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Appearance vs Experience: How social media has changed what we value

taking a photoHow often would you say you check your social media news feeds and see a picture of a friend on vacation, enjoying a fancy dinner, attending an expensive sporting event, meeting a celebrity or buying something big like a car or a house? I would venture to say this is likely an everyday occurrence. It’s common for social media to attract information such as big announcements or fun experiences, but what’s concerning is the trend of sacrificing the full enjoyment of these experiences in order to amplify their appearance.

We are becoming a society that is more focused on the appearance of our life experiences than we are with the actual enjoyment our life experiences. We can no longer appreciate a Valentine’s Day dinner unless we first check-in to the restaurant on social media, share a picture of our pricy entree and finish with an overly mushy (and overly personal) post about our significant other. Why do we need the validation of our social networks to confirm that life is good? Your vacation still occurred whether it’s on your Facebook newsfeed or not and your new car still exists even if your Twitter followers haven’t seen a photo. But maybe the reality of our lives is no longer enough. Maybe now we feel we need a broader audience to really enjoy life’s pleasures. This thought begs the following question…

Do we value the appearance more than the experience?

If you have ever paused, recreated or staged a moment so you could take a photo for Facebook, then the answer is yes. If you have ever updated your status in the middle of a romantic dinner, on vacation or during a massage, the answer is yes. I know I’m just as guilty of this crime as many of you may be and worse yet, it’s a hard habit to break! Next time you’re experiencing something really fun or unique, resist the temptation to update your social media. It seems downright unnatural. In particular, Facebook is becoming a “brag book” where we seek approval and validation for almost everything we do in life. It’s simply not accurate, and a little absurd, to measure the importance of such special moments by the number of “likes” a photo receives. We need to reverse this trend by refocusing on the experience over the appearance. We need to disconnect, even briefly, to allow ourselves a chance to take in the memory of a moment.

While social media has become the catalyst for this problem, it is a platform for sharing. There’s no reason not to update your networks with good news or a photo of something you enjoy. This is only cause for concern if in doing so you diminish the real-life experience for yourself. If you’re too busy trying to capture everything on your iPhone, the world is going to pass you by. Sure you’ll have photos to remind you of these great memories, but wouldn’t you rather simply live them first hand?

Have you seen examples of this emerging trend? Maybe you’re even a contributor. Where do you find your enjoyment – in the appearance or the experience?

 

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A Low-Information Diet – The Solution for Overwhelm and Overload?

fries wrapped in newspaperWhen I was in college I struggled with the perceived pressure to always be “in the know” with local and national media. As soon as I woke up I would turn my TV to the morning news as I checked emails and got ready for the day. On the way to class I would grab our Daily Collegian and a USA Today and scour the top headlines. During breaks I would sit with my phone and scroll through the feeds from various news apps. For all intents and purposes – I was completely wired. I self-prescribed this high-information diet so that I would never appear oblivious or ignorant to the outside world I was just learning to navigate. I was utterly convinced that absorbing as much media as I could was the only way to ensure I could hold a mature an intelligent conversation in the real world.

The building of this pressure was amplified by my communications professors’ preaching to always stay informed, to subscribe to at least 5 news sources a day and to read, read, read. It made sense. If I was going to excel in the field of communications, I needed to understand how people communicate and join in the conversation! I quickly allotted what little free time and free mental space I had remaining to becoming a media watch dog. Once out of college and in the midst of a hectic political campaign where information overload was the first line of the job description, I still tried to absorb the news from several different sources daily on top of everything else expected of me.  Every day was filled with overwhelm.

Then there came the critical moment in my life, the moment that if mapped out on a timeline would look something like a black hole, that I finally found the volume knob on my information feed and turned it completely off.

As you might imagine this was the time I spent re-evaluating what I really wanted to do with my life, what would make me most happy and what I had to do to get there. This was when I became an entrepreneur. It was during these critical weeks that I simply had no time or concern left for a high-information diet. All I knew was that what I was currently doing was making me miserable and I needed to stop it all in order to pinpoint the cause. So what happened when I stopped checking my phone and email, turned off the TV and closed the newspaper? Absolutely nothing. Nothing blew up, nothing burned down, I wasn’t accused of being ignorant and my career wasn’t the least bit affected. In fact, for the first time in a long time I found myself with some free time and free mental space to dedicate to things I actually cared about. The news feeds in my email no longer existed to serve as another to-do and I wasn’t under the same stress to absorb every piece of information around me and store it for later use.

