Sunday, August 18, 2013

Real Virtual Reality: Revelations About Going "Off the Grid" in the World of Social Media

Yes, I really do try to practice what I preach, especially when it comes to social media. In that domain, I generally try to test on myself everything I recommend to others. I also periodically re-test and revisit my recommendations to update my reality.

Last week, I decided to go "off the grid" for a few days, something that provided an opportunity to update my reality about burnout symptoms and palliative care for it. Here's what I learned:

My fabulous advice about treating virtual community as real community is fabulous advice.
Just like I'd let neighbors know if I was leaving town, I posted a tweet about going off the grid.

Within seconds, I received a direct message (DM) from someone wanting to know if everything was okay. Sweet!

By the end of the day I'd received three more direct messages and several public messages with well wishes and blessings for my time off.

I can't recall that ever happening during my time as a high-visibility church volunteer and then a (paid) pastoral associate. I do recall no inquiries about my well-being and no offers to bring Holy Eucharist to my home during times I was too sick to attend worship or work.

My fabulous list of social media burnout symptoms needs to be tweaked. 
In my own case, feeling "tired, frustrated, cranky, or apathetic" didn't completely capture the symptoms I provided in The Social Media Gospel (see Chapter 26, p. 106-109). Big fat affirmatory to "tired, frustrated, and cranky" but instead of becoming apathetic, becoming hyper-vigilant is a sure sign of burnout.

I typically spend a lot of time monitoring accounts, conversations, groups, and the like across denominations and social media platforms. I'm known for providing solicited and unsolicited advice. (You're welcome.) I'm also keen on staying current with changes in functionality and keeping my own accounts up-to-date.

A sign of social media burnout for me, then, is not apathy, but becoming over-the-top engaged; squandering creative energy by becoming too busy monitoring and providing advice and following conversations that really don't need my input.

Also, although there's some overlap in symptoms of "burnout" and "compassion fatigue," these are different conditions. Note to self: write a post about some point.

My fabulous advice about prayerful discernment before pulling the plug is fabulous advice.
I slept 12 hours on Tuesday night after logging off after the #ChSocM (church social media) chat. I spent most of Wednesday napping and reading; wearing earplugs to shut out ambient sound.

Other than peeking at email once and handling a client situation, I stayed off-line. By Thursday evening, I was feeling unpleasantly disoriented. By Friday, I was slipping into depression. WTF? Time for the prayerful discernment I recommend on p. 109! I probably should have engaged in this before going off the grid, but better late than never. My revelation:
Social media is so deeply integrated into my daily life that pulling the plug without refining the terms of dis-engagement can be harmful to my psycho-spiritual health. 
Different social media serve different functions in my life. Fortunately, I knew enough to retain the visual social media platforms and posted this to Facebook:

Relative to creativity, I probably should have used part of my off-the-grid time to re-focus on my personal blog. Writing is, after all, one of my primary spiritual practices.

Also, because my community of support is online, going into solitary confinement for days was not the wisest choice for me. Better choice: creating stronger time limits for using highly interactive social media platforms (e.g., Twitter) and making better distinctions between work and play.

In addition, I know that I thrive within the safe container of structure. My regular engagement via social media provides that structure. No surprise I was getting disoriented without following some kind of structured routine for engagement.

Next time I unplug, I'll be more precise -- and smarter -- about what that means. So enough about me for a nanosecond, what about you?

Have you ever gone completely or near-completely off the grid? What, in practical terms, did that mean? How did you feel? If you felt like crap, do you know why? What will you do differently the next time you unplug?