After 34,777 tweets I’ve decided to take a break. No more tweets, Instagrams or Facebook posts for the rest of 2014. For those who follow me on those platforms, they know that this is a big deal for me. Since 2007, I’ve shared (and often over-shared) many thoughts and moments from my life. 34,777 tweets is an average of 13.61 tweets per day, every day for 7 years. I felt like the Hank Aaron of tweets (Hank had 3,771 hits in his career).
Social media absolutely changed my life and many others in a positive way. In 2007 I posted about the benefits of Facebook for example here. I only moved to California five years ago and Facebook and Twitter were a big part of helping develop my voice. But, at the same time, like everything in life, things should be done in moderation.
When I told my kids that I was going off of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for 2014 my daughter responded with, “OMG. That’s so cool dad I wish I could have the courage to do that ❤.”
So on December 31st, 2013 I sent my last tweet before midnight. I haven’t tweeted or posted on Facebook or Instagram since. And do you know what? It’s marvelous. I had forgotten what it felt to be disconnected from constant notifications. And in the place of the cacaphony was a quietness. What it has resulted in was a quieting of the mind. Immediately, I returned to my love of longer form writing.
There seems to be a movement brewing to spend less time on such platforms. It’s a minority of people on the leading edge of this trend but it seems to be spreading. I first noticed it when I saw my kids started to use Facebook less and less a couple years ago. They never really adopted Twitter. But early on they began using Snapchat (ephemeral photo and video messaging) more and messaging apps like WhatsApp, Line and TextPlus. That trend seems to be accelerating.
Every dominant platform reaches a saturation point and many times finds it harder to pivot and evolve to new trends and consumer behaviors. This is why Facebook bought Instagram (and Twitter tried to) and why Facebook failed to clone Snapchat with Poke and later was rumored making overtures to buy for potentially billions. What social media will look like in a 3-5 years from now will look very different than it does today. As an investor, I’m always scouting for new trends. My theory is that by quieting down on the dominant platforms I can actually listen and experiment better with newer signals.
The signal for what that future will look like won’t come from the established platforms of today. They will echo out of the dorms of today and tomorrow.
Ironically, I sensed the dangers of being connected too much way back in 2002. It was then at the age of 28 that I pondered the future and something didn’t feel quite right. I began writing about what I called the Overtly Present Present: that a new form of stateless disconnected loneliness would arise. Such loneliness and despair wasn’t a new human condition. But our forms of distractions away from that despair had existed mostly in the analog world. Now that despair would be assuaged by digital bits fed through mobile connections. But the soothing would be of a more artificial kind not tied as much to our physical lives. And the cycle would be repeated until we had potentially lost something we once had- a familial connection to others in our physical lives.
When I wrote that, I was working endless hours trying to reboot after my first company, WebOS, failed. After restarting WebOS with my co-founder as HyperOffice and at the same time taking the very little savings I had to bet it it all on building a mobile game, Argentum, with 2 teens in Argentina and Sweden. Being a single dad working from home, raising 2 kids, my 18 month old girl, and my 4 1/2 boy, I wasn’t left with many sleeping hours at all.
In the midst of these challenges, it was a strange and perplexing time in the world. 9/11 had happened and the world seemed unglued, unstable, exceedingly dangerous-a future fractured and unsure. Something about the insecurity of the time struck me. A feeling that portended an era subsumed by torrents of information and tsunamis of distractions. This fractured state seemed to be filled with pitfalls and opportunities. The opportunity lay in building on applications that could solve real world problems, make a more efficient world while also giving people more entertainment than just playing Snake on their Nokia Phones (admittedly I was a big Snake player).
As an entrepreneur I saw a massive opportunity in the world of mobile in 2002. It was clear that the Nokia 5110's of the time would give way to smartphones and that wave would be unstoppable. Billions upon billions were being spent building advanced mobile networks across the planet. I knew that the fixed lines used to dial up to the slow internet of the era would be sealing their own fates by getting millions acclimated to a more connected world and that our thirst for connection would graduate from fixed to ever more mobile connections. No one would have fixed lines in the future. We would want all the world’s information and entertainment available anywhere we were. So I begin to pivot my own entrepreneurial activities towards that mobile world and founded SGN.
Fast forward to 2014 and the signs are all around us. Look around you in any restaurant and you will see couples, families and friends glued to their phones. The media giants of the past who controlled the flow and distribution of information suddenly mirror our own discombobulated states- as new media powers like Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter- born for and in this overtly present era- have suddenly risen to heights of value, power and influence no one had seen fully coming.
As I reflect on this era now in full swing in 2014, my wish is to disconnect from this overtly present present and live in the moment more. My 28 year old self is speaking to my 39 year old self. I have seen its effect in my own life. I am guilty of connecting too much and sharing too much. I am going to live more quietly. I am going to spend more time face-to-face with my friends and family. I am going to unplug more. And by disconnecting I am going to feel more connected.