May 22, 2008

Using Technology for Balance Instead of Guilt

After the ques­tions about gam­ing, the thing I’m asked about the most these days is how I bal­ance work, home, and the crazy speed of the online world. For most of my pro­fes­sional career, the line between work and per­sonal has been blurred, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to tell where one starts and the other ends. That wasn’t a new phe­nom­e­non (even for me, as this was true when I worked in a book­store and a record store), but it’s been inter­est­ing to watch that line blur for librar­i­ans — and now the gen­eral pub­lic — around the inter­net. I think it’s pretty rare to watch the kind of shift we’ve all gone through dur­ing the last ten years (see Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Every­body), and I’m cer­tainly grate­ful to be observ­ing it firsthand.

So it’s nat­ural to feel over­whelmed — every­one does at some point. Make that “many points.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — the key is to let go of the guilt and rec­og­nize that you can find a bal­ance for any given moment, as long as you acknowl­edge that this bal­ance will be cycli­cal. Some­times you’ll have more time to devote to play­ing with new tools online. Some­times you’ll need to con­cen­trate more on things that are clearly “work.” Some­times you’ll find a happy medium. But what­ever point you’re at will change, and you need to watch for the change points and some­times even force them (if you’re work­ing too much or have been away from “play­ing” for too long).

It’s easy to for­get this or get snowed under one of the cycles and lose the long view, so I thought I’d share some of the things I do in order to use tech­nol­ogy to help main­tain that bal­ance, espe­cially with sum­mer com­ing up for those of us in the U.S. The caveat here is that I’m lucky enough to have the means to do some of these things, as well the will­ing­ness to deal with pushed infor­ma­tion. Your mileage may vary, and I’m not sug­gest­ing that each of these meth­ods will work for every­one, but maybe it will help you think about how you can take more con­trol of your infor­ma­tion flow. I’ve writ­ten and spo­ken quite a bit about using RSS read­ers to track sites and how I’ve been using Google Gears to access mine even when I’m not online. Here are a few other recent things I’ve been doing.

I know some peo­ple have given up on Face­book, either because they don’t like it, they don’t have time for it, or they’ve moved their pres­ence to Twit­ter, but I’m still enjoy­ing the social con­nec­tions facil­i­tated by the site. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of friends on FB (ones from “real” life and ones I’ve met through the site who are just as “real”), and I truly appre­ci­ate the pace of the infor­ma­tion flow there.

For me, the LSW Chat Room and Twit­ter can be over­whelm­ing because the pace is so fast and I either can’t keep up or can’t reply fast enough. It’s great that these for­mats work well for oth­ers, but I’m learn­ing that I pre­fer slower updates at this point in my work/personal life. More power to the peo­ple who can keep up with these sites, but I’m a casual par­tic­i­pant at best in them, and I’m okay with that, at least for now.

Lately, I haven’t had as much time to play in Face­book with appli­ca­tions, Scram­ble, pages, etc., but I really appre­ci­ate the short updates on what my friends are doing. For many of those peo­ple, I’ve set up my pref­er­ences in Face­book Mobile to send those updates as texts to my phone because I don’t want to miss when they change their sta­tus. It’s a pas­sive way to have infor­ma­tion pushed at me when I don’t have time to man­u­ally check the site. I can do this because I have an unlim­ited tex­ting plan, but then I also use SMS as one of my top com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools. In fact, it’s prob­a­bly sec­ond behind face-to-face contact.

So tip num­ber one is to get an unlim­ited tex­ting plan if you can afford it and have your friends’ infor­ma­tion pushed to you through texts. At Sprint, unlim­ited tex­ting is absurdly cheap, some­thing like $20/month for every­one on the plan. Plus, then you can text Google, Ama­zon, and other ser­vices, as well as your friends and fam­ily. I real­ize not every­one can afford that, but if you can, it’s really worth it.

