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07/20/2009 Tuning Out, Dropping In

I promised myself that I wouldn't use social media all last week on my vacation. It was harder than I thought, but I made it easily. I found that it was not only a refreshing freedom, but that it gave me some insights into the social media phenomenon itself.

Why was it so hard? One thing social media does to me (and others whom I've observed) is that it makes me a little less participatory. It adds distance, since I'm not only looking at things as I see them, but also trying to put things into perspective for others. I become a reporter or even a commentator. Sometimes even anthropologist. As my old history thesis advisor always said, "What you see depends on where you're standing."

So rather than look at my vacation experience and try to break it down into Tweets or blog post, I threw myself in with nary a social media care. I didn't have to worry about the people who weren't present. I could, instead, embrace the people who were.


I enjoyed myself immensely. And now, having lived fully through it, I can reflect on it afterwards. So one question I have for us social media nuts is:

Does participating in social media make us less present?

It's something I'll be much more aware of, moving forward.

The other thing that struck me was that, having been active in social media for some time now, I took that same feeling of connection, generosity and curiosity and made sure I was doing the same offline, as I was online.

So instead of connecting with new people who's names all begin with @, I was meeting Stina, another ex-pat Swede who had her own clothing store in Vineyard Haven, or Anya, from Minsk, who was studying at the American University in Bucharest and working summers in the U.S., or Pat, who's Mom grew up on the island and who'd spent every summer of his 65 years there.

It made my trip much more interesting. And what I took away from that is that it's not enough to be social on the networks, you need to be social in person, in your stores, through your customer service and elsewhere.

We always tell brands to apply the same people skills they use offline to social media, but maybe the opposite is true. Maybe it's easier for brands to practice acting personable through social media and then bring that back into the organization.

In any case, I had a great vacation, even without social media, and I'm glad to be back.


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