Saturday, 1 October 2011

In which I control my addiction - Nicola Morgan

I am probably the last person you expected to say what I'm going to say: the internet has all got too much and I am going to take control. It's become like one of those eat-all-you-can buffets and it's making me feel somewhat sick.

After I spoke about "building your online platform" at the Society of Authors conference, people said they were terrified by my apparent energy. How did I find the time? Vanessa Gebbie asked on my blog for advice about how to use the internet without wasting time. Blithely, I replied, a) define wasting time b) when it feels too much, stop - don't let it take over. Discipline, my child!

Well, I was OK at that point. After all, I only had a few blogs and three FB pages and Twitter and a new website in progress (now done!) and three existing websites and Audioboo. And this collaborative blog. And the Authors Electric blog, which I'd just joined as a newbie ebook publisher. (And immediately volunteered to manage their Twitter account...)

But then, my behaviour tipped over some kind of precipice: I investigated (purely for research, you understand) LinkedIn, where I found groups and threads and discussions, and where I spent a lot of time deleting randomly-generated emails. And Google+, which everyone said was "better" than Facebook, and where I found circles and groups and threads and discussions and hangouts to hang out in with people I already knew from Twitter and Facebook. Then (purely for research, you understand), I thought I should join the Kindle Boards (because I am interested in ebook publishing) and the Kindle UK forum (ditto and because it exists) and the Absolute Write Water Cooler (ditto and ditto and because people asked me to) and in all of those places I found forums and groups and threads and discussions and spent a great deal of time in a great many similar conversations.

In those places, I kept seeing the same people. Often lovely people. "Fancy meeting you here! Do you come here often?" So I was communicating with existing friends in umpteen places. They were everywhere, all at the same time, and so was I.

As well as that, within 24 hours of arriving on one forum, I had THREE private messages warning me to be careful what I said because the conversation could sometimes be vicious. The word "vicious" was actually used in each case. I didn't see any viciousness but I know people who have experienced it. And I don't want to.

After a couple of weeks of all this gorging on the buffet, and working longer and longer hours to get any actual work done, it all became too much and I thought, "Blimey, this is wasting time." And I reminded myself of what I'd told Vanessa Gebbie: Discipline, my child!

Also, I was getting more and more frustrated with Facebook - I seemed to be force-fed information and photos and quiz results and Farmville pink rabbits from people I literally didn't know. At. All. I am sure many of them were lovely people, but I didn't know them and they didn't know me and there are actually only so many hours in the day. And to be honest I don't want to know the Farmville activities of even my closest friends.

So I began slipping away from some of the afore-mentioned places, without wanting to offend the perfectly decent and sensible people there. Today, I began to try to untie the strings of Facebook. And what long FB conversations that caused! Facebook has this horrible word, "Unfriending". In order only to interact with people you actually know, you have to unfriend the others. It's horrible. You have to do it one name at a time and a little - well, OK: big - message comes up asking if you're really sure you want to unfriend so-and-so. Meh.

What's my point? I actually think there's a reassuring message to all this. I think that any of you who also feel that your online life has got or is getting too much, if it feels unhealthy, might take comfort from this: if I, the ultimate internet junkie, addicted to communication with as many people as possible in as many ways as possible, can call a halt and take control, anyone can! it feels very cleansing and sensible. Like a detox diet after over-indulgence.

I don't think we should do any of these online things just because we feel we "ought" to, only when we want to. We should eat when we're hungry or to be sociable and human, not when someone waves a piece of chocolate cake in front of our noses. Not just because it's there. Not because people try to tempt us.

If only it was as easy with real food...

Has anyone else reached this point of online saturation? Some of you, I know, have resisted it. It's all about balance - but that balance is different for each of us. When you reach it, I urge you: stop. Discipline, my child. Or desperation.

Nicola Morgan is the author of around 90 books for children and adults, including Tweet Right - The Sensible Person's Guide to Twitter. £2.74 on Amazon and you don't need a Kindle!


Martin said...

I have resisted Facebook, and will continue to do so. After vowing not to tweet, I opened a Twitter account, but only to promote our daily offering at Poetry24.

I signed up for Google+ but I never have the time to go there. You're right, Nicola, it's all about balance.

catdownunder said...

I put a paw onto FB occasionally. I write a blog post each day and I comment on here, your Help I need a Publisher blog and, occasionally, on others. I keep one eye on Twitter (where I have two accounts - one of which is strictly work. Yes, you can work on Twitter - it is amazing how much you can get done if you limit what you are able to say!)
That's it - my e-mail boxes are quite enough to deal with apart from that.
If you want to write then you have to be disciplined about these things.

JO said...

At the moment I've got a wall round it all. A blog I write twice a week. FB - I dip into. Twitter (that can eat hours if I'm not careful). Plenty of blogs to read and comment on (though I do find I'm repeating myself). Litopia - I don't give than enough time to be useful to anyone.

And still the suggestions I should join another forum, read more blogs. LinkedIn. KIndle forums. Google+.

I know I need an online platform. But I also need a life - and there comes a point where the online chitchat isn't fun! And that, for me, is my limit. If I'm not enjoying it, then there's no point. I'll do what I can. And then go read a book, or write a story, or go for a walk, or even - dare I say it - talk to a real person!

Susan Price said...

All you say is true, as ever, Nicola - but we at Authors Electric are grateful to you for selflessly throwing yourself on Twitter for our sake!

Penny Dolan said...

Think this sense of "too much media" is a common one just at the moment, with people starting to want their real lives back. Well said, Nicola.