I’ve already men­tioned that I have trou­ble keep­ing up with Twit­ter, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use it or enjoy it. When I have time, I access the ser­vice using Twhirl. Even though you have to down­load the client, it makes it *much* eas­ier to track con­ver­sa­tions, reply, direct mes­sage, and do other things. It’s def­i­nitely my pre­ferred method for real-time inter­ac­tion with Twitter.

But it can be dis­tract­ing, like try­ing to work in a room full of your friends who are hav­ing inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions, so at best, I mostly just watch the con­ver­sa­tions, the way I read blogs. Some­times I have time to also par­tic­i­pate, but usu­ally when I can give some par­tial atten­tion to Twit­ter, it’s to read and keep up with what my friends are talk­ing about. I have very few friends on the ser­vice who only post sta­tus updates; the major­ity of peo­ple I know there are hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions, so I don’t have tweets sent to my phone, as it would be too over­whelm­ing. The one excep­tion to this is dur­ing con­fer­ences, as those are times when Twit­ter has a more imme­di­ate rel­e­vance for me, because it facil­i­tates face-to-face inter­ac­tion and tells me which are the hot sessions.

Social Aggre­ga­tors
I’ve been test­ing these new social aggre­ga­tors because I really need a good one to help me track my friends on all of these var­i­ous ser­vices (ver­sus my news aggre­ga­tor, which tracks my infor­ma­tion feeds). The more ser­vices I’m on, the more I wish these aggre­ga­tors would get a move on already. I’ve exper­i­mented with a few of them and have decided that none yet meets my needs. I really like SocialTh­ing because my friends don’t have to be on the ser­vice for me to see their updates. ST imports my exist­ing friends from a few ser­vices and dis­plays them in a stream, com­bin­ing Face­book, Flickr, and Twit­ter. The site is still in beta, but it doesn’t track *enough* ser­vices for it to be my only source. I can’t add a blog feed for a friend, and I can’t link directly to a Face­book friend’s wall or my inbox to reply to one per­son. How­ever, on days I can’t lurk on Twhirl, catch­ing up with a quick scan of SocialTh­ing once or twice a day has been invalu­able in keep­ing me in touch with what my friends are doing and saying.

So I’ve also been play­ing with Friend­Feed, but like Goldilocks, it’s not quite right either, mainly because your friends have to already use the ser­vice in order for you to see their updates. Unlike SocialTh­ing, Friend­Feed relies on the user to enter all of her accounts into a pro­file that oth­ers can then sub­scribe to within the site. But most of my friends don’t have pro­files there, so while FF sup­ports many more social net­works than ST, it’s less use­ful in the long run because I’m miss­ing most of my friends’ updates.

I’ve decided I need the auto­matic import of SocialTh­ing (as well as the flow of it) with the expan­sive­ness of Friend­Feed in a desk­top client like Twhirl. I would pre­fer a tool that lets me access my social­stream on the web, via a client, or on my cell phone, let­ting me choose which method works best for me at any par­tic­u­lar moment, but right now I’ll take what­ever I can get. I thought Mugshot might be it, but I couldn’t get it to work prop­erly (it wouldn’t show updates from my friends). I don’t think we’re far off from the first really use­ful social aggre­ga­tor, but it can’t get here soon enough.

I want to stress again that if you can take advan­tage of hav­ing your updates from your friends lifestreamed to your phone via text mes­sages, it will help you feel more con­nected to them and remove some of that guilt of not check­ing sites man­u­ally. But I want to stress just as equally that you should not let that stream take over your “real” life. I’m always shocked to hear that some­one won’t buy a cell phone because they don’t want to always be answer­ing it or that they don’t want to always be connected.

Peo­ple assume that I’m always on my cell phone and at times I am. But there are just as many times I’m not, and I don’t let it dic­tate my behav­ior. If I don’t rec­og­nize the phone num­ber of a cal­ller or if I don’t feel like it at that par­tic­u­lar moment, I don’t answer the phone. And just because my phone pulls in new email every hour doesn’t mean I actu­ally check it every hour. In fact, I really only check it when I’m wait­ing for an ele­va­tor at work (which actu­ally hap­pens quite a bit), not needed for the cur­rent dis­cus­sion in a meet­ing, stand­ing in line at a store, rid­ing on the bus, or some other sit­u­a­tion of my choosing.

