Sunday, December 13, 2009

Social Media Burnout and the New Pressures on Educators

When I'm speaking to or holding workshops for educators I use this image to indicate how I think a lot of them feel about huge societal changes that are taking place around information in our world--and how I think many of them feel when trying to 1) learn the new social media technologies and then 2) add them to their already existing (and time-demanding) practices.  Some may be facing the wave, some may have their backs turned and are just being told it's coming, and some very few are bravely surfing--or trying to surf the intellectual equivalent of Maui's Jaws.

So it hasn't been a huge surprise to watch our good friend Donelle O'Brien go through "social media burnout."  Donelle has been a brave surfer, and to most of us she appeared as a "natural," taking to blogging, social networking, and Twitter like she was born to them.  She was everywhere all at once, all hours of the day. But this summer it all proved to be too much:  too much time, too much pressure, and too little sleep.  As she details in a series of blog posts this past week, she very suddenly went (fell?) "off the grid" and is just now coming back.  Of course, Donelle puts a good face on it and even goes so far as to give suggestions for staying balanced, but this cannot have been an easy experience for someone as devoted and thoughtful as she is.

Starting in 1917 two young girls claimed that they had taken a series of photos of themselves with actual fairies, and were publicly supported by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, among others.  The Cottingley Fairies were revealed decades later to have been a hoax, but to those of us who have grown up in a world steeped in photography and film, where we've seen all kinds of attempts--legitimate and otherwise--to manipulate the medium, the photos are obvious hoaxes.  The lighting doesn't seem right, there are resolution and focus issues, and we are just not taken in.  What we have in the world of photography that gives us the perspective to determine truth or value we just don't yet have in the world of social media--and that is time and experience.  Some amazing activities are going on with social media and education.  And some other activities are promoted and pursued that may end up seeming way out of balance.

Rachel Dretzin described this week filming at Stanford where some experiments have been done on multi-tasking that seem to show it's not all it's cracked up to be.  Even more fascinating was the finding that those who thought they were good multi-taskers may actually end up being worse than most.  Will Twitter end up being like the Edwardian "postcard craze?"  Really, only time will tell.

I'd like to think that we'll figure out a balance.  That youth and adults who find themselves caught in time and emotional traps will learn some lessons, share them with others, and we'll figure out how to integrate the incredible powers of social media into our lives in ways that are balanced.  But then I reflect on television and its role in our lives, and truth be told, I don't think the high average number of hours of television that most people watch would indicate that we ended up with a very healthy balance.

[Tidal wave image - Clarke M. Smith,, by permission.]


  1. Appreciate you taking 'time' to explore this (and also for introducing me to Donelle). Well said/provoked.

  2. Fantastic post, enjoyed reading it a lot...

  3. I've been feeling the same way about TV for quite some time. When people ask me where I find the time to engage in online communities, I point to how I've pretty much given up TV. One of the questions I have is why do people not feel a sense of TV burnout like they do social media burnout? Is it due to the active engagement that social media often requires in comparison to TV viewing?

  4. @Matt: I think that's exactly it. TV doesn't burn us out since it's so passive. (It arguably just sucks life out of us.) The active nature of social media, which often require intellectual and emotional participation, leaves many of wanting "quiet" or solo time.

  5. Great post.
    I find that it's often good to identify how you intend to engage in social media before doing so - some days when I don't feel like 'talking' on social media platforms I treat it as a passive medium and just 'listen' to the conversations, intentionally not posting comments etc. I find it's a good way to avoid burnout but not drop off the grid entirely.


I hate having to moderate comments, but have to do so because of spam... :(