We’ve joined every niche social site and accepted nearly every friend request. Strangers know which conferences we’re attending, acquaintances know what we’re reading or buying, and coworkers can see every place we check in, before, during and after work hours. Where are the boundaries? What was the point? Was it worth it?

For the last six years, partially out of interest, partially out of a desire for keeping up to date on the tools, I’ve joined pretty much any social site that I could find. Squidoo, Vox, Posterous, Marzar, XING, Plaxo Pulse, Upcoming, Spock, ProfileFly, Xigi, Hi5, Tagworld, Skobee, Blip.fm, Last.fm, iLike, Virb, Panoramio, Picli, 8Tracks, BrightKite – plus at least 100 more. Many are long gone, rolled up or shut down. But I joined them all; to learn and to connect. To keep my view of the social world as wide as possible.

Through each network, hundreds of friend requests rolled in. Former coworkers. People I’d met at a conference. Unknown friends of known friends. Friends of my wife, friends of my kids. I added all but the total unknowns, to see what the value of each site was in terms of network volume. To see what happened.

The answer: I spent a ton of time and got very little back.

Don’t get me wrong: I love connecting with people and I get a tremendous amount of value from doing so. And I had to join each community to learn. But my Return on Time Investment has been rather low.

Sure, it brings back memories to see where my former coworkers at DDB check into an old haunt. It’s fun to find that several Social Media Club friends and acquaintances are attending #barcampseattle. I really dig getting exposed to music I really like through former colleagues on Blip.fm. But the rest? I have never connected with former European coworkers through XING. I have gotten nothing but porn spam from Windows Live Spaces and Hi5. I used Picli for two seconds and stopped. Which makes me question:

  1. Should I continue to accept every new friend request from someone I don’t know but with whom I have shared friends?
  2. Should I allow acquaintances and former coworkers to connect on Foursquare? And if my checkins are for fun, not for work, should I allow current colleagues to see my every destination?
  3. Should I invest the time to maintain profiles on the outlier sites like Squidoo or Epinions – in the hopes that one day, I will connect in a meaningful way? Do they really increase my search rankings?
  4. At which point does the happy Social Media Kool-Aid wear off (example: Quora)?
  5. When do I get my offline life back?

Now that we’ve joined everything, added everyone, and sampled every site: what comes next?

Time for pare-down. Fewer sites, fewer friend connections, fewer hours spent in front of a monitor.

Time to get my life back

After six years of this, I want my offline life back. Drinks with my friends where we have to actually TALK to learn what we’ve been up to. Kayaking. Hiking. Camping. Photowalks. Karate classes. All the things I used to do before I got hooked on this delicious addiction to social knowledge.

When we’re time-starved, we speed up and shorten our social interactions, so that, just like an addict, we can have MORE. Speed becomes a game, and the faster we can go, the more we can learn, and the larger volume of news/updates/photos/videos we can ingest.

But information and speed addiction reinforces a focus on the online life instead of the off. Kids can keep your brain present, but it just ratchets up the intense desire for time maximization. We start squeezing every ounce out of every second. That tyranny of the clock penalizes us in ways we don’t even begin to understand.

No offense, but…

As of today, I am disconnecting from most of the vast number of communities I’ve joined. I am disconnecting tangential acquaintances from most of my social networks. Don’t take it personally. I just want my life back. You know: close friends, hanging out, impromptu trips to the Cascades, working on my car, mowing my lawn. I am forcing a mental move from a volume/speed-based mentality to a quality mentality. Quality of interactions, quality of connections, quality of life. No more waking up and checking my phone to see who messaged me while I was sleeping.

Quality of life does not come from speed of life. It doesn’t come from information addiction or intensive time optimization. It comes from focus and being present. And also from taking your foot off the personal gas pedal. Fear of loss (friends, work opportunities, income) may make you think that’s a bad idea. But I don’t want to live with fear of loss.

Quality of life will create the abundance we all seek. Not speed.

This post is probably a bit rambling. But only because I want to stop writing, get offline and enjoy the sunshine.

So if we get disconnected, if you hear less from me, if you can’t see where I check in and can’t follow what I am reading, don’t take it personally.

I’m just taking back my quality of life.

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