So yes, I get a lot of use out of my phone to help me keep up, but I’m also good about ignor­ing it, espe­cially if I’m out with friends or doing other things. I do think this is a learned behav­ior, one that we need to teach our kids, and we need to be good role mod­els for this. Being con­nected but offline requires skill, just like being online but dis­con­nected does (if you’re doing this, you know what I mean). If tech­nol­ogy is mak­ing you feel guilty, exam­ine the sites you use to see if there are alter­na­tive ways to access cer­tain pieces of them and fig­ure out if they might work bet­ter for you. The future of the inter­webs is in shift­ing ser­vices to where the user is instead of forc­ing them to come to the ser­vices. Take advan­tage of that and let go of the guilt that you can’t digest every­thing (another skill we need to learn and teach oth­ers). As I said at the Com­put­ers in Libraries con­fer­ence last month, do you feel guilty that you don’t read every book that comes into your library? Dis­ap­pointed maybe, but I’ll bet you don’t feel guilty.

So those are a few of my quick thoughts about all of this. I’d love to hear how you’re using some of the new sites and tools to find some balance.

Be Socia­ble, Share!


  1. I actu­ally think the key to find­ing bal­ance is not using too many of the new ser­vices… if you try to use a bunch of them, I think it becomes really over­whelm­ing. Find sev­eral that you like, and stick with those. Every now and then, try out a new one… if it works well, start using it and give up one of the oth­ers you have pre­vi­ously been using.

    Comment by Talking Books Librarian — May 22, 2008 @ 8:55 am

  2. Inter­est­ing. I wouldn’t cou­ple LSW Meebo and Twit­ter that tightly, although either or both can be too much.

    With LSW Meebo, you’re either there or you’re not–and if you’re not, you don’t worry about “catch­ing up” since it’s not pos­si­ble to go back more than 40–50 com­ments. As Meebo calls it, it’s a room–sometimes deserted, some­times full of peo­ple with over­lap­ping con­ver­sa­tions. If you’re in the room and it gets to be too much, you leave (as I usu­ally do after half an hour or so). On the other hand, if every­body loved LSW Meebo, I sus­pect it would gen­er­ally be too fast & furi­ous to work very well; 6–12 peo­ple seems to be the sweet spot.

    With Twit­ter (as I recall from before I gave up), the tweets accumulate–like short blog posts. Sure, you can ignore the whole lot, but the temp­ta­tion is to try to catch up. At the same time, and maybe for the same rea­sons, Twit­ter is awfully attractive.

    Other than draw­ing a dis­tinc­tion between two short-message “com­mu­ni­ties,” I’ll just say this is an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion. I’m still think­ing about FB, but my track record with online com­mu­ni­ties is fairly shaky. I know from expe­ri­ence that giv­ing such com­mu­ni­ties the atten­tion they deserve (and that I’d be inclined to give them) means I don’t get my own read­ing, think­ing and writ­ing done. That’s just me–old, male, shy, not a good multitasker.

    As a long-time expo­nent of bal­ance, I cer­tainly agree that bal­ance is a dynamic thing that keeps chang­ing over time.

    Comment by walt crawford — May 22, 2008 @ 9:33 am

  3. I’m a newish librar­ian, solo at a pro­pri­etary school and my use of sites like Face­book (which so far I find kind of silly and I never check it) is lim­ited to my per­sonal use thus far; I’m very slowly dip­ping my toe in the water (this com­ment is an exam­ple of my slow begin­ning) but here’s what I won­der: When I ride the bus, or go for a walk, a good per­cent­age of the peo­ple I encounter are on the phone (some­times it’s me on the phone). I often think — why is every­one some­place else? How do we use all those tools, work at home and do per­sonal stuff at work and on and on and still man­age to be wher­ever it is that we are? peo­ple on the bus talk on the phone instead of meet­ing those around them…and those around them might have some­thing to offer. How do we SEE the flow­ers and birds we pass, when we’re always some­where else? at least I feel often that I’m not really attend­ing to my sur­round­ings and I won­der if oth­ers ever feel that way.

