too. The blog gives me voice, but the burden of the blog hangs constantly overhead. A digital guilt trip.

Now that he has returned to blogging, reading blogs and sharing in the digital world, Sledzik ends with this question – if it weren’t for my job, would I just walk away? Sledzik isn’t sure and neither am I.  It is fun to be connected and sharing ideas. I genuinely enjoy my Twitter friends, the ‘thrill’ of seeing my posts get RT’s and comments. The question is whether I can do it in moderation, balancing the time spent with the firehose with time spent reading books and in reflection.

In Search of Balance

A few months ago I was struggling to write a book on social media and branding. I have written several articles on this subject and wanted to do a more thorough job. Yet it just wasn’t coming together. My good friend and colleague Gaurav Bhalla, an accomplished author himself, immediately diagnosed my problem. He pointed out that I was so immersed in what other people had to say on the subject I was having trouble finding my own voice.  When you are deeply into a subject, you are hyper sensitive to everything you read that is even remotely connected and it interferes with clear thought. Once I recognized this, and stopped obsessively reading every new post on the subject, writing became much easier.

I wonder if it is the same for some teens? In their effort to hear what everyone else is saying, they may be losing the ability to hear their own voice.   Everything in moderation, yet the demands of social media are so insistent, this may not be possible.