By: Alexandra Samuel is the Director of the Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University and the co-founder of Social Signal.
Follow her on Twitter as @awsamuel.
After all, 2010 was the year we woke up and started asking the tough questions about our always-on, connected lifestyle. Questions like “What kind of brain is the Web giving us?” And does “juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information..change how people think and behave”?
In the big picture, this was a reasonably quick wake-up call; we’re already examining the social web‘s effect on us and most of us have only been on Facebook for 3-4 years, have carried an iPhone for 2-3 years (and a Droid for less), and have been on our BlackBerries for, at most, 8 years. We’re still in the early days of creating a new society in which our lives are lived online as much as face-to-face. This is the year for us to start making choices about what we want that society to look like.
Here are the 6 most important choices for you to make this year — the choices that will determine both the quality of your life online and of your relationships offline:
What am I choosing to do on the Web? Imagine turning your computer off every time you turn away from it, and then using the next boot-up cycle to think about what you want to accomplish when you get back online. I’m not advocating that kind of wear and tear on your on/off switch, but I know that our lives online would be infinitely more satisfying if we each took 30 seconds to stop and think about what we want to experience or achieve each time we go back to the Internet.
The pace of our online lives intensifies the need for absolutely clarity about our personal and professional goals: the Internet hurls so many tasks, distractions and genuine opportunities our way that it’s easy to get blown off course. But if you’re clear about what you want the web to do for you — the kinds of relationships you want to build, the conversations you want to have, the ideas you want to express — your time online can actually support and sharpen your vision for a fulfilling life. Make 2011 the year in which the web becomes a means of pursuing your personal and professional priorities, rather than an end in itself.
Who am I choosing to be online? Anyone who has played a video game or hung out in Second Life has encountered the temptation to reinvent oneself as a seven-foot tall werewolf or a voluptuous cheerleader. But you don’t need a salacious fantasy to craft an online persona that is subtly or even dramatically different from your offline self. Your offline self is lumbered with a job, a set of expectations from friends, family and colleagues, and maybe some body image neuroses. Your online self can be anyone you’ve dreamed of being, or someone you already secretly are. And since the persona you create for yourself online inevitably bleeds over to your life offline, creating the best version of yourself online will invariably help you become the person you want to be, online and off. Start bringing that online person to life now.
What problems am I choosing to fix with the help of the Internet? The village that needs a new water pump. The prospect of climate change. The aunt who needs a new beau. The creative vacuum left by the implosion of your garage band. Whether it’s a problem for you, your community or the world, the Internet can help you fix it. Tithing 10% of your time online — from micro-volunteering to online activism to writing a heartfelt note to a lonely friend — is a structured way to ensure that the Internet becomes part of the solution instead of part of the problem. This can be the year in which you get serious about the Internet as the single most promising problem-solver in a world that faces many fast-growing problems.
Am I choosing to be a brand or a person online? Much attention has been paid to “personal brand management” or “reputation management” online. You can choose to live your online life as a brand, and commit yourself to a strategic online presence that is based on maximizing the ROI of your every online utterance. Or you can choose to be a person, committed to online authenticity not because it’s a best practice for social media marketing, but because it’s an extension of your offline integrity. You get to choose whether you live in an online world that’s made up of the interaction among brands or one that’s made up of interaction among people. The way you (and the rest of us) engage online in 2011 will set the pattern for our future.
How am I choosing to use boredom? Recent research reveals that our brains need a certain amount of downtime, that is, boredom, in order to be productive. Those moments when our minds wander are the moments that give us breakthrough thinking, insight and innovation. Reaching for the Blackberry when you’re stuck in a line-up, or processing e-mail during tedious meetings: these activities displace the former vacancies from which aha! moments once emerged. This is the year to commit to a minimum RDA of boredom, to foster habits that keep you from filling every moment with productive or engaging activity.
How am I choosing to live online? Your time online is full of frustrations, from web sites that crash to people who write flames instead of comments. You can let these frustrations turn you off of social media. But remember that in 2011, as in every previous year, the amount of time you spend online will increase. The Internet is woven into the fabric of your daily life. In a very real way, you live there. It’s up to you, to each of us, to make the choices that will make it a good place to live.
Where are you going to ask for help online?We’re all struggling with the choices that the web now asks us to make on a daily basis: choices that were unimaginable even a decade ago. Identifying the challenges where you need some support, and the specific networks or communities where you are going to look for it, is crucial to moving forward in your life online.
What are the online challenges you’re facing? Leave a comment so that we can start tackling them right here.