    Comment by LeeAnn — May 22, 2008 @ 10:00 am

  4. I keep bal­anced by log­ging into to the full FB and Twit­ter sites once in the morn­ing, and then I let netvibes mon­i­tor them for the rest of the day, along with my RSS feeds, LinkedIn, GMail, and some sta­tic things­like GCal. I can catch up when I have a moment to spare all on one site that way, and netvibes is avail­able wher­ever there’s a con­nec­tion and a device. I don’t use the phone because I am too cheap to pay for more than the $5/month pay-as-you-go from Vir­gin, and I am not that often on the road for any length of time except dur­ing con­fer­ences, at which point I would have my Asus eee. The only dif­fer­ence between work and home is that I tend not to do school­work at home, but I do social net­work­ing in both places.

    Comment by Candy Schwartz — May 22, 2008 @ 10:43 am

  5. I love this post–thank you! I’m work­ing on a talk for the MS Library 2.0 Sum­mit on Man­ag­ing Your Iden­tity on Social Net­works, and I com­pletely agree that we don’t have the killer app Social Aggre­ga­tor yet. Only two of my friends are on Friend Feed, and I find that right now it’s just a way for me to see what I’ve been doing…which is fun, too. Sort of. is interesting–but I haven’t made it work yet. You can update all your social net­works at once (i.e. syn­chro­nize twit­ter and face­book sta­tus, etc.). Another tool to man­age all of it, but still not quite there for me.

    I just blogged a few days ago (for the first time in a year on my per­sonal blog!) about being afraid of get­ting a smart phone (, so your com­ments hit home. I’ve pretty much decided to go ahead and take the leap, but now I can’t decide which one to get…I’m def­i­nitely not a techno­phobe, but there are so many out there. Any recommendations?

    As for Face­book and Twitter–Facebook is my job. We’ve jumped in head first at the library, with our own group and pages and appli­ca­tion, events, video con­tests, flickr feed, etc. All of our stu­dents are on it, and most fac­ulty and admin­is­tra­tors, stu­dent groups, and even classes. I do ref­er­ence on Face­book, and pretty much run my per­sonal life from it, too. Most every­one I know (inlud­ing fam­ily) is on it. I def­i­nitely keep it mostly pro­fes­sional, but I think it’s good for our patrons (I’m at a Uni­ver­sity) to see me as a real per­son. So I put my the­ater groups, poetry groups, etc. on it. And my sister-in-law posts videos on my wall of my three-year-old nephew. But we’re in a small town where the uni­ver­sity makes up about half of the population.

    I’ve just got­ten back on Twit­ter (I found it frus­trat­ing and silly in the begin­ning…), and I’m hav­ing some more suc­cess with it. I live in a small town in a small state, and I think I may be fol­low­ing (and fol­lowed by) every­one in town, includ­ing some students–I get great insight on what the ebb and flow of stu­dent life is! And this week Mis­sis­sippi Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing and the Clar­ion Ledger (the big paper in the state) started fol­low­ing me (and vice versa), so I’m fas­ci­nated to see where that is going. I still only have 37 followers…lol. But I love what David Ward and folks are doing at U Illi­nois Champagne-Urbana Under­grad Library are doing with Twit­ter on their website–they keep run­ning updates about which print­ers are down, slow net­work issues, etc. Good stuff.

    Again, thanks for the post.

    Comment by Amanda Clay Powers — May 22, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

  6. Great post, Jenny! I think this is some­thing we all strug­gle with and I appre­ci­ate learn­ing how other peo­ple find balance.