I didn’t become blissfully ignorant, I became selectively ignorant.

So you might expect that with the start of my own business, I began to work this information back into my daily routine. You might even expect for me to brag about how many news sources I consume in a single day or how my finger is always on the pulse of the universe. This simply isn’t so. I still continue to enjoy a low-information diet to this day and I truly believe the benefits I receive from this are far more important and impactful than what I would receive returning to my old routine. My day begins by immediately getting to client work – not slogging through news headlines that may or may never be of any value. My inbox isn’t overloaded with unimportant emails that are basically self-inflicted spam. Most importantly, my mental focus has drastically improved from where it was years ago. I feel clear, calm and collected. This allows me to complete projects more efficiently which in return gives me even more free time. I turn this time into far more meaningful results than simply absorbing the chaos of the news world. Most enjoyable, I’ve found a fountain of focus to write and really dig deep into my thoughts. It’s this low-information diet that helps fuel the Bennis Inc Blog.

Ultimately, by exposing myself to far less information, I only expose myself to the right information. When I do choose to read or learn something, it is far more likely to be absorbed fully and used immediately. I‘m no longer in the business of seeking and storing information that can’t be of immediate value.  When I need information, I get it on demand. This has proven to be far more effective than reading, storing and trying to recall that same information through years and years of mental clutter. But most noteworthy is how moving away from a high-information diet has completely changed my mood, my sense of overwhelm and my amount of free time. I still fear becoming ignorant or oblivious to the outside world, but I now know this has no correlation to the amount of news I force feed myself in a day. As long as we remain hungry for knowledge and seek it out as we need it, we will stay as informed as we want to be –without the overwhelm or overload.

What type of information diet do you exist on? What do you think would change if you made the switch to a low-information diet? Share your personal experience with information overload or cutting it off completely!

 

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WordPress, Why’d You Go And Change?

negative sad smiley emoticon keyboardThis past spring, WordPress.com made some critical changes to the organization of its website and I’m certain I can’t be the only one who has caught on. The changes most noticeable to us, the bloggers, are the ones which impact the content non-subscribers are able to view as well as how easily our blog can be found when browsing the site. Ultimately these changes have altered the interaction of the community WordPress.com is built upon and your comments and page views have likely taken a hit as a result. If you’re like me, you may have been wondering why you blog has been receiving substantially fewer visitors even with the same frequency of posts and quality of content. Well, it’s not you – It’s WordPress.

As a creature of habit, I’m slow to warm to unsolicited change and so I didn’t want to form an opinion without first giving myself some time to adjust. I didn’t know if the changes would be permanent or if their impact would be decidedly negative. Now, nearly 6 months later, I’m concluding both to be true.

If you’ve joined WordPress in the last 6 months – feel lucky, you’ll never know the difference. If you’re a veteran WordPress user and haven’t noticed these changes, your personal impact may have been too subtle to notice (Warning: You may become acutely aware of these changes after reading the rest of this post). But if you’re a fellow blogger working hard for every new subscriber you earn, you may feel just as confused and agitated as I do with the blogging platform you’ve loved and supported above any other. So what happened, WordPress – Why’d you go and change?

Isolation of Non-Subscribers – Before I was ever a blogger or even a registered user of WordPress, I enjoyed visiting WordPress.com to browse through the day’s blogs. I was in awe of the chosen few who were featured on the “Freshly Pressed” section of the homepage that immediately greeted you with big pictures and intriguing article titles. As a loyal WordPress blogger for more than a year and half, I only recently noticed the different welcome page non-subscribers are now being greeted with when my computer decided to log me out one morning. Without logging in I could only access limited pages that resembled more of a commercial for WordPress than a blogging community. I get it, WordPress – you want new subscribers just as much as I do! But you have to give people a preview of the incredible content this community shares everyday to make someone want to join in. What first brought me, and as a result many of my clients, to WordPress (over other blogging platforms) was the way it openly shared blogs, allowed for easy browsing and even showcased a select few with the honor of being “Freshly Pressed” adding incentive for quality content. Now a wall has been built around the outside world and though the entrance inside only comes at the cost of an email address, this is enough to deter those who aren’t yet ready for their own blog or who want to remain an anonymous (though loyal) blog browser for right now.

