The Social Media Insider, Unplugged

One of the first thoughts that occurred to me, on this first morning after vacation, is that we tech types sure know how to get excited about minutiae that in the final analysis probably won't really matter.

It turns out that -- although I didn't know about it until five days later -- Apple launched its new, music-based social network, Ping, at about the same time that our family's car was leaving Mediapost's Social Media Insider Summit in Lake Tahoe a week ago yesterday. It apparently took Twitter by storm, but at our next stop -- Yosemite -- the deer could've cared less; nor could the park rangers; nor could the giant sequoias. The only things that were buzzing were the bees. The laptops stayed locked in the safe in our tent-cabin; my cell phone's primary use was as a flashlight. I used it so infrequently I didn't even need to recharge it for three-and-a-half days. 



Then, yesterday, as I was preparing to board the plane at SFO to come home already, a friend emailed me to see what I thought of Google Instant. "Google Instant?" I thought. "Is that the new powdered version -- just add water and it can find you anything?" It seemed somehow comforting that the WiFi on the plane didn't work very well. I didn't even try to access it, but the guy sitting next to me tried gamely for what seemed like an hour and a half to get it up and running on his iPad. Privately, I thought it was as though the world was conspiring to keep me in my un-networked bubble. I read a book -- one printed on paper.

All of this is not to say that I was completely disconnected during my vacation. As is true for all of us -- but particularly contract workers like me -- it's becoming nigh impossible to completely cut the cord. Still, the world looks different when one's online time is reduced by about 90%, particularly since this dams up the streams of tweets, status updates and headlines that too often create a narrow perspective.

But this morning was my first day back at work, and it was time to turn it up a notch or two. So what was the result? I was made fun of for my digital habit. I was standing in line at the post office to get the paper mail and simultaneously checking email, failing to notice it was my turn at the counter. A postal employee aroused me from my stupor and the two men behind me actually laughed at me. Yes, it's true. That will teach me to be so hellbent on reconnecting.

Thus, it was with some trepidation that the first thing I did when I sat down at my desk was reinstall Tweetdeck, since my version was so old it had gone on strike --  steadfastly refusing to deliver any tweets. I rationalized the download partly by telling myself that, since I was jetlagged, that little "blurp" sound Tweetdeck makes any time someone you follow tweets might keep me awake.

But that new feature which shows the entire tweet in a little pane up in the right-hand corner? Way too much information! When I saw how distracting it was, I scrambled to find a way to turn the damn thing off.

There's being connected to the outer world via social networks, and then there's being soldered to them. That new feature, in my current state of mind, decidedly looks like the latter. 

So what is happening to me? Re-entry is hard. I can't decide whether to download or stay unplugged, to tweet or work offline, even though being plugged in is what I do -- and what this column is supposed to about.  A large part of me wants to retain this feeling of having a teensy-weensy bit of perspective on my wired life. I will no doubt lose that perspective soon, but getting back to the announcements of Ping and Google Instant, I wonder more than usual how much of this is just virtual ephemera. My guess is, most of it. For one, when I decided to download Ping this morning -- I initially thought I might write today's column about it -- it took way too long. Life is short.

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