Use social media; don’t let it use you

By Greg Turnquist

Greg L. Turnquist worked on the Spring team for over thirteen years and is a senior staff technical content engineer at Cockroach Labs. He was the lead for Spring Data JPA and Spring Web Services. He wrote Packt's best-selling title, Learning Spring Boot 2.0 2nd Edition, and its 3rd Edition follow-up along many others.

November 3, 2014

I have seen a handful of posts and tweets recently that have summarized my own developing view of where we as people should stand in relation to social media. For starters, we need to recognize that social media is a product for which we are probably NOT the client:

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold. —blue_beetle

Do you use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or anything else? In case you didn’t know, you aren’t the client. The client is the person that pays for it. So what are the consequences?

For years, I have put up with time wasting emails from recruiters sending me ridiculous job opportunities. I have seen past colleagues recommending me for technologies I never really used. It took me at least four years to realize this, but I finally shut down my LinkedIn account. And it wasn’t but a few days later, when I read a compelling article that outlined how GitHub is not a 1:1 match for your CV. I couldn’t help but back that up.

Another revelation in the slippery use of social media came from a long time friend of mine, when he tweeted this:


My friend Russ had signed up for some freebie service that would automatically track his own twitter usage and generate more content on a weekly basis. It took else to bravely ask him, “are you getting any value out of that?” This inspired Russ to say no, and drop it. To be honest, all those extra tweets annoyed me, but I didn’t feel I had time to pause and ask Russ the same question.

Today’s IoT seems to be all about generating traffic any way possible. We get drawn to the idea of generating more buzz about ourselves, regardless of any value, just so we can get everyone else to say “look at me!” Have you felt like this?

everyone-can-be-super-and-when-everyones-super-no-one-will-beI confess I feel a desire to do it myself. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I saw an article posted by Eberhard: Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy. In summary, we are being fed this message that we are all special and that we should be ambitious as well. A good career is a given. We simply need to choose in what way. Hot top: if everyone is special then no one is special. Sorry, but we aren’t all special. We are all unique and each of us can contribute something to society. But it doesn’t mean we will all be glamorous, have a legion of follows on any social media network, or catch everyone’s eye. Those that expect this and are not actually seeing life shape out this way, are becoming unhappy. When the same is spoken in terms of business linking to social media then the take on it can be different as most of the people on Youtube generally employs secondary companies which generate them views,thus they are always carefree and seem to have an “I don’t care where the youtube views come from” perception when it comes to their videos.

Today’s social media provides this platform where we can constantly publish who and what we are. Only what we put out there is undoubtedly positive, polished, and the best of who we are. We never put out our faults and our mistakes. It creates pressure on our friends, family, and, well, everyone that things are going great. They should feel the same! If something isn’t going great for them, then something must be wrong on their end. What kind of message is that?

I have many colleagues that do different things. One of my buddies travels to conferences all the time. He has a bit of techno glamour because he often gives talks and has built a great network of technical fame and street cred. I have sometimes been jealous of that. But when I stop and think about what I would have to give up to travel like that, I realize that his life is not what I want. (And perhaps, my life is not what he wants!)

I don’t want to miss anything my family is doing. This was strongly justified when I met a particular person at SpringOne this year. It was someone that had been following me on Twitter for a bit. He walked up and greeted me in the coder’s lounge, eager to shake my hand. “It’s so great to finally put a face with the name!” I admit I was startled by this. We talked about technical stuff over lunch. I enjoyed that. I wasn’t the creator of something like Ruby on Rails. I wasn’t the inventor of the Spring Framework. But I was making my own small contributions to the Spring community and other people were recognizing that.

olivergierke_2014-Nov-02I see tweets from colleagues living in Europe. For them, it’s not such a big deal to jump on a train and travel to Prague or Switzerland for some a conference or a meetup. They snap pictures along the way and tweet them. Amazing stuff! I enjoy seeing them posted!

But I recognize that I have my own beautiful sights here as well. There are many times I’ve taken my family on my father-in-law’s boat to ride on the river through downtown Clarksville. Driving through the hills of Tennessee to Florida has many wonderful sights to take in. And taking your family to Disney World several times a year is something not everyone else can partake of. It takes recognition to appreciate what is in your own backyard and not take it for granted.

It feels as if today’s generation is all about getting on the hip and cool social media networks because that’s what everyone else is doing. The next time you do, stop and ask yourself, “Is this giving me what I want? Is this serving ME. Am I posting things that I enjoy so I can socialize with others, or am I posting things to make myself happier?” If it’s the latter, then you need to guard yourself.

We must all seek happiness through things that resonate with our core values. I have enjoyed writing computer programs since I was a kid. I learned how to push around a “turtle” (aka triangle) on an Apple II when I was a youngster using Logo. That was FUN. And I haven’t stopped doing fun stuff since. Twitter provides the means for me to follow people that post articles, links, and pictures of similar experiences.

But I am now learning how to control my social media involvement. As I wrote at the top, I shutdown LinkedIn because it didn’t help me. A few months ago, I started turning off Tweetbot during the day, because it was absorbing too much time. When I first signed up for Twitter, I started following lots of people. Now, I am starting to unfollow people when I realize they are not providing me any value. Are you sifting through your own social media networks like that?

This is why Facebook is now at the top of my list for deciding, “Is this of value to me?” I uninstalled the app from my iPhone almost a year ago, and I haven’t missed it! I feel close to being able to pull the trigger on closing my whole account. (I want to contact my high school German teacher, and it appears I can find here there. Perhaps we can trade email accounts for correspondence?)

To wrap up things up, I can tell I definitely enjoyed the conclusions of ‘Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy” when the author wrote:

  • Stay wildly ambitious.
  • Stop thinking your special.
  • Ignore everyone else.

Being ambitious is what it takes to be successful. Realizing you might not be famous, special, or widely recognized is okay. Having a handful of very close friends you can truly depend on is more important.

The hardest one, though, is learning to ignore everyone else. Social media networks encourage us to look at everyone else and constantly evaluate and judge ourselves based on everyone else. Knock it off! Social media networks should be used to share, chat, and converse with your friends. It should never be used as a meter stick to develop our own self worth. If you ever find yourself doubting yourself based on what you have seen or read on social media, than double check the authenticity of that.


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