Why I Suspended My Facebook Account

There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

It’s hard to believe, but I was extremely productive before social networking came into my life. Not only did I write or revise up to 10 computer how-to books in a year, but I wrote articles about using computers, learned to fly a helicopter and then built a helicopter charter business, and even held down a “real” seasonal job one summer. In my spare time — which I did have — I worked on several novels, went motorcycling and horseback riding, and had a vegetable garden.

People used to say to me, “How do you get so much work done?” I truthfully replied that I didn’t watch much television. I still believe that TV is the main time sucker of “civilized” nations.

What Sucks My Time

Maintaining a blog was the first thing to cut into my time. I took to blogging like a Portuguese water dog takes to water. I always wanted to keep a real journal and the original idea of blogging was a “Web log.” I started blogging in 2003 and have since written about 3,000 entries for this and two other blogs. Many of them chronicle days in my life and things I’m thinking and are a valuable memory aid for me. Others provide information on how to use software or avoid scams. Still others are history lessons or opinion pieces about politics and other controversial topics. I couldn’t give up my blogging any more than I could give up eating. It’s a part of my life.

The loss of my novel manuscript in a hard disk crash — I really thought it was backed up, so you can save the lectures; it was a difficult lesson to learn and I don’t need it rubbed in my face — was extremely painful. I haven’t been able to write any fiction at all since then. Maybe I’m using it as an excuse. Or maybe social networking has cut too deeply into my time, making it impossible to spend time on the things I used to care more about.

I managed to avoid the MySpace craze. That was the first experiment in social networking and a good friend of mine was hooked hard. I didn’t see the point. She was using it as a home page and I already had one of those. (I’ve had a personal Web site since 1994.)

View Maria Langer's profile on LinkedInThen LinkedIn came out and it seemed like a good idea for professional networking, so I joined up. I never spent much time there — and I still don’t. I have a decent sized “network” there, including other writers and editors and even a few pilots. When work got slow, I tried working LinkedIn to get new connections and jobs. I failed miserably. Everyone else on LinkedIn was looking for work; no one was looking for workers. I wrote a bit about it here and elsewhere in this blog.

Facbook LogoThen Facebook, which seemed like the grownup’s version of MySpace, caught my attention and I was sucked in. But I was never hooked. It seemed to me like a complete waste of time. I was apparently expected to build some sort of community based around my home page and “wall.” There were applications and advertisements and a never-ending stream of “friend invitations” from people I did and didn’t know. And e-mail. And I think I was expected to visit the home pages of my “friends” and write on their “walls.” And use applications to share frivolous information or give hugs or sign petitions. I never really participated and tended to ignore all that e-mail Facebook sent me.

Twitter logoBut when Twitter caught my eye in February or March of 2007, it seemed far more interesting to me. “Microblogging.” Meeting new people though short comments they post. At least that’s what it was supposed to be. Like most new Twitter users, I didn’t “get it” at first. But unlike many new Twitter users, I did finally decide that it was for me. I embraced it, and still do. It’s my water cooler, my way to socialize in my otherwise lonely, home-based office. Best of all, it’s easy enough to take on the road with my cell phone. I’ve met people on Twitter who have become real friends and enjoy the interaction with the 100 or so folks I follow and the others who follow me.

Why?

Meanwhile, Facebook continued to bug me with e-mail messages from “friends.” Check out this Web site, add this application, join this group. It never seemed to end. Even when I thought I’d shut down all the e-mail notifications, it continued to dribble in, like there was a leak in the dam, threatening to open up and overwhelm me. I’d visit my Facebook account and look at the home page and wonder why it had all that crap on it. I hadn’t put it there. I couldn’t get rid of most of it. I’d see comments posted by people I knew or didn’t know days or weeks before. Questions I hadn’t answered. Remarks related to Twitter updates.

How could I let something I had almost no control over represent me to the strangers who wanted to know me better?

