This blog of mine had its first year anniversary last week.
I was going to write a post reflecting about life 12 months on and whether blogging is worth the effort (short answer: it is).
But instead, to celebrate, I found myself doing something quite drastic…. I deleted twitter (and facebook) off my phone.
Why would I do that?
In mid-October there was an Early Career Researcher Training Day held for my faculty. To be honest, I didn’t attend in person. But one of the benefits of twitter was that I was able to read distilled snippets of the speakers thanks to some hard working tweeps. I was following along on my phone as I went about my day dropping kids to school, working from home, cleaning, picking them up, and having family over for dinner – that day in particular involved 6 hours of essay marking too, so having a hashtag to follow along with was a welcome break. There was plenty of good advice given. (eg Have you ever heard of klout?) In fact you can read the storify here.
What was interesting though were some discussions I had over coffee and lunch the next day (with people who were both present and not) around social media. I came away realizing that twitter really is not for everyone. I love it for heaps of reasons. It works for me because a lot of the people whom I want to connect with are using it. But for some colleagues it’s not their cup of tea. And just as there is no set route or highway to success (everyone has detours), I don’t think being on “social media” is actually a requirement for academic success.
It got me wondering though, is there any data on scientists who use social media anyway? Well wouldn’t you know, the very next day on twitter, Kimberley Collins shared her new paper investigating that very issue. Seems most science twitter users are fairly recent converts (<2 years users) and using it more for networking than science communication (although we love to say how much science communication and outreach is a benefit of twitter). There’s also this:
I’m still clearly advocating for twitter here – so why delete it from my phone?
Well there’s nothing like submitting an Annual Progress Report to your university to get you feeling like you didn’t actually achieve what you set out to do 12 months ago. I have a manuscript for a paper that I need to finish and a new experiment that needs to be coded and pilot tested in the next 2 months (whilst being part-time). And then the really scary part…. come January I’m going full-time with this PhD thing.
The plan was that it would only take another 1 ½ years to finish anyway, so I may as well be full time from January and finish in the full-time equivalent of 3 ½ years. But the thought of deadlines that once seemed so far away approaching at double the speed has brought with it stress. And rather than working towards my goal, I found myself more and more trying to escape my work by going on twitter. But once you start conversations with someone or tweet something, and then notifications come, you of course feel the need to respond right away, which only drags you away further.
I realized I was checking my phone in fear of missing out on something wherever I was – grocery shopping, on bus, walking with kids, making dinner, having coffee, waiting for analysis to run etc.
But all this multi-tasking comes at a cost.
I wasn’t actually ever “relaxing” just spending mindless time looking through tweets. As a result my stress wasn’t reducing – if anything it was growing as my multi-tasking meant I had less resources to really focus on the task at hand. So I made some decisions for my own mental health. I deleted both twitter and facebook off my phone.
Obviously I can still access them if I have to from web browser – but it has created more space in my day. More time in which to think, breathe, and actually relax. When I do log on, it’s for a specific purpose, and shorter time window. I’m trying to get more regular exercise too which is helping (since it’s good for my brain too).
Funnily enough, having now survived the week without as much constant twitter bingeing, I saw this great article by Rebecca Ritchie about digital nutrition (I hadn’t heard of the term either) which makes total sense to me.
Facing the truth
Yesterday I was at a school orientation morning for my youngest and the topic of limiting screen time came up. While I do admit (since it’s my second child going to school) I did spend most of the session on my phone’s web browser looking at twitter, I found I was doing so much more intentionally. I wasn’t aimlessly flicking, but following along with Music Science Part Time PhD student, Susan Maury, who is currently doing an amazing job curating @RealScientists this week. (If you haven’t checked it out you should – there are helpful storifies here!) And once the meeting was over I put away my phone and got on with the rest of my day.
My point is, parents are so often told to enforce a limitation on technology for our kids, and yet I couldn’t do the same for myself when it came to my phone. I had to admit it to myself. I was addicted. But admitting it is the first step, right?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still an active twitter user. I’m just going to make sure I monitor my digital diet a little more from now on.