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Unsocial media

Giving up something now for something better later is not a sacrifice. It is an investment.”  Andy Stanley.

“Don’t waste your time chasing things that will never be beneficial to your future.”  April Mae Monterrosa.

In October 2015, while preparing to deliver a workshop on social media, a Turkish colleague asked me for a definition of social media. In the previous 18 months I had become a serious ‘social media guru’, something of an expert. I did workshops and gave talks on social media and was even invited to present my recommendations for doctors’ use of social media to the Irish Medical Council.

Up to that point I was professionally using a plethora of platforms including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Google Hangouts Live on Air, Skype, GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar. Each served different purposes, and it had become my mantra that contrary to commonly-held perceptions, when used with care, they could be used with great efficiency and effect.

I had formed the view that Twitter kept me informed about what was happening in the global community of general practice. I followed GPs all over the world, mostly Irish, but also in Australia, Canada and the UK, which are very similar in structure to Ireland. I thought it was useful to be aware of what was happening in these territories. I felt Twitter also kept me professionally connected and less isolated. By following GPs who had a research interest, I believed that I had quicker access to high-quality, current research than if searching online. I also felt I was gaining an enhanced appreciation for what was happening at national level with our politicians and health service administrators.

WhatsApp had become a crutch. I had formed the view that it was an extremely valuable tool for instant communications. I principally used it when organising and planning meetings and events in Ireland. I had also participated in WhatsApp discussion groups among GPs who were interested in trying to bring about systems change at national level. As with Twitter, again I felt this was important in making me feel that ‘I was not alone’ and appreciating that I was and am part of a community of GPs in Ireland that share deep concerns, worries and frustrations. Within the Vasco da Gama Movement (VdGM), WhatsApp was also the platform of choice used by my Executive and Special Interest Groups to stay in touch.

I used Facebook and LinkedIn much less than Twitter, however I believed that both also served important purposes. Particularly in a European and global context, Facebook allowed me to keep connected and disseminate information to those following VdGM and to stay in touch with what was happening inside the WONCA Global Young Doctor Movements. In contrast, LinkedIn had helped me build a network of professional medical and non-medical contacts. Particularly at a national level, at that time I believed that network to be invaluable in creating opportunities and solving problems. In relation to the other platforms, at that time, I believed that each served its own purpose.

And so to the definition I gave to my colleague. I told her: “Social media is a new paradigm of 21st Century interpersonal and intra-group communication, in which we harness the power of device and internet technology for the purposes of education, entertainment, information, business and professional collaboration, by connecting with other often geographically-dispersed individuals who share similar interests, aspirations and goals as part of local, national and international families and communities.”

What I hadn’t realised with social media was that, as with other activities that take up our time, it is vitally important to consider if they are a good use of time! At the end of October 2015, this realisation dawned upon me and so I started to ask myself some hard questions about my social media usage. Over a two-month period, I made a very detailed appraisal of why I used social media, what I was giving to it, and what it was giving to me. I began to ask myself hard questions about how much of my time it was occupying, and if there were more effective and possibly enjoyable ways in which to have the same outcomes.

At the end of my appraisal, I decided I didn’t need LinkedIn. So I shut it down. Facebook quickly followed, as did WhatsApp; my Executive was told that email was the “way to go”. It was a real wrench to contemplate leaving Twitter, but when I considered if my time was well spent Tweeting, I decided it wasn’t. So Twitter got shut down.

Do I miss any of it? Not one bit. I am left with a WordPress account under a pseudonym, but otherwise, for me, social media has had its day. Contrary to missing out or suffering a loss, having dipped my toes into the water of social media (in fact having undergone immersion therapy in social media), I came to the realisation that it wasn’t of benefit to my future. I stopped it, and as Andy Stanley said, in doing so I believe I’ve made a huge investment!

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