Do we decide how to behave?
Maybe I have decided to be an antisocial misfit, or simply a stuck-in-the-rut, crusty old man. Today for the first time I logged onto my Facebook account and scrolled through a few interesting, and mostly uninteresting entries. Eons ago I signed up for a Twitter account, but maybe used it once. Not that I have anything against Facebook, Twitter, or social networking in general; it is just that I do not see the value in it for me.
The evidence is that I am terribly wrong and obviously missing something. When millions, maybe billions, of people happily engage in activities that seem pointless to a minority of users, a rational person must assume that the people who do not enjoy these activities are missing something. Yet I write weekly posts both on decisions (as this piece) and tutoring for seniors. The effort of formal blogging is rewarding, and the frequent exchanges of information with readers are useful and fun. How does this differ from posting similar information on Facebook and engaging in multiple replies?
Perhaps a major difference is that when a person sits down to write a 750-1000 word article about a defined subject, more than casual thought must be put into the effort. An idea is selected, a thesis built up, and a method of presentation defined. Perhaps references are found. Finally, and for me extremely importantly, the final product must be proofread after letting it set for a while. This last step, which is often totally lacking in social media posts, helps to eliminate typos, sloppy writing, and disorganized thoughts. We should all envy the person who can sit down and simply start typing a magnificent, coherent article on any arbitrary topic. That is not me. I have to work at it.
A similar thing happens in live video feeds. I have the greatest admiration for Chris who can, in real time, read responses, point to relevant articles, give his own point of view, and make it interesting — all on the fly. That is not me. If I were to do a regular video, I would prefer the protection of offline editing.
So there are two aspects to my rejection of social media as a pastime: my own lack of skills in presenting and posting the type of immediate material that seems to be the meat on most posts, and my lack of interest in the material that most people think is important to put out there for everyone to see. The second point is similar to my rejection or ignoring most of the humorous emails that some people feel is necessary to mass mail to everyone on their contact lists.
Notice that I am not putting down the use of Facebook or Twitter, if you are addicted to them, then more power to you. If you feel compelled to share with all your email contacts the latest cartoon that tickles your fancy, go for it. No, I am simply trying honestly to understand why such activities are so attractive to so many people and not to me.
Both my wife and I keep a record of the books we read. We enter the date of completion, the title, the author, and some comments. On the average, I will consume 3-4 books a month — a few novels and sci-fi — but mostly non-fiction. We can use these lists to estimate the total number of words read in a given time and compare that to the equivalent number of words that would be read by scanning Facebook daily. With somewhat more effort, we could estimate the number of new ideas or thought-provoking concepts that one encounters in the equivalent exposure to reading or spending time on social media. In spite of the obvious problems in making such an estimate, reading is the obvious winner by a large margin. So in answer to the question posted above, we can conclude that a person who spends more time reading than engaging in social media is not necessarily being antisocial by voluntary decision. Such a person might simply be acting more efficiently in time management. Such a person might really be highly social. In my case, I am active in PC clubs, and volunteer at several venues. Surely that qualifies as being socially active.
But returning to the potential of inter-generational differences, I vividly remember the disdain my father showed toward early rock and roll. He could not believe that we actually preferred to listen to Elvis instead of the Dorsey brothers or Glen Miller. Consider the usage breakdown:
Facebook User Breakdown by Age
- 13 — 17 : 11%
- 18 – 25 : 29%
- 26 – 34 : 23%
- 35 – 44 : 18%
- 45 – 54 : 12%
- 55+ : 7%
Social Media Marketing: Social Media Age Demographics for Facebook and Twitter | Roy Morejon
If the last category (55+) had been broken down further, the 65+ users would probably be even lower. So my lack of interest might just be a matter of demographics. We like to think we are individuals, but, in fact, we are all members of groups with highly predictable behavior. That came home to me earlier this year when my wife and I were on a cruise through the Eastern Caribbean islands. Walking around the decks on such a ship, one becomes aware of the demographics of cruising. There are a few families with small children, some honeymooners, and mostly seniors. We are highly predicable, even when we like to think we are being unique.
By not being a Facebook regular, I am not being antisocial. On the contrary, I am falling neatly into the behavior of my demographic. That frustrating realization is almost enough to make me rebel and want to post something of Facebook! Maybe I will use Twitter to make myself different.
No, we do not always decide our own behavior — that is why advertising works.