At first glance, a one month break from Social Media might hardly seem worthy of being called a “sabbatical” – but trust me, in the online world, one month is very easily comparable to a year.
I have been involved in technology all my life. Since 1995 (in my penultimate year of high school) I was connected to the Internet, and have been ever since. Around the same time I also started teaching technology. In 1999 I started a technology business, and in 2006 I shifted by business into the Social Media arena, and have thus been using sites like Facebook and Twitter to a high degree ever since.
When I teach Social Media many people expect technical instruction in the very first engagement. They don’t get that from me. I endeavour to first explain the human behaviour and sociological phenomena that underpin the immense success of Social Media. People always tell me that they never expected my methodology, but that they prefer it due to its significance.
When I meet up with family and friends, I’m often asked where I get the time for Social Media, because my Social Media activity is quite frequent. Firstly, looking at the human behaviour rationale behind time: we always make time for what we deem important. I deem Social Media as important, and therefore I make time for it. Secondly, being in the industry helps to use the networks smartly. So I use various tricks and smart moves to keep my presence highly active, without spending much time on the actual Social Media websites.
Many fanatics believe that Social Media is the best thing since sliced bread. It’s not. It’s a tool, amongst many other tools at our disposal. It’s a valuable and indispensible tool, but not exclusively so.
I have always valued relationships. Relationships are what connect me to people, and it’s all about the people, as they rightly say. I have a personal principle that if someone crosses my mind, I will most times contact that person immediately (via a text message, phone call, etc), or at least make a note to make contact in the near future. I’ve done this for years. In this way my relationships remain fresh. I know that the world is interdependent. This means that although we’re all independent to some degree, we are all still interdependent, reliant on each other in some or other way. When relationships are fresh, addressing the needs of each other becomes easier. The opposite is also true. When relationships are not well nurtured, asking for help can be unpleasant.
Let me explain. Have you ever received a phone call from someone you haven’t spoken to in years? At first you’re overjoyed and your brain immediately calls up the history of the relationship. Some usual chatter ensues, and then the person asks for something: like the number of someone else, or some other information. How do you feel when that happens? It’s a terrible feeling. You then realise that the person didn’t call to speak to you. They simply wanted some information.
The same is true online. Fresh relationships reap value. As part of my research, I monitor Social Media profiles, trying to understand what works and what doesn’t work. I find that people who add value online, and act as real human beings (and not robots!), are the people who solicit the most interaction and engagement. Once I was at my desk, working, and Facebook was open. Up pops a Facebook chat message. It’s a friend in Cape Town who runs a web development company. He asks me to post a message on my Facebook profile. I agree, but I’m confused as to why he doesn’t post the message onto his own Facebook profile. I ask him about it. He replies: “When you talk, people listen.” I reflected on that for a while. I realised that people will respond to you if you are open and give value to them often. As Gary Vaynerchuk says: “Give, give, give, give, give… then ask!” A few years ago Mohamed Geraldez from New York said to me: “…I just wanted to thank you for your very informative posts and Web 2.0 / Web 3.0 info that you always provide. I must admit, I read them all. Your dedication to assisting others navigate through the rapidly evolving web is to be commended.”
Would you rush a personal relationship? Let’s say you met someone at a dinner party. Would you call the person later the same night? And send them five text messages before bedtime? And another five calls the next day? Do that and you might find yourself at the wrong end of a restraining order.
The same applies online. You cannot bombard people with information. You cannot send one hundred links or quotations on the same day. Pace yourself. Realise that real people are reading your messages. The reason most people get this wrong is because they see “offline” relationships as real, and they don’t view online relationships in the same way. This is a mistake. The same rules apply. People are people.
An Unintended Sabbatical
I gave that introduction about myself and my views on Social Media as an entry point into how this sabbatical occurred.
Being sensitive to people, offline and online, I know that sometimes people might need a break from me. That might sound funny, but it’s true. One of my mentors taught me a poetic verse by Khalil Gibran. It says: “Let there be space in your togetherness.” This understanding has been very beneficial to me in a number of ways.
It is for this reason that, every now and again, I remain silent in Social Media arena for a day or two. It’s merely to give people a break from me. 7 April 2013 was supposed to be one of those silent days. And it was only meant to last a day – or two for the most – as is the norm. But after the second day, I thought about stretching it out to a week. Then a week became two weeks, and now it’s a month later.
I felt an inspiration to ride this wave, to try to experience life without Social Media. I wanted to step back, and move out of the busyness of constant engagement and interaction.
A few years ago, upon seeking religious legal advice from one of my mentors, he suggested that I keep reevaluating my intention. This really stuck with me, because our intentions change all the time. And we’re taught that actions are judged by their intentions – so that makes it a pretty big deal.
Intention evaluation defends from the evolution and even corruption of intentions without realisation. Sometimes we start to do things with a sincere intention, but sometimes that sincere intention turns into an ego trip or a search for fame, or other such motives.
