Social Networking: All Me, All the Time

I am just sitting down at my laptop with my first cup of morning coffee when an IM pops onto my screen: "Did u like 2days entry?" I glance at the sender's screen name and blink repeatedly as I try to remember just who this person is. It takes a couple of moments before I realize the IM is from a fellow blogger with whom I've exchanged frequent emails but whose blog, in all honesty, I don't read very often. She bores me.

So I quickly visit her website to read her latest entry. Just as I'm trying to think of a polite way to comment on an otherwise mind-numbing piece of drivel, my browser's Twitter sidebar updates to inform me that a friend who's a new father just changed his baby's diaper, that a fellow homeschooling Mom was stuck in the drive-thru lane at McDonald's, and that another blogging acquaintance was about to have her second cup of coffee for the day. Meanwhile, my own coffee had grown cold.

Even as I sit there trying to wrack my brain for something positive to say about the IM sender's blog entry, I glance at Twitter and see that she's announced to the world that she's about to take a shower. Phew! I dash off a quick "LOL. Nice!" in the IM screen before closing it and launching my email client.

There, in case I'd missed it, is my FriendFeed digest telling me about the very same folks whose Twitter updates I'd just read, along with several dozen other people's updates, too. Also included: the title of and link to every blog entry they've written in the past 24 hours, every site they've submitted to Digg or, everything they've posted on FaceBook or MySpace, every YouTube entry they've reviewed, every photo they've uploaded to Flickr, and any blog entry written by someone else that they've favorited (or not) on StumbleUpon.

I'm tempted to delete that email. No, let me rephrase that: I desperately want to delete that email because, ultimately, I realize that I could not possibly care less about 99.9% of its contents. But I'm aware, having deleted similar emails in the past, that at least one of the people I follow on Twitter will expect me to have read their updates and will consider it a breach of Twittiquette if I have not.

The problem is that I can't remember who it was that got offended, and so once again I find myself wondering why the heck I'd been so indiscriminate when adding people to my feed in the first place. Because, ultimately, in that first heady rush to add contacts on my social networking I didn't realize that I wasn't just agreeing to read their updates, I was also giving them a sort of claim on my life. I don't just have access to their data: they have access to my time.

So I wade through the FriendFeed and my direct messages on Twitter. I buzz through my email and see that a good portion of the very same folks whose updates I'd just spent the past hour reading have also sent me email, so I dash off brief replies where appropriate. Just as I'm about to congratulate myself for having waded through all of that, another IM pops up from the same sender as earlier: "Did u see that vid I just blogged?" Crap. When do I get to spend my day on me?