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.

Facebook
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.

Twitter
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.

Smartphones
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.

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18 Comments

  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. Ping.fm 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 (http://www.amandaclaypowers.com/?p=65), 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 – http://www.flock.com. 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. […] http://www.theshiftedlibrarian.com/archives/2008/05/22/using-technology-for-balance-instead-of-guilt… 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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