Though I do hope you'll all keep reading Awfully Big Blog Adventure as we're starting our new "Bookseller Sunday" series tomorrow!
What's that real world like, then?

Joan Lennon said...

I've kicked and screamed about each new internet thing I've had to grapple with - but now I've grown to love my website, my (once a week) blog, my first e-book publication (with the support of Authors Electric), my Kindle. Back to the food analogy, I'm that kid who insists they don't like mushrooms and has never tried them. So, though I feel my plate is full, perhaps there really is room for one little, thin, chocolate wafer ...

Nicola Morgan said...

Yikes, I didn't mean to suggest that anyone should not read any of the high quality material out there - including, of course, ABBA and Authors Electric! I just mean the time spent on a) too many discussion forums and b) duplicating networking opportunities that end up saying the same things to the same people, needs to be controlled and that many of us feel obliged to be doing everything.

And Susan - Twitter is a joy and a benefit to me so I'm delighted to do electric tweeting, too!

michelle lovric said...

Fascinating post, Nicola. You truly are a world-wide-webbed creature! Thank you for sharing where you've been and what you've done.

What did writers do for distraction and displacement activity before the internet? I can't even remember. Was there something about getting dressed and going ... outside the house, even??? I know it seems weird and radical.

Linda Strachan said...

SO true, Nicola. Well done for taking control of it so bravely.

It is very enticing and like sweeties in a shop window, (or perhaps since this is you, Nicola, it should be a shoe shop window!) because there is always something new to try or another blog or post or tweet to write.

Love your comment, Michelle!

Yes, there is a lovely world out there which has nothing to do with being on social networks, and real people to speak to IN PERSON - WOW how radical is that!

It is too easy to spend far too much time here and not enough actually writing.

It should perhaps be the treat to spend a little time on this now and then. It can so easily become an addiction and as destructive as any other.

Nicola Morgan said...

To be honest, Linda, it wasn't bravery but desperation. It all felt just too much and I felt pushed by the "you need to do this if you're to sell books" message - but you know, I'd rather sell fewer books but actually have a life. And I can have a life while doing a LOT of online stuff but I needed to find what was enough and what was too much.

Good point about the shoe-shop!

Stroppy Author said...

'I'd rather sell fewer books but actually have a life' - I have said that for years. Or actually a variant of it - I'd rather sell fewer copies and write more books. Hence no school visits. Ever.

Yes, I've cut down over the last few months. Actually, over the last year. But I've been on all these things since before anyone arrived, except the geeks (and built my first website in 1997) so for a while it was like being at a really rather quiet party and then lots of people turned up. So I put a bit more energy into it all for a while, but then cut back again.

Incidentally, you don't need to see any Farmville updates. You can block Facebook from showing you any updates by silly applications and games. And you can group all the friends you should not have accepted into a single a group (in a single operation) and give them minimal access to anything you say or do. Much quicker than deleting them.

It's worth having an account on anything in which you want to own your own name. As children's writers, it would not be good for us if our names on Facebook were owned by porn stars, for example. And it's worth keeping up enough online presence to stay at the top of the Google search for your name. Unless you are called John Smith, in which case you will have to become a serial killer to stand any chance.

Actually, most of my online time now is spent on Skype - talking to the people I would in the real world go round and see if only they lived closer.

adele said...

All very fascinating! Can't wait to hear you speak this time next week and see you in the flesh, as it were. But I have never facebooked...didn't like that at all. Now I Tweet but not very much. I blog here on ABBA and on History Girls and that's about all I'm prepared to do. Go through my Twitter twice a day or so to catch up on other people's gossip....different strokes etc.

Linda Newbery said...

Excellent points, Nicola. I've never been as involved as you, but still feel the need to back off, especially when writing - all this flitting about is the enemy of writing. I have taken the simple measure of "unbookmarking" Facebook, which means that I can't just flick there in an idle moment. It's a simple thing, but makes quite a difference.

But it's great that you have joined Authors Electric, and will be Tweeting on our behalf.

Lucy Coats said...

In an example of 'communicating with existing friends in umpteen places', we've talked about this on FB, and I agree entirely with what you say, Nicola, as you know. I'm on many many forums, all of which I joined in a spirit of 'should', but to be honest, after an initial flurry, I never go to any of them now. Linked In is a 'wait and see', as is Google +. As Stroppy Author says, it's best to claim your own name on these things, even if you don't use them very much. I wrote a post on this very blog earlier in the summer about 'going dark'. I think it's very necessary to have that balance - and that choice. However, it did feel very odd to shuck off that cloak of internet presence at the start. Afterwards it was hugely freeing. It's good to remember that!

Leila Rasheed said...

Yes, Nicola, I have. I'm close to quitting FB as well, but what keeps me there is that I have loads of friends in foreign countries who I would never hear from otherwise. And who are a nostalgic part of my life. But there are certainly some other groups I'll try and leave. Real life calls! :)

Anonymous said...

I believe you even write books?

Agree about Farmville. I've blocked it, and try to forget even my dear children waste their time on that.

Nicola Morgan said...

Leila - that;s why I'm not going to leave FB entirely, but I've gradually been "unfriending" (gah!) the people who I don't personally properly connect with, especially if I can also be in touch with them on Twitter, which is a different environment, more like a crowded room where it doesn't matter of you don't speak to everyone.

Lucy - yes, Stroppy's point about claiming your name is a good one. And your point about it being freeing to say no is true, too.

Bookwitch - books? Talking of which, must go and work :)