For logged-out users, the OLD WordPress.com homepage used to greet you with its Freshly Pressed articles of the day and the option to browse more blogs under those topics. Note: this is without needing to sign in.

Wordpress old homepage

Now logged-out users are only able to get as far as “Get Started.” They’re denied any interaction with the community until they agree to create an account.

Wordpress new homepage

Freshly UnimPressed – I still believe being chosen as Freshly Pressed by WordPress is one of the most exciting honors for a new blogger. I was chosen two months after starting my blog and received nearly 3,000 blog hits in a single day and a large residual of hits and subscribers for months after. Truly this experience alone can launch a blog to stardom! Since the changes, I’m no longer as impressed with the publicity of Freshly Pressed – and it breaks my heart to say this. This stems from two main reasons. First, Freshly Pressed articles used to be featured on the homepage of WordPress.com and this produced far greater traffic for the featured blogs. Now that it’s no longer the default landing, users have to actively select the Freshly Pressed tab to view the blogs. Though even a minor additional step, this still creates a substantial roadblock that users won’t take the effort to do. I know I’m guilty of not visiting the Freshly Pressed page every day, whereas it used to be my starting point when visiting WordPress.com. Second, only registered users/subscribers can view Freshly Pressed blogs. This option no longer appears on the homepage for users who aren’t logged in. This change alone blocks out a substantial portion of potential web traffic to these blogs.

Not-So-Hot Topics – Do you remember when there used to be an option to browse by “tags” from the WordPress.com homepage? I do and it drove a great deal of new and random visitors to my blog (the best kind!). You can track how people find your blog  by checking your stats under “referrers.” Don’t be surprised if you can’t find a recent referral from a tag used in your blog, because the new organization of the site has all but brought this perk to a halt. Again the culprit is that to browse by topics (aka tags) you must go through several different steps to get there. Each additional step decreases the number of people who actually make the effort to do so. Take a look here:

This is currently the homepage I’m greeted with when I’m logged into WordPress.com. I see a blog feed of only the blogs to which I am subscribed. While there’s a column of topics/tags on the left-hand side, I have to choose to see these topics and again they only appear as a slow-loading and single-listed news feed.

New WordPress Homepage

Furthermore, WordPress.com seems to randomly generate the topics listed in the left-hand column by pulling from topics/tags I’ve used in my own posts. But what if I want to browse blogs on a new subject? I tried once to clean-up and customize my topic list only to have it reset the next time I logged in. I’ll still hoping to get that half-hour of my life back somehow…

Remeber when browsing by tags/topics was easy and attractive like this:

wordpress old topic browse

Now the only way I can figure out how to achieve this browsing capability on the new WordPress is to click “Explore Topics” and type in the topic I want to sift through. But instead of the attractively laid out format as above, the topics read more like a newsfeed and load at a terribly slow rate. Instead of simply clicking Homepage–>Tags, I now have to go to Homepage–>Reader–>Explore Topics–>Type in and Search Topic–>Wait for page to load and scroll through single-listed blog feed. To any less-motivated of a blogger, this process isn’t happening and it’s likely your blog hits from new or random visitors have declined as a result.

Wordpress topics

Segmenting a Community – The ostracizing of non-subscribers, devaluing the honor of being Freshly Pressed and creating yet one more roadblock for new visitors to reach your blog are all unfortunate results of the changes made to the new organization of WordPress.com over the past several months. But my biggest concern isn’t with any of these individually. Rather, it’s the concern that the WordPress community which I have blogged and bragged very openly about is at risk for disengagement. Together these changes produce a WordPress in which it’s harder for fellow bloggers and visitors to find your blog and for you to find theirs. If an interactive blogging community is indeed one of the major points of differentiation for WordPress.com – and I’ve always thought it to be – then it should be made a priority above all else (i.e. more subscribers and up-selling bloggers on customized domains and blog templates). I’m disheartened by what appears to be permanent changes, but it’s not just because of the decrease in blog hits, comments or subscribers. It’s because of the time and effort I put into learning and adapting to the WordPress community and interacting with new blogs daily. If future changes continue in this direction, I’m worried my single efforts to encourage engagement won’t be enough to preserve the WordPress community for what it once was.

If anyone has had a similar or different experience with the impact of WordPress.com’s recent changes, please share! I’m very aware it’s possible I could have overlooked a benefit of these changes and would gladly welcome knowing if they exist.

