Managing Your Digital Connections

hyperconnected

Have to Have, Nice to Have, Habit to Have


These days we have an almost infinite amount of digital interactions and touchpoints. Most people working from home have seen a marked increase in their digital interactions, as shown with statistics from INEX and media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook.

And in today’s modern world, we have a high number of social connections or “ties”. In general, these can be defined as strong ties or weak ties. When the concept of the strength of these ties was first introduced by Mark Granovetter in 1973 in his paper entitled “The Strength of Weak Ties”, he defined strong ties as our “close friends”, and weak ties as “acquaintances” (Granovetter, 1973).

At that time, the number of weak social ties each person had was much lower than today. There was no general internet access, social media, mobile phones… So many of these social ties were based on geography.

Today we have a different picture. The average number of friends that a Facebook user has is 338 (Brandwatch, 2014). The average number of Twitter followers is 453 (Business of Apps, 2020). If you use Instagram, you’re likely to have an average number of 150 followers, with you yourself following 1-2 times more than that, especially if you follow influencers or businesses (Hashtags for Likes, 20202).

While there are no current statistics on the total average number of people we have in our social networks, a Pew study in 2011 quoted the figure of 634 connections for the average American (Pew Research Centre, 2011). This is well above the widely accepted Dunbar number, which suggests based on brain imagery that the number of relationships that a human can comfortably maintain is 150 (Dunbar, 1998). And it is likely that our number of connections has increased considerably since 2011, based on the increased number of digital devices, social media users and other technological advances (Ortiz-Ospina, 2019).

Recently, I’ve spoken to a lot of employees, employers and entrepreneurs about their digital resilience. And one theme that is coming up over and over again is the increased number of digital interactions that we encounter daily.

  • More work emails and Zoom calls.
  • New task management software and applications to support working from home.
  • More WhatsApp groups with friends & acquaintances in an attempt to stay connected.
  • Higher volumes of social media traffic – from our close connections sharing more due to the lockdown, to businesses and others sharing offers or free content.

So how can we manage this exponential increase in our number of digital interactions? I suggest a really simple way of segregating out your digital points of contact so that you can manage them better. And the groupings I suggest are as follows:

A: Have to Have

Have to Have interactions are things like your work email, work Zoom calls, an important family WhatsApp group, a subscribed email for a course you have signed up for etc. These are things that you need to have to manage your work or your life. These are often with your “strong ties”. This doesn’t mean you can’t curate them of course. There can be times in the day when you need to do focussed work, so you may need to turn off work email notifications. Think about ways that you can manage this best.

B: Nice to Have

Nice to Have digital touchpoints are still important. These can be a WhatsApp friends group where you keep each other’s spirits up with jokes or memes, or family catch-up calls once a week. They can also be 1-2-1 calls that you have with friends. I don’t suggest getting rid of these, as many may be with “strong ties” but make sure that they are supporting you. For example, some days it can feel like you’re drowning in a sea of WhatsApp messages – the funny memes in your friends group are actually driving you mad rather than making you laugh. So you can tell your friends you are busy and mute the notifications for a few hours. Or take a break from a family call if you need some space.

C: Habit to Have

Habit to Have interactions are those that we have gotten used to having in our lives, but that aren’t really serving us. In fact, they can be very distracting or worse can make us feel inept and bad about ourselves. Think of these as the “weak ties” we mentioned above. Examples here would be subscription emails, in particular for offers/information/updates that we no longer need. Or it could be an influencer you follow online, who is living a very different lifestyle to yours and this leads to unrealistic comparisons. I suggest making a list of this “habit to have” interactions, then unsubscribing and unfollowing where necessary. And don’t worry, you can always re-follow or re-subscribe at a better time. You won’t be missing out!

I’ve attached a simple infographic that you can download below, that you can use to manage your digital interactions following the format above. Simply take a blank sheet, make 3 lists under each of the headings, and see how you can curate these interactions (in particular, the “habit to have” list) to avoid being overwhelmed with digital interactions

If you would like some help or to get more details on our “Digital Resilience Training”, please feel free to reach out to me on [email protected]

Digital resilience training for organisations

References:

Business of Apps, 2020: “Twitter Revenue and Usage Statistics (2020)”.  https://www.businessofapps.com/data/twitter-statistics/ (Note: There are no official statistics for the average number of followers for Twitter users, but a 2016 study of 96 million accounts by KickFactory set the figure at 707. If you exclude those with over 100,000 followers, the figure stands at 453)

Brandwatch, 2014: “What people like and dislike about Facebook”. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/03/what-people-like-dislike-about-facebook/

Dunbar, Robin (1998). Grooming, gossip, and the evolution of language (1st Harvard University Press paperback ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Granovetter, M., 1973. The Strength of Weak Ties. American Journal of Sociology,78:6, 1360-1380.

Hashtags for Likes (2020): “Instagram Followers: How Many Does the Average Person Have?” https://www.hashtagsforlikes.co/blog/instagram-followers-how-many-does-the-average-person-have/

INEX, (2020). https://www.inex.ie/news/

Ortiz-Ospina, E., (2019). “The rise of social media”. https://ourworldindata.org/rise-of-social-media

Pew Research Centre, 2011. “Social Networking Sites and our Lives”, (Part 3: Social networking site users have more friends and more close friends).  https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2011/06/16/part-3-social-networking-site-users-have-more-friends-and-more-close-friends/

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