I share most of what I do online. There are certain things that I keep absolutely private, and I’m fully aware of them, but most things I share freely. A few months ago someone said to me (based on my online profile): “You’re very comfortable in your own skin.” No one had ever said that to me before. I guess it’s because I’m just me – I don’t try to be anyone other than me. Oscar Wilde said: “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”
While sharing online about my offline activities, I often evaluate my intention. Firstly, am I doing what I’m doing because it’s the right thing and because I want to be doing it? Or is it so that I can talk about it online? Secondly, when I share my activities online, is it because I want to add value to people and inspire them (as I claim), or is it merely an ego trip? Anthony Robbins says in his talks: “I’m not trying to impress you, I’m only trying to impress upon you…” When you’re constantly engaging online it’s difficult to truly assess yourself though. You’re so busy engaging, so much so that the intention becomes blurred to some degree.
The sabbatical was a great lesson in this area. I found myself doing the same things as before. I was just as busy, and just as productive. This was evidence (to me at least) that I was doing things for the right reasons, and not merely to talk about them online. Business activities, training events, community work, they all continued in the exact same manner without the need to talk about them online. Thank God for that!
We all have different personal values. I’m not talking about beliefs or religious values. I’m talking about deeply personal values and priorities. Knowledge is without a doubt my highest value – by far! I’m always learning. It’s in my DNA. I’m always reading and learning, always enquiring and investigating.
My second highest value is sharing, and it’s very tightly coupled to knowledge. What is the value of knowledge if it is not shared? It’s one of the reasons I don’t see myself as a technology expert, even though my strongest background is technology. I see myself as a teacher. I have been teaching technology for years, and I see technology as a mere means, not an end. That’s one of the reasons that I’m becoming more and more involved in leadership work. I’ve realised that I’m more inclined to leadership work as a primary objective, with technology as a strong backbone and catalyst for effective leadership teaching and activation.
I cannot read a book in a hurry. I have to read, and reflect, and literally think how I can teach the portion I have just read. While reading I make notes in a notebook or on my phone so that I can share what I have learnt. Many of you might know that I am a strong advocate of Dr Stephen R Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s been a bestseller for closer to three decades. At the very beginning of the book Covey recommends reading the book as a teacher, and thus with more understanding and concentration. I’m not sure if he gave me the initial idea, or if I learnt it earlier on in life.
I use many Social Media apps on my mobile devices, and the frequency of usage of any particular app depends largely on its sharing ability. I’m referring here specifically to content aggregation apps. I use a few of them. If an app aggregates the best content, and has the best interface, but it’s sharing capabilities are mediocre or absent, I will not use that app. When I’m reading content in an app, I must easily be able to share that content in a variety of ways, to different people who access information differently.
It’s very difficult for me to learn without sharing. The two are intertwined for me. My sabbatical thus prevented me from seeking information online, because seeking information would lead me to wanting to share the same. So I confined my learning to books, audio recordings, and video material. I must say that my learning has been more focused and more refined over the sabbatical period, and that is no doubt a wonderful thing. My sharing has been limited though, and I realise, more than ever, that I have an innate need to share. Social Media is thus a key element in fulfilling my highest values: seeking knowledge and sharing it.
On Social Media platforms I openly share information (with caution around security issues of course) about where I am or what I’m engaged in. The sabbatical halted this. The downside was that I was not able to share with others and engage with them, getting their opinions and views on certain issues. But the profound upside was that I gained so much presence in what I was doing, because I wasn’t thinking about how I would share the experience. I don’t know about you, but I’m a planner. I plan activities, my time, and I plan emails and conversations in my head. So when I’m experiencing something, or learning something, I’ll work out in my mind how I am going to share that in the Social Media world. When there is no chance of sharing, the presence increases, because you’re not trying to work out in your head how best to share what you’re experiencing. And that is a wonderful thing.
Social Media certainly has its values, but one of the drawbacks is that is decreases our presence. This is especially true when surrounded with friends and loved ones. We’re so engaged with people who are not present – via our devices – that we can’t engage with the people who actually are present. I met a lady from the US who works in the Social Media space. She was in Cape Town doing a workshop, and she said that her family has a 24-hour Internet-free block each week. A solid 24 hours where no one is allowed to be connected to the Internet on any type of device. I think that’s a worthwhile exercise to undertake.
At present the bulk of my work revolves around Social Media. I teach it, I consult around it, I develop strategies around it, and I use it extensively for research. During my sabbatical I found myself giving Social Media workshops, and consulting on Social Media usage – and this was all very odd, not being able to engage in Social Media at the same time. I was forced to open Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn on several occasions during the sabbatical to find people or bits of information. I made sure I did not “indulge” though, and logged out as soon as possible. I was forced to open up Social Media websites during training sessions as well, but alerted my students that I could not post anything due to the sabbatical.
