Repurposing Social Tools

Michael E. Kirkpatrick ·

I love technology. As a third grader in 1995 I was using email and participating in remote video conferences (we were showing off to the school board a group technology project we did at school). And one year into Facebook starting up, I joined - or I should say a friend helped me join; they created my profile for me. Since that time, and after graduating from college, I’ve removed myself from Facebook and chosen to limit or not engage in many other online “social networks”. I tweet for #Notional, have dabbled in Instagram, and stay far away from Pinterest, LinkedIn and other enclaves of the social web. And much to the chagrin of friends who are trying to reach me at dinner or when I’m out, my iPhone remains on vibrate, tucked away.

I’m disconnected in many ways as many people I know have moved their social lives from in-person or telephone conversations to text messages, email, and sites like Facebook. I don’t usually know when more distant friends have gone on trips nor had major life changes (engagements, death in the family, etc.) because I don’t read about it on the web. I’ve made the conscious choice that I prefer to talk to people to learn about their lives.

The consequences of my choice go beyond being informed about my friend’s lives; it also means that I have fewer friends as I don’t maintain my friendships online. People I knew from college that have moved away and never called have fallen out of my social circle 1. Even friends who live an hour or two driving have become “long distance” friends that I catch up with once every month, or two, or three.

So who’s in my social circle? A few co-workers who I go to lunch with and talk with during the work day; a college friend who is still in the area; the handful of college friends I chat with on the phone and travel to meet up with; and my neighbors in my apartment complex.

Yet I don’t feel disconnected.

I think my dating pool is smaller as I’m not advertising to my 100+ Facebook friends that I’m single and instead rely on meeting people in-person through friends or on the occasions I go out.

Ultimately I’m happier living and interacting with the people around me and not constantly chatting via text or checking the headlines on Facebook. And a side benefit…friends will actually meet up with me for lunch or coffee to show me their photos from their latest trip, telling me about it and inserting side stories as we flip through their photo memories.

While it may sound like I reject “social” technology tools, in fact I’ve repurposed them as tools to help me engage with the social circle I’ve decided to stay connected to.

Web tools like Twitter are amazing in that I can reach out to literally anyone — regardless of our differences in geographical distance, or social, political or economic stature — and start a conversation. I think that is amazing. Though at the end of the day, I find what matters most to me are the relationships I’ve built using methods that feel comfortable and meaningful to me.

This post was inspired by an article in the Harvard Business Review by Tony Schwartz where he writes about “How to Be Mindful in an ‘Unmanageable’ World

“The addiction of our times is digital connection, instant gratification, and the cheap adrenalin high of constant busyness.…

“Paradoxically, the most important solution I heard is to use technology less frequently, and more intentionally.…

“My second revelatory experience was a lunch I shared with two new friends who were also attending the conference. We ended up spending more than two hours together, free of digital interruptions, just talking, reflecting, laughing, and hanging out. How often do most of us take the time to truly connect with work colleagues — much less friends — and how much richer are we for it when we do return to our work?”


  1. Or people that I’ve moved away from and haven’t called.