And why should I bother? I already had a blog that can be found with the easiest address of all: my name.

The other day, a real friend used Facebook to suggest that I follow (or friend?) another Facebook user, FactCheck.org. I was already aware of that user’s Web site. I didn’t see any reason to follow their content in two places any more than I’d see a reason for someone to follow my content in two places. I didn’t see any reason why my friend couldn’t just send me a link to their Web site. Why use a third-party application to get me to follow a Web site in a third party application? Why add a layer of bullshit to ever-more-complex online experience?

I’d been considering suspending my Facebook account for some time and had almost done it twice. But this was the last straw. I had enough social networking bullshit wasting my time. I was obviously missing the point of Facebook and didn’t see any reason why I should devote time and energy to “getting it.” I was already wasting enough time with LinkedIn and Twitter. I had a life to live and I didn’t want to live it in some kind of virtual world. Facebook would be the first step in shedding the social networking crap weighing me down.

So I suspended my Facebook account.

Will I be back one day? Probably not. Will I miss it? Definitely not.

My Advice

Once again, I’m putting out a plea to the folks who spend more time in front of their computers than with their real friends and families: think about what you’re doing. Are you really getting any benefit from the time spent online? Can’t you see how it’s sucking your life away? Wouldn’t you rather spend most or all of that time with real people who matter to you doing real things and building real memories?

I know I would. And I’m trying to.

LinkedIn is likely the next to go.

Waiting for the Cable Guy

No, not a movie review.

At this moment, I’m sitting cross-legged on a comfy new red leather sofa, listening to NPR and staring at a blank “parchment” (think pale pink) wall. The wall will soon house our first HDTV. And, with luck, it will also sprout a cable Internet connection.

I’m waiting for the cable guy.

He’s supposed to be here between 8 AM and 10 AM — a nice, narrow range. It’s 8:21 AM as I type this.

We spent a lot of time researching our Internet and television options for the Phoenix apartment. We discovered that we could get cable Internet that was 7 times faster than what we have in Wickenburg for half the price. (Chalk that down to another benefit of life in a city over life on the edge of nowhere.) We also discovered that if we went with DirectTV (rather than Dish Network or the cable company providing the Internet), we could get HD television service set up in up to four rooms, with DVR (think TiVo) for half of what we were paying Dish Network in Wickenburg for two rooms.

I should point out here that we’re not getting anything other than “basic cable” television channels. Why? Well, there are a few reasons. First and foremost, this is a part-time residence. It’s idiotic to buy premium cable channels for a home we’ll be occupying only part of each week. Second, we have a Netflix subscription. Why be at the mercy of television provider schedules — or pay extra for on-demand television programming — when you can get the movies you want to see on Netflix?

Netflix LogoBut that’s not all. Netflix also has the ability to play many movies on demand on your HDTV through your Internet connection if your connection is fast enough and you have a compatible device to handle the incoming Internet content. Our connection here will be fast enough. Devices to handle this start at $99; we just have to decide which one to buy.

Of course, all this television stuff is moot right now, since we don’t have any television down here right now. I don’t miss it too much, but I am looking forward to watching movies in high definition on a big screen.

AirPort ExtremeAirPort ExpressBut I’m hoping the cable guy can put the Internet connection on this big empty wall. I’ll use an AirPort Express that I brought from home to set up a wireless network and attach a printer, which I’ll also bring from home. If we wind up with a Netflix-compatible device that isn’t WiFi compatible, I’ll bring down a spare Airport Extreme base station from home and swap it with the Express, which doesn’t have an Ethernet out port. Otherwise, the AirPort Express should do the job.

So I’m waiting for the cable guy. It’s now 8:46 AM. He should be here any minute now.

DUN

It works, but barely.

One of the reasons I have a Treo and not an iPhone or other cool, trendy communication device is because it supports DUN — dial up networking. This is a feature that enables me to use the Treo’s Internet connectivity to connect my MacBook Pro to the Internet via Bluetooth.