 
12 Comments

Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Freshly Pressed, Technology

 

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The Bennis Blogger Battle: A Call for Guest Bloggers

UPDATE: The Bennis Blogger Battle is officially FULL! We will be wrapping up all of our competition entries the week of April 16 with the grand announcement of the winner on April 23. Make sure you take the time now to go back through and visit all the guest blogger entries and like, thumbs up or comment on your favorite ones!

Having built up such a wonderful and loyal community of readers, I’m beginning to feel like that bad date who talks entirely too much about her own life ramblings, but doesn’t pause to get to know the person on the other side of the table. So….I’m asking you on a date. Well, not really. Because of your loyal readership, my subscribers are now in the hundreds and that would be quite a restaurant tab, even for McDonald’s. But what I am asking is for some brave souls to step forward and guest blog for Bennis Inc.

This will be fun, I promise! I want to hand you the mic for a week and let you share your own pearls of wisdom with my blogging community–since without you, this community wouldn’t exist. I’m also throwing in some friendly competition and a chance to win some more publicity (and coffee) if you’re up for the Bennis Blogger Battle.

Here are the guidelines:

  • Inform me: Let me know you’re interested by leaving a comment on this post
  • Length: Keep it between 400 and 600 words and include a photo or graphic to go with it
  • Topic: I’d like the posts to stay on theme with my blog. Check out the category headings above for what I mean. Feel free to read through some of my archives to get a feel for the Bennis Inc vibe.
  • Write: Once you’ve picked your topic, email it to me for the OK.
  • Bio: Be sure to include a 2 sentence bio about you. I want to give you credit for your work!
  • Edit: Please try and give me your most polished product. It’s still subject to my edits as well
  • Send: Send your finished product (Sorry we’re all full! Our competition entry is now closed)
  • Publish: I’ll publish these guest blog posts over the course of the coming weeks and months. They’ll be mixed in with my own blog posts. I’ll give you a heads up when you’re on for the week.
  • Compete: The guest blog that gets the most “Likes” on their post will receive a $25.00 gift card to Satrbucks (after all, caffeine is our blogging fuel!) and a blog post written by me about you and your amazing talents!

For anyone just looking to get into blogging or seasoned bloggers looking to reach a new readership, this is a great opportunity. I’ll link back to your blog at the end of your article with a brief bio about you as well.

So there you have it–I’ve turned the tables and have given you a chance to tell me (and all of my readers) about YOU. I’m really looking forward to a couple great months of guest blogging!

 
33 Comments

Posted by on February 6, 2012 in Guest Blogger

 

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With This Ring

RingOn Saturday, January 14th my life changed forever. The man that has been my best friend, business advisor and better half, Scott Shirley, asked me to spend the rest of my life with him. And without a breath of hesitation, I said yes! Every day since then it’s felt like Christmas, waking up to the best present I could ask for—a lifetime with my soul mate. Because I openly share so much about my life with my blogging friends and followers each week, it’s only natural that I would also share the excitement of my engagement with you as well.

As I tend to do with every milestone in my life, I reflect deeply upon what this symbolizes. And this one is quite special. The ring on my left hand symbolizes a promise and a vow that I take very seriously. It’s a vow that will witness the passing of decades and the birth of new generations. As it sparkles and shines with barely a week of age, I’m brought back to the memory of my mother’s diamond ring. Her ring has been worn and tarnished by life’s most precious and beautiful moments. It’s a ring that I’ve known ever since I was a child and can’t possibly imagine her without. Close in age to my mother when she first received hers, I imagine what precious moments of my own life will be witnessed by this ring.

This ring will wrap around my father’s arm as he walks me down the aisle this August. It will take my husband’s hand for the first time as we say our vows and turn the key to our first house. This ring will rock babies to sleep and change countless diapers over the years. It will cook, clean, fold and work hard. It will fit perfectly into my husband’s hand as we walk and lay softly on his chest as we fall asleep. It will clap for joy in the happiest of moments and wipe away tears during the saddest.  It will witness graduations, marriages and grandchildren. And finally, when this ring outlives my own life, it will be passed on to my children to forever remember the beauty of our love and the life which it created.

It’s difficult to comprehend the amount of memories this ring will record. While its sparkle may never be able to show me my future or my past, it will always be there to serve as a reminder that life is precious and love is truly spectacular.

Engagement Photo

 
24 Comments

Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Life

 

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