Below is a personal guide I use to keep everything available on social media and the internet in perspective and working in my favour. I’ve specifically chosen to focus on social media because it is the primary consumer of user attention on smart phones.
There’s been much discussion in mainstream media about the connection between the smart phone, social networks, our usage habits, and whether it’s all any good for us or not. For me, it’s all about context. It can be both good and bad. This manifesto focusses on some simple practices you can follow to ensure you’re getting to the good out of it 90% of the time. It's just the way I think about and use social media, it works for me and what I want to do. I’m not a psychologist, I’m just an Exam Coach. But I do hope some of it helps you with your own way of successfully navigating the social media landscape. 😉
‘It All Goes Back In The Box'
One of my favourite sayings in life is the quote above. This is often used to put the accumulation of wealth into perspective. Just like the board game, Monopoly, life eventually comes to an end and everything goes 'back in the box'. In a similar way, social media does too, all of those comments, likes, shares etc. will be history and become relatively meaningless in the broader context of time. Yes, they’ll still exist online, but people’s attention (as proven throughout history) will always be focussed on the now. New people and players will come along. Ensure that, whilst your playing the game, you enjoy it! Don’t sweat the small stuff, if you’re not enjoying the game make some changes to the way you’re playing so you do start enjoying it.
It’s not a news feed, it’s a highlight reel….
Always remember this…People can pick and choose what they want you to see on social media. Therefore, social media is not real life, it is life’s highlight reel. Just like sports highlights, they’re always more entertaining than the full game. They’re action-packed and often show the best bits. What’s omitted is the rest of the game, the comparatively boring pieces which people don’t want to watch as much. How do I know this? I do it myself! Even with something as real-time as Snapchat, I’ll only decide to put up particular pictures and videos. There’s a lot of boring things you don’t see which both you and I have to deal with on a daily basis.
With social media, you’re only seeing tiny parts of people’s lives, so take everything with a pinch of salt. There are too many things you don’t know, for example, the true intent behind what they're posting combined with everything else that may be going in their lives. Don’t pass judgement either way (good or bad), just take things at face value. It’s just a post, a video, a photo - no biggie.
Attention is the new global currency
Ultimately, every occasion you spend time on a social network you are trading the ‘currency’ of that network. I work in the advertising industry and the platforms (eg. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube) understand the value of consumer attention more than anyone else. It’s their income. They charge other businesses to advertise to the audience they have on their platform. Every second you spend, watching, reading, communicating on a platform is worth something. Make sure you’re spending time (and therefore, currency) only on things you truly value. Lot’s of people and things will ask for your attention, it’s up to you to decide what you’re going to spend it on. I literally think of my time on social networks as a trade-off, my attention for something in return. I’m buying products every day. Whether it’s a motivational blog post, cat video, or a set of chiselled abs on Insta I’m always vetting every post which appears in my news feed against this one question. ‘What’s the return on investment for my attention here?’ This forms a portfolio - a clear list of the things I do and do not give my attention to (I’ll do another post on this in the future so you can see how I’m investing). Like any great long-term investor (think Warren Buffet) you stick to a long-term overarching strategy which will guide you healthily into the future.
Outsmart your smart phone, don’t let it outsmart you
One of your smart phone’s jobs is to make you aware of all of the inbound communication directed at you and give you an outlet, through a combination of access to all the information on the internet and a communication channel, to respond. You need to outsmart your smartphone here. YOU decide what is relevant and what is not relevant. You’re better than it at this, so make sure you tell it what to do. Get into the settings app on your phone, decide what you want it to notify you about, and then, out of the notifications you allow it to serve up to you have the mindset that only 20% of those are going to be relevant to you or require action. There’s a running joke at work that my favourite app is ‘settings’...It’s only true though, it’s where I spend a lot of time tinkering and experimenting with what I want to be notified of.
The same approach applies for when the platforms decide to notify you about anything. Their objective is to get you spending as much time as possible on their platform, so, with this, you need to ensure that what they are notifying you about is worthy of your attention. Again, get into the settings, adapt them to how you want to be notified. Stand guard at the door to your attention vault, people are always trying to get in and take the currency which lies within.
Don’t be a social spectator
Picture this…You’re in a circle of friends having a conversation, you then realise someone is standing just outside the circle watching and listening but saying nothing. What this person is doing IS the real-life equivalent to scanning other people's social profiles and content and saying nothing. It’s socially odd. Try to map what feels right in real life to the way you behave on social media - it will make more sense. Go on social media with a purpose, use it to socialise and build your relationships. Don’t be anti-social and simply spectate. I sometimes get into spectator mode. When I do, I get offline. It’s a sign I’ve got nothing to worthwhile to contribute and need to do more in real life instead of aimlessly scrolling a virtual world.
