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On the Media: Overdosing on social networking media

June 12, 2010|James Rainey

It's hard not to get irritated with a company that urges you to share all sorts of things but makes it hard for you to say who's part of the party. It's creepier, still, when that company starts feeling less like a social network than like a relentless marketing machine.

Facebook blow-back reached a crescendo in recent weeks. Consumer advocates lined up to complain over too much private information being made public. European governments weighed in — demanding users get more control of their profiles. More than 50,000 people signed on at

While some people yearned for a come-down-from-the-flagpole, burn-the-disco-album, sayonara- Friendster moment, most are simply Friend-fatigued. They will tell you their initial fling with Facebook was just like many new experiences in the real world. They drank deeply, sometimes drunkenly, and now they're sobering up.

They want to be masters of their media, not mastered by them, like one family that made the front page of the New York Times this week. The paper of record showed us that the Campbells of Orinda, Calif., hoping to be masters of multitasking, had instead been overwhelmed by too much media. The result was multi-plotzing — business, academics, family life and attention spans all on the fritz.

A few of you facing the same situation have shelved your iPhones, sent your last Tweet and picked up a good book.

Barry Maher, a motivational speaker who lives in Corona, said Twitter turned him off from Day One. The first Tweet he received "was from some guy telling me he was eating a cookie."

"With every other speaker in the world Linking In, Facebooking and Tweeting like a squirrel in a meet grinder (pun intended)," he concluded, via an e-mail, "I just stopped playing. It's gotten ludicrous."

But many more, (found via a social reporting site) have decided not to slay the media but their method. Instead of dropping out, they are dialing back.

Julie Hahn, a 31-year-old from Boise, Idaho, echoed many others when she said it was not one technology but the conglomeration of "Twitter, Facebook, blogs, text messaging [and] constant access to e-mail" that began to overwhelm her.

She said she needs to keep up with social media for her PR work, but "I have cut back. A lot. My focus now is on doing one thing at a time."

Maurice Cherry, 29, of Atlanta, makes his living by giving clients advice about how to use social media in business. But even he has grown tired of Facebook, Twitter and the like. After being an early adopter of Foursquare, the location-based social media site where people blab about where they're hanging out, he flamed out.

"A lot of us just unplug," Cherry said. "We don't put out a Facebook status. We don't Tweet." And here's the revelation: "We really like to go out just to go out."

Many of us traversed the same infatuation-absorption-alienation cycle. At first, Facebook put you in touch with old friends. Mysteries were resolved. You played Scrabble with your old college roommate.

But then they killed Scrabulous (the online version hadn't been authorized by the game's maker, Hasbro). The old friend you found turned into a new crank, whose politics you loathed. You got Friend-greedy, only to find out that some of your expanded crowd posted updates constantly. That made it harder to find posts from people you really cared about.

And who knew so many of these people really just wanted to pimp products and services you didn't need?

Hemanshu Nigam, a Thousand Oaks-based consultant on online safety, security and privacy, recommends that social media users apply the same judgment in the cyber world they apply to the rest of their lives. Such as: "I don't go out every night for three hours, so why do I go on a website for three hours every single night?

"Now those users are saying 'I'm here to stay,'" said Nigam, a onetime prosecutor who also worked for Microsoft and MySpace, "'but I will be more cautious about what I disclose, who I am friends with, and I'll have a level of self-scrutiny I didn't have before.'"

Clay Shirky, who writes about the social and economic effects of the Internet, makes a strong case that the new technologies and platforms are "the sort of thing society grows into," not out of.

Shirky has written about how a suburbanized, post- World War II society has been the beneficiary of a "cognitive surplus" — the excess of time, energy and brain power that previously had been devoted largely to television. Now, the Internet offers us an infinite number of other possibilities. Many enable us not just to consume but to create.

We continue to fumble around for the right balance. But most aren't quitting because of the annoyances. They're regrouping and redeploying.

Facebook and its 519 million users don't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Twitter claims well over 100 million users.

Yes, 140-character-max posts don't plumb the depths. But after initial skepticism, I've come to see the micro-posts can point me toward longer articles and (gasp!) even books that are worthwhile. I get a kick, and the occasional news flash, from fellow journalists stretching from Manhattan Beach to Tehran and Beijing.

Besides, I'm creeping closer to the magical 2,000-follower barrier. It seems like only a matter of time before I catch Britney Spears. She's reportedly at 5.1 million followers.

Twitter: latimesrainey

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