    Comment by Meredith — May 22, 2008 @ 8:13 pm

  7. Hi Jenny,

    Thank you, found the info both use­ful and rel­e­vant. Per­son­ally, my expe­ri­ence at my col­lege library has been with face­book and blog. Both have been received very well by both teach­ing staff and stu­dents. Face­book, is a space where I can meet stu­dents whom I’m unable to get through the col­lege email, through the blog, I’m able to post chunks of info, which could not be sent via email, and have cre­ated a link on face­book for my blog as well. I’m new to Face­book and Blog and have imple­mented it to the best of my knowl­edge, I’m try­ing to improve as I’m going along.

    Comment by Malar Villi NADESON — May 22, 2008 @ 8:52 pm

  8. Have you tried the Flock browser — I’ve found it makes flow of info lot easier

    Comment by John — May 22, 2008 @ 11:28 pm

  9. […] Jenny Levine wrote in a recent (excel­lent) post “for most of my pro­fes­sional career, the line between work and per­sonal has been blurred, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to tell where one starts and the other ends.” Me too. I don’t see the point of try­ing to sep­a­rate these dif­fer­ent pieces of my life since each is so intri­cately con­nected to and impacted by the other. That doesn’t mean I dis­close every inti­mate detail of my life. I never men­tioned on this blog that Adam was seri­ously ill this win­ter and how absolutely ter­ri­fied I was. But I pretty much avoided talk­ing to any­one about it because I kept burst­ing into tears. I can only write about it now because he’s doing so much bet­ter. Even when librar­i­ans write about their per­sonal lives, I don’t feel like they’re tak­ing part in gra­tu­itous self-disclosure. Some­times they’re try­ing to keep their friends up with what’s hap­pen­ing in their life. Some­times they’re just using their blog to process their own thoughts and feel­ings. All good things. […]

    Pingback by What is this thing we have here? | Information Wants To Be Free — May 23, 2008 @ 7:36 am

  10. Jenny, glad that google sends me alerts on Face-to-Face…and that I’ve found your blog. As some­one who writes and speaks on com­mu­ni­ca­tion (and offi­cially reg­is­tered, The Min­gling Maven), hav­ing a cogent, infor­ma­tive and con­ver­sa­tional resource is so help­ful. THANK YOU! BTW, that you are able to ignore your phone is a skill (trait, tal­ent or gift) that most peo­ple who use tech­nol­ogy don’t possess.

    Of course, I have a bias in that I wrote How To Work a Room and the forth­com­ing Face to Face: How To Reclaim the Per­sonal Touch in a Dig­i­tal World. But I want to be sure I am “cur­rent” so that I can keep up with my multi­gen­er­a­tional net­work of friends and fam­ily. Your com­ments about Twit­ter peaked my inter­est and curiosity.

    And there are just some­days I would just hold a book in my hands and read it!

    Thanks again for great info.

    Comment by Susan RoAne — May 23, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  11. […] and libraries and all the delight­ful inter­ac­tions betwixt same, Jenny (the author*) posted this post, about tech­nol­ogy as a source of guilt, rather than a tool for life bal­ance. I came across the […]

    Pingback by The Logical Operator » The edge is a fickle hellcat. — May 28, 2008 @ 1:09 pm

  12. […] Jenny Levine con­tin­ues to be the best library tech­nol­ogy writer out there with a nice dis­cus­sion on how to cope with social networking. […]

    Pingback by Morning Links « The Geeky Librarian — May 29, 2008 @ 5:17 am

  13. I really appre­ci­ated this arti­cle. It’s so easy to find posts and arti­cles on the newest and great­est soft­ware avail­able and I some­times won­der how much of any one thing I need to know. Your hon­est assess­ment of how well or not well some of these tools have worked in your expe­ri­ence was really helpful.

    Comment by Jennifer — May 29, 2008 @ 6:45 am

  14. […]… Uncat­e­go­rized | Cre­ate a free edublog to get your own com­ment avatar (and more!) […]

    Pingback by Blog Review | ILS 599 Marisa Gorman — May 30, 2008 @ 8:41 pm

  15. Friend­feed allows you to set up “invis­i­ble friends”–feeds from friends who don’t have a Friend­Feed account. The prob­lem with uti­liz­ing RSS is that it only syn­di­cates pub­lic infor­ma­tion. Pri­vate twit­ter streams or friends/family-only flickr pho­tos do not show up, requir­ing us to use the native inter­face for those. You can also set up your Friend­Feed in Twhirl. Another rea­son to love Twhirl!

