Not Dead Yet #2: Social Media and the Always On Lifestyle

From the time the event started until I settled down in the ER bed, exactly what happened and when it happened became a bit of a blur. I was busy trying to figure out if I was about to die, stressed to the gills and frankly scared out of my head. At the same time, I was evidently thinking about what needed to be, since by the time the medics arrived, I’d put on shoes, stuffed my keys and wallet (with medical ID) in one pocket, my phone in another, and I was taking my blood pressure as they entered the room (in case you were wondering, it was 158/94, with a pulse of 115, but my unit is typically metering heavy compared to when I’m checked in the office — I consider that a positive since I still track it as if it were accurate). I wrote that down in Evernote, by the way.

I can guess what my thinking was: if I’m going to the hospital, I’ll need shoes when I leave, keys in case the door is locked, and my wallet for ID when I check in, and I never leave without my phone. Also, I need to let people know what was going on. Note that Laurie is in the room with me and will be picking me up from the hospital if I’m released, so I’m not claiming my thinking was 100% correct, but the intention was there.

As we left, the last thing I did before walking out to the ambulance was grab my iPad, so I’d have the Kindle books with me for the slack times.

Once I got to the hospital and things started to settle down, I checked and I had decent network, so I did what came to mind and took a selfie and posted it to Twitter. Because it amused me. That was about 11PM, or about 100 minutes into the event.

As I was posting it, I realized that without context, that image was likely to cause some freaking, and with that, the live-tweet session started. It needed context so people didn’t. I quickly realized I needed to make sure people understood things were (mostly) under control. Since I’m me, the obvious answer was to steal from Monty Python, and suddenly my motto for the night became “I’m not dead yet”. And once I opened with Monty Python, the live tweet becomes a bit of a standup routine, until I was too tired to actually think up things that I thought were funny.

There were a number of reasons for doing this. First, I could. I was amused to be in an emergency room with network and without burly interns wrestling me for my phone. On a personal level, though, it gave me a distraction and let me try to get my mind off of the situation, which helped me as I worked to get the stress under control.  The response I got back — in real time — also really helped, and thanks to everyone. Mostly, though, what I was doing was sidetracking my brain so it wouldn’t obsess about what we didn’t know about what was going on, and get the stress levels reduced. And it really helped.

Along the way I realized I wasn’t going to make meetings on Thursday (duh), so I sent out some email warning people at work of that. Unfortunately I missed one key meeting, and I woke up to a couple of phone calls and voice mails (I’ve since apologized and I’ll reschedule once I’m back in the office).

So along the way, I worked in multiple references to Monty Python, then tossed out a couple of obscure movie references (Phantom of the Paradise and All that Jazz, the latter being the most in-appropriate movie I could think of for the situation. Gideon!). I started working in some recent memes from twitter, including Pumpkin Spice flavored IVs, iPhone battery life, a snide comment about Apple’s new Health app, and a Siri snark. In other words, a fairly normal conversation with me.

As I got tired, my eyes were too tired to read, my iPad battery was too low to play a movie (I’d swapped to the phone for email and twitter, and the iPhone 6 handled it very nicely, and didn’t bend), so I settled in and shifted to just giving an occasional “Not dead yet” update. I could have slept, maybe, and I think I nodded off once, but in all honesty I wasn’t ready to sleep, because I didn’t want to be asleep if something bad happened. Despite being wired up like a Terminator and networked into the duty desk, I just wanted to be awake. I wound it down when I was released and able to go home.

Thinking back at all this, there are some interesting things worthy of some discussion about our relationship with life in a universe where you’re always connected and online. I’ve lived online for a long time, and in general, I’m comfortable — and most of my social circle is online. It’s natural for me to be interacting with it and I think that’s one reason I seem to be able to do Community Management pretty well.

One thing that’s important to understand is that everything you do online in a social setting has side effects. I realized as I was posting the selfie that if that went out without some context setting it would likely upset people beyond the severity of the situation, so I felt it was important to manage that so people didn’t freak out.  After that, I felt as long as I was online, I might as well have a bit of fun with it.

The response was nice to see, and to everyone who checked in, thank you. It was definitely appreciated and helped. But imagine a scenario where nobody responds. I know I sometimes wonder just how much what I put online is actually read; I also know it’s unrealistic to presume everyone else is going to react to everything I write, because I sure don’t to all of you. Still, at one point I started wondering what my reaction would have been to silence, and I don’t think that would have been fun. Fortunately, didn’t happen.

Think about another scenario: what if somewhere along the way things did go sideways. Or (ahem) really sideways. I presumed a happy ending to the event, and while I think by the time I started this I felt that was where it was going (at the least, “not tonight, not now”), what if I was wrong? At the least I’ve created a confusing situation and some complications for Laurie to deal with. That would have taken a really bad situation for her and made it worse. Not good. Fortunately, I guessed right, and I’m not dead.

For anyone doing social media, I think there are a few lessons to be learned.

  • Everything you do online has a context and side effects. I think it’s important that you help your social circle understand the context and not assume they’ll guess it.
  • We have to remember many social cues in our conversation are lost, and we need to compensate for that loss or risk being misinterpreted. That’s part of the reason for proliferation of emoji and emoticons — for better or worse.
  • Even if it seems simple or fun, it might have deeper connections or cause side effects, so you really do need to think through the possible problems you’re creating for yourself if you do something. Since so much of the online social space is a “shoot from the hip” environment (comment first, think about what you should say later), this can be tough, but it’s important to slow down a bit and engage both brain and fingers. I’m not saying you have to be paranoid, but a bit of “careful” and a bit of “measured” never hurt.
  • If you’re going to take your gear to the emergency room, don’t forget your earbuds. It’s impolite to play your stuff on speaker in that situation.

Overall I think it turned out well (and I’m not dead, which helps). But as I thought it through later, I realized there were some deeper aspects of something like this, and I wanted to discuss them in the context of people using these social tools and especially those of us using them professionally as well as personally. The key thing for me is to always be aware of how the people you’re speaking to will react to what you say, and try to make sure they have enough context to get the message you’re sending. Often, we make assumptions and leave stuff out, and they make assumptions. most of the time, it’s harmless, but  not always.

These social worlds are still new to all of us. We’re still figuring out how to interact and be human on them. One challenge is that sometimes we use them seriously, and sometimes we use them humorously or frivolously, and there’s enough context missing that it’s easy to mistake one for the other. That’s something we all need to stay aware of and help each other bridge that gap between what we can accomplish in person with all of the non-verbal pieces of the discussion, and what we try to do here online.

That, and carry earbuds when you go to the emergency room. It’s only polite for your neighbors.

chuq (was glad I had the shoes, since it started raining. That’s called planning ahead. Or something…)