So as long as I’m in a place where my Treo can connect to the Internet, I can connect my computer to the Internet. I’ve successfully used this in off-the-grid locations such as our vacation property on Howard Mesa, on a cruise ship off the coast of Alaska, and in various hotels, motels, and restaurants all over the country. In fact, I used DUN to post this blog entry from a B&B in Girdwood, Alaska.

If you’re wondering how to do this, read an article I wrote about it for Peachpit Press.

DUN works. And yes, it works better than regular modem dial-up. But not much better.

The connection speed is slow and inconsistent. It might work well for a short time, then get bogged down. And if you don’t actively use the connection, you’ll get disconnected. (I wrote “Ping to Keep Your connection Alive” on MariasGuides.com to explain my workaround for this problem.) You’re also likely to get disconnected after a certain amount of time even if your connection is kept active — I seem to get cut off after 30 minutes or so. Or if you get an incoming call. And it seems to me that it takes multiple connections to get any task done.

Doesn’t sound very good, does it?

Well it isn’t. But it is better than nothing.

WiFi on the Road

I’m pleasantly surprised to find WiFi in unusual places.

I’m just finishing up a 6-day trip in northern Arizona. As usual, I brought my old 12″ PowerBook along to keep me connected. It has a built-in AirPort wireless card and can also connect to the Internet via Bluetooth with my Treo where Internet service is available on my wireless network.

WiFi LogoI’m pleased to report that I had access to the Internet on every stop of this trip:

  • Sedona. We stayed at the Sky Ranch Lodge on Airport Mesa. I had a Garden View room. I’m not sure if the WiFi connection was available throughout the property or if I just got it because I was relatively close to the main office. I don’t recall seeing it advertised anywhere. So I was very surprised to get a nice strong signal from my room.
  • Grand Canyon. I stayed at Bright Angel Lodge. While there wasn’t WiFi available there, my cellphone service was able to get Internet access, which I could then share with my PowerBook. So although the connection wasn’t fast and it required pinging to keep alive, it was available.
  • Lake Powell. We stayed at the Lake Powell Resort northwest of Page. Although there was WiFi in the lodge lobby, it didn’t extend out to my room, which was two buildings away. Again, the Treo came to the rescue and I was able to get online.
  • Monument Valley. We stayed at Gouldings Lodge. While I know my Treo can’t connect to the Internet there, my room was sufficiently close enough to the main lobby to connect to one of the lodge’s two WiFi hotspots. (I’m not sure, but I think the folks at Red Bull may have added the second hotspot when they were there in May for the air races. They were responsible for getting the cell tower put up nearby.)
  • Flagstaff. I stayed at the Radisson on the west side of town. WiFi is a standard feature in its rooms.

In each case where the hotel provided WiFi access, access was free. I didn’t even have to log on to a service and agree to usage terms. I just opened my PowerBook and waited a moment. A dialog told me that none of my trusted networks were available and offered to connect me with another network.

Paying Extra for WiFi?

I am surprised, however, at the number of high-priced hotels that are charging a fee for WiFi access. It’s interesting to me that lower budget hotels give away WiFi access but you can expect to pay $5 to $10 per day for the same access in a Hyatt or Marriott or Hilton — each of which tend to be more costly than an average hotel chain.

I’ve also come to the point where the availability of free WiFi in a hotel’s rooms weighs into my booking decision. For example, if faced with two hotels that have the same rate, I’ll go with the one that has free Wi-Fi, even if it doesn’t have popular amenities such as in-room coffee, free breakfast, or a fitness room. A fast, reliable Internet connection is more important to me than many other hotel features.

Networking – Part II: How LinkedIn Fits In

I’m not convinced that it does.

HandshakeIn the first part of this series, I summarized my views on good, old-fashioned networking and why I’m such a strong believer in it.

In this article, I’ll explain how I see LinkedIn, a professional social networking service, fit into my idea of networking.