    Going to give Social Thing a try. I didn’t like the way that Flock–mentioned by another commenter–displayed the Twit­ter feed. It appears to dis­play the most recent update from all your friends, rather than the con­ver­sa­tion itself. Per­haps that is a set­ting, but I got bored and moved on from Flock’s social fea­tures pretty quickly.

    Brightkite holds promise, espe­cially for those of us who use social media via SMS, but until Ver­i­zon decides to play nice with them, it’s not an option for a lot of folks.

    The search continues…

    Comment by cindi — June 1, 2008 @ 9:52 pm

  16. Thanks for the great com­ments every­one! Sorry for the mass com­ment, but I do appre­ci­ate your responses and ideas.

    @walt — I use Twhirl, which only shows the last 20 tweets, so going back in time isn’t an option there. Maybe that’s why I equate the LSW chat room with Twit­ter more than you do. For the most part, I don’t feel com­pelled to “catch up” with either one, but then I’ve also learned to let go of read­ing every­thing in my aggre­ga­tor and try­ing every new thing.

    @LeeAnn — That was kind of the point of my post, that there are ways to find that bal­ance. I some­times feel the way you do when you’re not present in the moment, but I was try­ing to pro­vide tips for let­ting things go and stream­lin­ing to allow for that. I hope you can find a mix that works well for you.

    @Amanda — Great post! Which cell car­rier do you use? You can def­i­nitely man­age a smart­phone (as opposed to let­ting it man­age you) as long as you’re con­scious of it.

    Thanks, @Meredith.

    Keep up the great work, @Malar!

    @John, I’ve down­loaded Flock and will give it another try. I haven’t used it since it first came out a cou­ple of years ago. It would be great if it solved some of these prob­lems for me.

    Thanks, @Susan. It is a skill it has taken me a while to develop, but I think just being aware of these things helps you get there, which is why I con­tinue to post about this.

    @cindi — FriendFeed’s “imag­i­nary friends” is an inter­est­ing idea, and I might use it for a fam­ily mem­ber who has just one feed, but real­is­ti­cally, I just don’t have the time to find all of the feeds for all of my friends who aren’t on the ser­vice and then man­u­ally add them. Plus, then it’s up to me to keep check­ing to make sure I get the new ones. For some rea­son, Friend­Feed won’t work in Twhirl, and their tech sup­port has been non-responsive on Get­Sat­is­fac­tion. I thought SocialTh­ing was also dis­play­ing pri­vate Twit­ter feeds because it’s based on my account logins, but I’ll have to double-check that. BrightKite is inter­est­ing, but so far I don’t feel com­pelled to update based on my loca­tion. The search does indeed continue.…

    Comment by Jenny Levine — June 2, 2008 @ 5:57 am

  17. Jenny, I can’t tell you how much we appre­ci­ate the men­tion. We’re very happy to hear that we rank so high in terms of impor­tant things to check daily…when we release our ver­sion 2.0, you’ll see a lot of major improve­ments. Most of these improve­ments were back-end, but you’ll see some of their effect on the front-end. One of those things that it has affected, is our abil­ity to con­tinue to add ser­vices to the ser­vice. With the new ver­sion, we’re able to add ser­vices at a much faster rate, which will be great…and we’ll be able to get you more fea­tures very fast.

    Glad to hear you’re a ded­i­cated user! Can’t wait to see how we can help you further..

    Comment by Matt Galligan — June 2, 2008 @ 9:53 pm

  18. Great com­ments and per­spec­tives! As an old librar­ian with teenagers, I find that I best bal­ance my social net­work­ing using Face­book. It just works for me in bal­anc­ing con­tact with stu­dents, fac­ulty and family!

    Comment by Keccles — June 17, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

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