The social media trap

Aug 09, 2013, 07:30 IST | Vanita Kohli- Khandekar

It has been more than four years since I went on Facebook. And my Twitter journey began exactly two years ago

It has been more than four years since I went on Facebook. And my Twitter journey began exactly two years ago. Both happened under immense pressure from my better half to ‘be with it’. Now, the pressure to go on WhatsApp is rising -- from the better half and from all my friends who are chatting on it constantly. And that has brought me to the question -- when do I work?

Problems of the digital age: Social media moves socialising from non-office hours to any time of the day. It then begs the question -- when do we work?

A huge amount of my time and that of several people like me goes in checking their FB page or Twitter feeds. This is not simply scrolling down but actually answering tweets, verbal parrying or general chatting. The convenience of social media -- you always have a mobile phone and are usually online -- means that you are socialising every minute of the day. The whole idea of just exchanging ideas with fellow professionals or colleagues only at an office party/cocktail or of talking to friends only over coffee or a meal seems outdated. You could be talking to several hundred people throughout the day.

That brings me back to the question -- when then do we work?
For those of you snorting in contempt at this luddite-like question, hear me out. Both Facebook and Twitter have worked well for me. Facebook gives me the opportunity to connect with long lost cousins, friends or professional acquaintances. Though what you could do after the first few meetings is moot.

Because you suddenly realise that besides discussing school, college or post-graduation days, you really have nothing in common with many of those friends. So while you may have a lot of affection for them, you really don’t want to know all the details of their lives. As for the other people -- do you really want to spend hours everyday reading the witticisms, posts and watching pointless videos that someone else finds interesting. Or even worse discovering that you find some of the political or social opinions of people you are ‘friends’ with on FB, obnoxious. So joining interest groups on say school friends, Bollywood academics or a group of park mums, makes more sense than telling over 370 people that I am feeling miserable this morning.

On the other hand Twitter rocks for me. It has really opened up the world of media and entertainment knowledge thanks to a Twitter feed full of relevant institutions and people. It suddenly makes a lot of specialised information available and flags it for you. For those of you who have used the Google Alerts service, Twitter is a better version of that with the option of communicating with the person or institution you follow.

But both of these, while aiding my work and social life, take up a lot of time away from productive work. So while reading an interesting research report or an article someone has tweeted about is work, seeing my niece’s wedding photographs in office hours is not. But in a workday full of dozens of social media log-ins on the phone or laptop, how do you separate the two?

My solution? Don’t have FB on my phone, only Twitter which is shorter and less involved is safe on a handheld. And I log in to either only during my tea/coffee breaks. This inevitably makes the breaks longer but it also does two things. It gives me something to look forward to in the break and also gives me uninterrupted time especially if I have loads to read, analyse or write. Do I follow it strictly? Of course not; have been in and out of Twitter and FB three times in the course of writing this column.

If I download WhatsApp, the chances are my time will get even more squeezed. And time is a finite resource. So if I spend it on socialising online during work hours, the work inevitably shifts to non-office hours. That means I rob time from my family, house or other areas and reallocate it to work. Cut the faff and it means that the days I am hyper-socialising on FB/Twitter et al, I end up working late into the night to meet deadlines.

The last thing I need, it would seem, is one more app for chatting with friends and colleagues. Should I try it though? Let me check with my friends on FB.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at 

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