LinkedIn

One of the biggest social networks for professionals is LinkedIn. The idea is that you set up an account and provide resume-like profile information. You then “connect” with other LinkedIn members, who become part of your direct network. Through them, you are indirectly connected to other people and can, supposedly, ask for introductions to make any of those people part of your direct network.

View Maria Langer's profile on LinkedInI’ve been a member for about two years now. As of this morning, I have 63 direct connections, 3200+ “two-degree” connections and a whopping 271,000+ “third degree” connections. Yet in the two years I’ve been a member with all these relationships, I have yet to get any leads — solid or otherwise — for work.

I’m not the only one. This is evidently a major complaint among members. Yet they all stick to it, trying to work the system.

Why LinkedIn Isn’t Working For Me

I have three theories on why LinkedIn is not working — at least not for me:

  • Linked in, being an Internet-based network, appeals primarily to technology people. So the user base is deeply skewed toward technology-related fields. I’m a writer who writes about using computers, so I’m on the fringe of this network. I think that people more heavily involved in technology may find LinkedIn more valuable. But I’m extremely disappointed with the number of aviation-related professionals on LinkedIn. Of the three that I’m directly connected to, I brought all of them into the system and two of them only have one direct connection: me.
  • Members have either the “what’s in it for me” or lack of confidence problem I discussed above. As a result, they’re not very likely to highly recommend contacts. To be fair, however, I have had no requests for recommendations in the past two years. In other words, no one has come to me and asked for information about any of my contacts, which include freelancers that do layout, indexing, writing, and all kinds of publishing-related work.
  • Members simply aren’t working the system.

You Gotta Work the System

A few months ago, when a LinkedIn contact asked me whether I’d ever gotten any work because of my LinkedIn membership, after admitting that I hadn’t and discovering that he hadn’t, I offered to ask a friend of mine who I consider a professional networking expert. She’s also a member of LinkedIn and she’s the one who’d pulled me on board. When I asked her the question, she admitted that she hadn’t gotten any work either.

“But I’m not trying very hard,” she added.

I knew immediately what she meant. You can’t simply put your name in a hat and wait for someone to call you with work. You need to work your connections. You need to make sure everyone remembers you and thinks about you when they have a need. You need recommendations. You need to build new connections through the ones you already have.

In other words, you need to network the old fashioned way.

And that’s where LinkedIn falls short of people’s expectations. Yes, you can use it to track down contact information for former classmates and colleagues and clients. But unless you actively keep in touch with these people, you may as well keep an address book in your desk drawer. LinkedIn only puts out what you put into it.

Full Circle

Which brings me back to my original example. Suppose I add Adam to my list of LinkedIn contacts. (The big challenge, of course, is getting him to sign up if he isn’t already a member — non-tech people are extremely cautious about signing up for any online service, even if it’s free.) And suppose Pete (remember him?) is also a member of LinkedIn and gets John to join. Pete refers John to me via LinkedIn. John sees my resume and is impressed. He asks Pete for an introduction. Pete uses LinkedIn to introduce me to John. John becomes part of my network and I introduce him to Adam.

Seems like a long, roundabout way to get things done, but if all of us were already members of LinkedIn before any of this started, it would go smoothly, like clockwork. And, theoretically, a lot of it would be do-it-yourself stuff, with John finding me through Pete’s contact list. A few clicks and introductions are made. E-mail is exchanged, then phone calls. And relationships are solidified by business transactions.

That’s the idea behind LinkedIn.

Sadly, that’s not what’s happening. Not yet. But I’ll continue to try to build my LinkedIn network and try to make some use of it.

Are You LinkedIn?

If you’re a linked in member, use the comments link or form for this post to share your LinkedIn user ID with the rest of us.

If you’re not, check it out. You might benefit from it.

Either way, I’d love to hear experiences of LinkedIn users. Use the comments link or form for this post to share them.