Due to work and modern day demands, this sabbatical was confined to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I used the Internet in general to pretty much the same degree as before, and I used chat platforms like Whatsapp to the same degree as well. I was forced to use Facebook’s Inbox system because many business people use it these days to setup meetings. There is a confined Facebook Messenger app for that though, so using it didn’t necessitate me to have access to the rest of Facebook.
I must admit that one Social Media platform which I used quite a lot during the sabbatical period is Pinterest. Pinterest is a pinboard-style photo-sharing website, and it’s more about discovery than about relationships or searching. I enjoy it very much, and have always used it for personal (and not business) discoveries. I did not “pin” anything on Pinterest though, because those would show up on my Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Social Media Management is one of the services offered by our company, and to deliver this service we use an app called HootSuite. You should try it. It allows you to create a personalised dashboard of all your Social Media accounts, so that they’re all easily accessible and usable from one place. HootSuite allows for message scheduling, and I use that quite often. I schedule messages sometimes hours in advance, and sometimes days and weeks in advance.
During my sabbatical a message was posted which I scheduled weeks before, but which I had obviously forgotten about. My good friend Jo Duxbury sees my tweet and says, “YOU TWEETED” – the message pops up on my phone. I’m confused. I didn’t tweet. Then I realised it was a scheduled message from weeks before.
When scheduling a message via HootSuite it is possible to stop it from being posted, but in this case I didn’t think to check my scheduled list when the unexpected sabbatical started unfolding.
As the sabbatical progressed more and more people started contacting me via phone or text messages, enquiring if I’m okay. It feels good to be missed. I really care about the people I’m connected to, my community as I prefer to call them, and I really try my best to add value in the best ways that I can. So when people notice your absence, it’s a small indication of an achieved mission. There is a saying of a sage: “Live a life such that: when you’re alive people want to be around you; and when you’re passed on, people will want to claim that they knew you.”
I am truly grateful to be able to reach so many people via Social Media, and I’m truly grateful for having so many great people in my community. And of course, I’m always indebted to my teachers and mentors. Many of them are using Social Media to reach out to more people, and that’s another proof of the importance of this medium.
For starters, my interaction with Social Media differs from the casual user because I find myself in the industry. So my sabbatical would be somewhat different to that of another. This was a personal experience, and it was worthwhile for me. I’ve only shared it with you in the hope that there might be some value in it for you, and your view on Social Media.
Covey talks about P/PC balance. P is Production. PC is Production Capability. We have to attend school for some years, and then we attend college or university, that’s all PC – we’re enhancing our capability to produce. Once we’re good at something, or qualified in some field, we need to shift into P mode – we have to produce, we have to do things, we have to earn a living. A person who studies until the age of 40 without having worked a day in his or her life is totally out of balance. That’s not a studious person. That’s a dumb person. PC continues only while P is in active mode. So while we’re working and earning, we’re studying some more, improving, expanding.
I reckon Social Media is fundamentally PC, not P. Social Media is part of our learning and connecting, it’s part of the intangible necessities. Of course it becomes P when we’re talking about producing and doing things like teaching via Social Media. This report you’re reading, whether on our blog or in a PDF document, was most likely accessed via Social Media. That’s P. This is a solid production. But for the most part, Social Media is more about conversation and interaction.
So…use Social Media. But don’t indulge in it. Take the best of it, but go and produce things. Be the best at what you do. Produce. Build. Leave a legacy!
The sabbatical taught me some important lessons:
- A break from anything will help us to reassess our intentions;
- Our personal values are a gift, and once we recognise them, we should use them to their fullest potential;
- In this busy life we should try to slow down, we should try to be present in whichever environment we find ourselves;
- Over-indulgence in Social Media (like anything else) is not really beneficial;
- A short weekly or monthly break will do a lot of good (a one-month sabbatical is not necessary for other than this type of research);
- Social Media is indeed valuable for seeking knowledge, for sharing, for building relationships, for building trust, and for personal and business pursuits;
- Mobile and online messaging is now basically impossible to escape, unless you want to remain isolated from people;
- We can all learn from each other, no one knows everything – I have learnt to have more appreciation and understanding for the people who choose to not engage in Social Media at all;
- We should stop seeking tomorrow, seeking the goal, seeking the destination – we should view life as a daily experience, and be present in it daily, and appreciate it fully;
- We need to shift into P mode more often – we need to produce more!
I’m not really a big on holidays. I’m very busy and very happy, and I don’t feel that I need a break from it. My vocation is my vacation, as the saying goes. One very big lesson this sabbatical has taught me is that a vacation – unplugged and “unproductive” (if there is such a thing, but I’m implying in the vocation sense here) – might do me some good. Let’s see!
Thanks for reading, and I appreciate your feedback.