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Confessions of a Once Social Networking ‘Addict’

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By Eric Benderoff

RISMEDIA, March 13, 2008-(MCT)-I have social media fatigue.

I once had fun trying to amass a quality collection of virtual friends. No more.

I once enjoyed peering through my friends’ friends to find interesting people to become my friends. Now that’s tedious.

I once changed profile pictures as often as Chicago’s weather turned. But this winter has lasted forever.

And I once looked at my various online profiles every day. Now I’ve forgotten the passwords for many.

Mustering the enthusiasm I once had for social networking is starting to feel like a chore.

A key reason is that for many worker bees like me, it has become an obligation-like the holiday office party-to join an online social network.

Facebook is the flavor of the moment, but before that it was MySpace. And before that, Flickr and Friendster. I’ve joined my fair share -don’t forget LinkedIn, Last.fm and Yelp-and I’ve spent quality time virtually meeting interesting people while reconnecting with old pals and former acquaintances.

I did join for work reasons-I’m a tech reporter, I need to know these things-and I’ve gotten a number of story ideas from online social interactions. The bonus: I have had a lot of fun with a new, interactive media form.

But things have changed in recent months, and to me it’s starting to feel a bit like those heady days in early 2000, when the Nasdaq stock market soared toward 5,000 and my sister would call to offer a stock tip. Is she a broker? No, she’s a baker.

There won’t be a “social smash” akin to the “tech wreck” because there will be a next big thing in social networking. (There’s probably an announcement in my inbox-”It’s YouTube meets Facebook with the reach of LinkedIn!”)

But change is clearly in the ether.

I’ve been an honest user of social networks. I participate by posting pictures of my kids, listing my interests and sharing content with friends interested in specific topics. Likewise, I’m genuinely interested in what those virtual friends are doing. As I’ve said, it’s generated plenty of ideas and new discoveries.

That has made it a useful tool for work-and play.

But I don’t see that sincerity coming from all my Facebook friends.

One uses a piece of grilled meat for his profile picture and another lists his interests as follows:

Activities: Competitive eating.
Interests: Eating competitively.
Favorite music: Songs about competitive eating.
Favorite TV shows: Ones in which people eat competitively.
Favorite quotes: “Gosh, I really enjoy competitive eating.” –Me

Humorous, yes. Sincere, I don’t think so.

My Facebook profile is in danger of becoming an office directory with pictures. That’s fine to a point, but the idea of Facebook is to interact with a community of like-minded friends. Social networking has turned into work.

I’m not alone in my concerns. An online marketer-and Facebook friend-also noted social media fatigue. One reason is the array of sites one needs to keep track of, particularly if you’re an online marketer, but another is exhaustion due to maintaining virtual friendships.

He said that’s especially true for people over a certain age-let’s call them tech reporters and online marketers with graying hair. For them, managing online interactions has become a chore.

But for another generation-let’s call them younger and purely optional users of hair-coloring products-there is no such thing as social media fatigue. Rather, they gladly join numerous sites to experiment with different personas.

“They are in consumption mode,” he said. “They are still exploring.”

So it was no surprise when a young colleague suggested to co-workers that it would be a good idea to set up two profile pages on the same social site-one for work and one for play.

I might try that. After a nap.

© 2008, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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