The company I work for considers themselves to be a Gallup Strengths-Based organization. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, the long and the short of it is that the Gallup organization has a list of 34 traits that are apparently common in all people. These traits are referred to as strengths. When the company you work for decides that they want to become a strength-based organization (or you decide you want to find out what your strengths are on your own), you take a test and you get a list of the 34 strengths in in the order that they apply to you.
My number one strength is Input. What follows is a description of the type of person who has Input as one of their top strengths, according to the Gallup organization.
You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information — words, facts, books, and quotations — or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts. These can be acquired and then stored away. Why are they worth storing? At the time of storing it is often hard to say exactly when or why you might need them, but who knows when they might become useful? With all those possible uses in mind, you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable.
I, without a doubt, fall into the former category of collectors. I collect information. I used to collect things, but I had a change of heart about that a few years ago and really try to live my life amassing as little stuff as possible. But information? Oh, I collect information. I want to know…well, everything. I ask questions constantly. In many ways, I’m like a child. I constantly want to know why.
I’m still not entirely sure why Gallup considers this a “strength.”
You see, I’m well aware of how infuriating this is for the people around me. My co-workers know that if there is anyone in a meeting who is going to ask questions and throw a monkey wrench into a process that it is likely to be me. When we decide we want to move forward with a decision I want to know why we are doing so and how we came to that decision in the first place. I never have been, and never will be, a “Yes Man”. As far as my personal life is concerned? I can’t even imagine how annoying I must be to live with at times. If I hear you say something and I don’t understand it I ask you to repeat it, even if you were talking to the pets. Smile or laugh when you read something? I want to know what amused you. Get a phone call or text message? I ask who it was from. Break you’re routine in some manner by, say, having juice in the morning instead of tea? I have to know what’s wrong with the tea. We’re talking the kind of behavior that you’d normally expect to see from someone who is coming from a considerably more negative place than I believe I am personally coming from. I mean, I’m sure the roots of this can all be plowed through and we can talk about how it’s all based in eternally being an insecure fat kid, but the fact of the matter is that I just want to know. Everything.
Fortunately for me my second strength is “Woo”, which is essentially the ability to get people to like me. I’m annoying, but I’m generally able to convince people not to strangle me.
On New Year’s Day I was having a conversation with Lisa, and we were reflecting on the past year and our lives in general as is the custom to do on that day. Frankly I don’t put much weight on the whole “New Year, New Me” thing and look at the changing of the year as a virtually meaningless event. It’s hard to fight against the self-evaluation that happens during this time, though, and I get caught up in it just as much as everyone else. At one point the conversation turned to my use of Twitter and Facebook, and about the amount of time that I spent reading the timelines of the people I follow on those platforms. Lisa pointed out to me that any time I had “down time” where my attention wasn’t focused on something else I was on my phone and checking those services. If, for example, we were watching television together and she got up to go get a glass of water I would pause the show and pick up my phone. Get stopped at a red light? Check the phone. Waiting in line to check out at the grocery store? Check the phone. Pretty much any time I was left with nothing to “do” I was seeing what people were up to.
I don’t believe that my use of Twitter and Facebook has ever had a negative impact on my life, but I’d be hard pressed to justify all of the time I spent using them as positive. In looking at it objectively, one could easily argue that it was definitely obsessive, but I didn’t see it that way. I take the opinion of my wife very seriously, though, so I decided that I would test myself. I went to the beach at night, alone, put on my headphones and pulled up Ill Communication by the Beastie Boys, and just sat there for an hour trying to be “in the moment.”
During that whole hour I could not stop thinking about the fact that I wasn’t checking Facebook and Twitter.
This was, obviously, a bit of a wake-up call. I knew I was pretty obsessive about reading those sites, but I didn’t realize that not doing so would actually bug me to the point where I couldn’t enjoy a beautiful night in one of my favorite spots in the entire world (To put this in context, I have been going to that spot of Upham Beach for well over 25 years. Once I started driving it was not unusual for my friends and I to go there several nights a week to just hang out and talk).
The upshot of all this is that I haven’t really been on Facebook or Twitter since New Year’s Day. I have checked my notifications, and read a few tweets from specific people, but beyond that I have been staying away. I have thought about reading my timelines less and less, but whenever I do I have to almost physically restrain myself because I know if I start I’ll just keep scrolling until I’ve read everything I have “missed” in the last week and a half. In that time I’ve read four books. If I have down time when I’m not reading a book I’ve been perusing news aggregation sites like Fark and Metafilter. If I’ve felt the need to entertain myself, I’ve been trying to do so in a way that was more productive than constantly refreshing to see if anyone had an opinion on the latest episode of Transparent.
I don’t know where all of this is going to lead me. I’m not “quitting” these services, and I’m certainly not going to turn into one of those people who berates others for their choice to use Facebook and Twitter. As far as I’m concerned, though, this is reminding me an awful lot of what happened when I stopped playing World of Warcraft. Once I took a step back and realized how much time I had, well, wasted playing that game I was pretty well turned off from every actively participating again. It’s possible I will follow the same path with social media, and for pretty much the same reasons. I do feel a bit more disconnected from the people I follow on those services, but that’s only because I let a superficial means of communication take the place of real interaction with the people I care about. Knowing what someone ate for dinner last night isn’t really knowing what is going on with them, ya know?
I will say that an interesting thing I have observed about this is that, despite what my ego may have wanted me to believe, nobody has missed the fact that I haven’t been around. At least, if they have, they haven’t said anything about it. We all live under this illusion that if we were to just vanish from social media altogether that everyone would be concerned about where we went. It’s just not true. Again, this isn’t some sort of commentary on the people who follow me at all. It’s just that the signal-to-noise ratio on those sites is so overwhelming that unless something really bad happens what we find out about our friends there goes into one proverbial ear and out the other. Facebook, in particular, is the popcorn of human interaction. It’s cheap and somewhat tasty, but ultimately it’s unsatisfying and leaves you feeling greasy and sick.
Ok, I don’t know if that particular allusion is actually any good but I’ve spent so little time actually writing in the last few years that my ability to draw a picture with words is a bit rusty. Sorry about that.
This is normally the point of the post where I’d make all kinda of vows to write more on my blog, but I’m not going to go down that particular rabbit hole. I’ll just say that I am seeking other ways to keep my brain occupied, and to spend more time actually communicating with the people I care for and not relying on social media to serve that purpose. What that will look like down the road is anyone’s guess.
As an amusing postscript to this post, I will note with no small amount of irony that any of you who have bothered to read this post most likely made your way here because a link was automatically posted to my Facebook and Twitter feeds. So it goes.