Put out what feels right to you; interpret everyone else’s comments and content in a way that serves you positively.
Here’s a good quote from Quincy Jones to get this point started: “Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me.”
Essentially, what everyone else thinks doesn’t matter. Only what you think matters. Both about your own usage of social media and what you think about how other people use it. You do you and it will make you happy. Be authentic. When you start trying to be something you’re not, or following other people’s lead (who aren’t in alignment with your outlook on life) social media becomes less fun and a mental drain. Also, you should decide the intent behind other people’s behaviour on social media for yourself, good or bad. Spend time and attention on the good stuff, spend nothing on the stuff you disagree with the intent behind. Nothing means nothing. Don’t be hater. Just let them get on with what they’re doing but pay it no attention. That’s a win on your part.
Don’t follow the crowd, follow what you think the right people to follow are
This is about following your intuition. You should seek inspiration and guidance from others on social media. People have skills and ideas to share which can help you in your own development. Use that to improve yourself - it’s a massive opportunity. The thing is, those with the most followers are not always the people delivering the most value for YOU. You don’t know who that particular person's followers are, what their objectives are and what they value. You simply don’t have enough context to decide whether someone is worth following based on their popularity. Decide for yourself if someone is worth following or not, don’t follow the followers. Find your own influencers and people who can truly add value to what you care about in life. Don’t follow the herd, define your own truth and align with the people who support that and empower you.
Doing beats thinking
Do stuff. Don’t live vicariously through others. Yes, take inspiration from them online, but apply it in real life. Use social media as a tool to introduce you to new things you never thought possible and enjoy life to the max. This is a similar mantra to not being a social spectator, it’s about not watching the life pass you by online. For some people, living vicariously through others online might be enough, but I’d urge you to aim higher than that. Dip in, take what you need from the internet, then get out there and start doing and living. Remember, deeds not words, don’t be a content junkie.
Distinguish between the public and the private and what feels right to you
People share all sorts of stuff on social media. Some choose to broadcast everything, even what many would consider to be the most private aspects of life and not for public consumption. Some share very little. Either way is fine. Make your own mind up and don’t dwell on the oversharers, just because they’ve decided to share doesn’t mean the message or content warrants your attention, see the next bullet.
Begin any session on social media with the assumption that everything everyone else is posting is mundane and of little note. Too much attention devoted to the ordinary and uninsightful will lead to an ordinary and uninsightful experience of life itself. Yes, give a chance for the extraordinary and valuable content to bubble up to the service, but always vet against the fundamental truth of what social media allows everyone to have - a voice. This sounds harsh and anti-free speech, but I mean it in the most practical sense, some people just don’t have much to say apart from the mundane and uninsightful. Just because they’re talking the whole time doesn’t mean you should pay attention to it. Let them talk, they have a right to, but it’s your right to decide what you pay attention to.
It’s ok to unfollow
It’s ok to do this, keep in mind that you only have so much time and attention to give. What’s more, online behaviour is a completely different concept to real life behaviour in terms of the strains on your attention. In real life, that person only has our attention in real life face-to-face, online they can influence us regardless of time or space. Be selective about who you allow to trade attention with you. Some of my best friends I do not follow on social media because what they’re posting is something I’d rather catch up in person with them about. It’s ok to do this. You’re not missing out on anything, you’re positioning yourself to have more of an impact on the world by focussing on the experiences that you value the most in their different online and offline contexts.
I remember sitting on a plane to San Francisco back in 2014 and being told about this and it’s stuck with me ever since. Dubar’s 150, or Dunbar’s number, is a theory built on evolutionary biology whereby 150 people is the cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain 'stable social relationships', defined as relationships in which an individual knows who each person is and how each person relates to every other person. Yet, social networks allow us to maintain online relationships with millions of people. Choose to keep things as meaningful as possible online. Yep, Dunbar’s number is just a theory, but it’s a good way of thinking about who the most important 150 people are in you life (in fact, for me, it’s more like 20-30). Give those people your time and attention and that’s all you need to be happy.
Use Direct Messages
It’s private, it’s sincere, it’s the most real. There can be no mistaking your intent here, no need for public approval, social validation, or anything else which posting something publicly could be an indicator of. This is what I use to catch up and connect with people, 95% of time. 1-1 is always the most effective form of communication.
As with any Manifesto, there may well be additions or subtractions to this over time. It’s not the rulebook, it’s a work in progress. For the meantime, keeping the above points in mind should help you to get the most out of your smart phone and social media as you prepare for exams and seek to make progress in your chosen career. I’ll keep you updated. 😉