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Social Bulimia

Sep 23, 2010 In Web Culture By Joshua Allen

Nearly every day, someone tells me about a love affair with a social media service gone sour. Whether Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla or Foursquare, the story is always the same: At first, you’re infatuated, finding delight in every new thing you learn about your love. Over time, the infatuation turns to comfort, and then comfort turns to obligation. Finally, the former delight is a distant memory, the relationship is a chore. You’re just going through the motions, and you feel trapped.

It’s easy to blame the problem on your lover. Reading blogs became a burden,so we started spending time with Twitter. Twitter became too nagging and needy,so we cozied up to Facebook. But things don’t get better—they get worse.

sick of eatingThe language I’ve heard people use to describe this angst is sometimes dire. “I get a sinking feeling when I launch Twitter,” says one. “It’s as if there is this huge plate of tasteless food in front of me and I have to force myself to consume it.” Another tells me, “Every day I feel a compulsion to process the list, do my retweets, share on Facebook. There is no joy in it; I just get twitchy if I don’t do it.” The travesty of it is that most of the material we’re digesting and passing along to our social media feeds is unoriginal. We can no longer remember why we got started in the first place; we’re trapped into being conduits for little bits of pre-digested “content.” It’s the social media equivalent of being a poor victim in “Human Centipede.”

Rather than chasing after lovers, hoping “it will be better next time,” maybe we need to admit that the problem is in ourselves. For this purpose, it’s illuminating to consider the disease of “Compulsive Hoarding“.

The television show “Hoarders” traces the lives of real-world people suffering from severe cases of compulsive hoarding. These people tell tragic stories that are eerily familiar to anyone suffering social media burnout. At first, collecting possessions makes them feel good. But they refuse to get rid of anything, and they are soon buried by stuff. Their compulsion interferes with normal life and robs them of joy. Some hoarders try to escape by buying second or third houses, but the new houses soon become filled with stuff.

I’m convinced that this psychology is one of the main reasons we get burned out on social media. When we think about unsubscribing from a feed, for example, we get anxious. We remember the feeling of delight and discovery that made us subscribe in the first place, and we’re afraid of losing that. We think, “This person might say something really important again some day.” Like a meth addict who has lost all pleasure from the drug, we still think back to the first good feelings we had, plaintively saying, “Remember the first time? We had fun, didn’t we?”

Fortunately, beating social media burnout is far easier than curing compulsive hoarding, kicking a meth habit, or escaping a serial killer. Are you ready? Here it is…

empty roomUnsubscribe or Unfollow EVERYTHING. It’s the social media equivalent of burning the house down with all the stuff in it. You need to make sure you have no place to go back to. Force yourself to start fresh. Don’t bother writing down a list of “must subscribe” sites that you plan to re-subscribe to as soon as you’ve wiped the slate clean. That’s cheating. You need to burn your little black book with the house. If absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, it’s not important anyway.

Now, take a day off. When you come back, promise yourself that you’ll subscribe, follow, etc. a maximum of ten items the first day. And now is when the magic begins. Only subscribe to things that really delight you. Instead of dreading an overstuffed queue of items to process, you’ll be seeing things you love and wishing you had more. You’ve jettisoned the obligation and regained the serendipity. You’re falling in love all over again. Will things eventually go sour? You can count on it. But then you just wipe the slate clean and start over. For me, this is every 6 months; it might be different for you.

This technique has worked beautifully for me. I’ve tamed my social media burnout and even rekindled the fires with my first love, RSS.

How about you? How have you dealt with social media burnout? Do you feel a compulsion to consume and retweet or share a big plate of content each day? If you deleted all your subscriptions today, how long would it be before you miss us too much and add MIX Online back to your feeds?

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8 comments so far. You should leave one, too.

Tyler Herman Tyler Herman said on Sep 24, 2010

Nice article. I pretty much stay away from twitter but I have to do spring cleaning on my RSS feeds and bookmarks every couple of months. So much of the information out there is regurgitated you only need to find the handful of useful sources and inspiration and stick to them. Social media seems to be becoming a novelty or chore.

Morgan Morgan said on Sep 24, 2010

I enjoy Twitter and because I don''t have a smart phone, I''m forced to use it in moderation, which is nice. However, there are days where I will want to read every tweet or article posted and pretty soon I''ll have over 10 or 20 tabs open that I feel obligated to read--that I feel that I need to read. You need to find a social media platform that fits your needs and stick to it. I don''t think it''s necessary to have a million accounts that you''ll have to continue to maintain just to stay in the loop. It''s too much.

fjpoblam fjpoblam said on Sep 24, 2010

I guess I haven''t had that problem: I prune once a week, already. Don''t read it, it''s gone.

Essex Website Designers Essex Website Designers said on Sep 27, 2010

I think this happens to everyone, wether they realise it or not, everyone ends up on facebook everyday or tweeting about nothing important, it annoys me more then I could imagine so I stay away from social media use at home.

Tim Tim said on Oct 8, 2010

I just watched that Southpark Episode about Facebook ... wich is rather hilarious! Me personally always choose not to get drawn to deep into these & try to keep it casual, keeping in touch via phone to my closest friends not social media sites. Great Article!

Elizabeth Eadie Elizabeth Eadie said on Oct 14, 2010

I do this every so often with my reader (blogs) and twitter. It''s like spring cleaning!

Primary Doctor- True Care Clinic said on Dec 12, 2011

I guess that it is true.
Thanks for good information.

You need urgent care-Astoria Urgent care queens said on Dec 12, 2011

Twitter is best communication tool.
Thanks for your sharing.