Social Sunburn, Are You Getting Overexposed?

From Crain’s Chicago Business quoting Joyce Marter.

Carrie Lannon used to go out — a lot.

Ms. Lannon, vice-president of strategic partnerships at Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., previously owned a boutique public-relations firm for 13 years. During that time, she attended one or two galas a weekend; hectic workdays sometimes required three wardrobe changes. She paid a part-time assistant just to keep track of her social engagements.

The whirlwind proved exhausting and mentally draining. “When you’re on the social scene — and it is a scene — there’s a lot of giving,” she says.

In January, when she began working at the Merchandise Mart, Ms. Lannon scaled back. She now attends one or two benefits a month and spends only a couple of hours a week on non-profit work, compared with 10 or so in her previous life. The upside: She feels more balanced and has more time for enriching activities such as African drumming lessons.

The downside: Some friends have fallen by the wayside. “You find out who’s been interested in you because of your connections and who genuinely likes and cares about you,” Ms. Lannon, a Chicagoan, says.

When the whole world is becoming more socially connected, it seems heretical, if not plain dumb, to pull back. Yet some people are seeking a break from endless evenings of networking and the incessant social patter of Facebook and Twitter.

Indeed, pulling back socially has pros and cons, says Joyce Marter, a licensed clinical counselor and co-founder of Urban Balance LLC, a Chicago counseling practice. Retreating to avoid other people, or even to avoid the weather as winter approaches, isn’t healthy and can be a sign of depression, she says.

Checking out of the scene also can mean feeling left out, sparking feelings such as, “What’s happening at the party when I’m not there?” Ms. Marter says.

Retreating consciously to regroup, though, can be wise: “It’s all about self-care and wellness,” she says.

After taking a hard look at her schedule and her priorities, Winnetka resident Suzanne Dissette backed off from both real and virtual socializing.

Her job as national accounts manager at Chicago Metallic Corp., a Chicago-based supplier of architectural materials and services, gives her enough social interaction: “I call on architects and designers, kind of a hip crowd,” she says. “I don’t feel I need to get out to see people.” And, she adds, nights on the town are expensive and take time away from her son.

But Ms. Dissette, a single mom, feels as if she’s limiting herself. “I do wonder — if I’m interested in meeting people to date, I should be out, and I’m not,” she says. Not that she has much opportunity these days: Friends don’t call her as much with invitations “because they know I’m going to say no.”

Facebook, which Ms. Dissette joined last year to be part of “the latest new thing,” began to irritate her more than entertain her. One friend in particular “was on all day long with stay-at-home mom stuff,” she says.

The last straw came when another friend posted, “I’m so lucky that my kids are cute.”

“It’s so arrogant and bragging,” Ms. Dissette says. “I don’t have time to participate in that.”

Jim Fannin, a Burr Ridge-based life coach, advises clients to use Facebook and Twitter, but to boost business, not their social lives. “It is a brilliant way to communicate,” he says. “But to just have social babble . . . what a waste of time that is.”

He adds that a Tweet or Facebook posting that’s irritating, or simply resonates the wrong way, can wreck a good day in a split second. “It contributes too many negative thoughts,” he says.


That’s exactly why David Rivera, 55, an obstetrician/gynecologist who lives in Lombard, stepped back from Facebook. His complaint: inflammatory postings during an online health care debate.

The debate among his virtual friends “was getting ugly,” with posters calling each other “idiot” and other names. The “lack of civility” among supposed friends galled Dr. Rivera. “It started to spill over into my real, personal life,” he adds. “It was better to just forget it.”

Besides, he says, “I haven’t found it all that useful.”

Dr. Rivera hasn’t completely cut his online connections. He checks Facebook two or three times a week, mostly to keep up with his 15-year-old nephew.

Debbie Maisel Levin blames “oversharing” for her transformation from Facebook junkie to someone who checks the site on her BlackBerry only when she has nothing else to do.

Ms. Levin, who lives in Chicago, found out about a friend’s engagement before it was announced. “She called three or four friends, looked on her Facebook page and somebody said, ‘Congratulations, I hear you got engaged,’ ” recalls Ms. Levin, 31, marketing director for Spotlight Marketing Inc., a Chicago-based branded entertainment and product placement agency. “She was very frustrated.”

Ms. Levin never extends Facebook “friend” invitations to colleagues and rarely posts anything personal. “I wouldn’t post a picture of me doing a keg stand,” she says jokingly. “I don’t see a reason to do that. . . . There’s definitely a line you don’t have to blur.”

As for Twitter? Ms. Levin, who calls the site “an exhibitionist’s playground,” isn’t a member. “I don’t need to know you’re in the parking lot and somebody stole your spot,” she says. “That’s maybe something you should keep to yourself.”

Kendell Renee Kelly loved promoting her business — and her every move — on Twitter. But a break-in at her home made her more privacy-conscious. Photo: Lisa Predko

Chicago resident Kendell Renee Kelly had a more frightening reason to cut down on Twitter: a burglary.

Ms. Kelly, 30, joined Twitter in July 2008, and quickly amassed about 2,600 followers. She Tweeted vigorously, sending 30 to 50 messages a day to tell her followers where she was, with whom, and what she was doing.

It was good for business, says Ms. Kelly, an intellectual property and entertainment attorney and proprietor of, an online pet-goods store. She had fun, too: “I was so hardcore, enjoying the transparency and the marketing and the branding.”


But in June, while Ms. Kelly was on a business trip, her house was broken into. Burglars took everything they could haul away, including her dining-room chairs. Ms. Kelly suspects that the intruders used her Twitter postings, coupled with some savvy Googling, to figure out where she lived (the police, she says, “don’t really have an opinion” about whether that contributed to the crime).

Ms. Kelly still Tweets — she says she must to promote her businesses — but posts only 10 or so times a day, and only with the barest of details. She’s ordered friends to be as vague in their postings about her: “That’s not the most comforting, relationship-building thing you can do,” she admits.

As a result, she’s lost friends, both virtual and real. “It’s like reality TV,” Ms. Kelly says. “If you don’t give people the story, you lose them.” She’s also lost a great source of comfort, especially in hard times. Twitter posts about bad news used to draw hundreds of sympathetic responses, “people saying they were praying for me or thinking about me,” she says. “Not being able to receive that is a hollow feeling.”

Scaling back on both Facebook and Twitter has given Zachary Crantz quite a different feeling — one of relief.

“It can be a huge distraction,” says Mr. Crantz, 25, an account executive in the Chicago office of Ruder Finn Inc., a New York-based public-relations firm.

He used to spend lunch hours and downtime at work checking the sites — until he got bored with them. Facebook in particular “isn’t as unique or cool as it used to be,” he says. “When I say everybody’s mom is using it, I mean that.”

This summer, after an hourlong Facebook session had his girlfriend raising her eyebrows, Mr. Crantz, who lives in Chicago, decided to seek out more real social experiences.

Now, for a mental break at work, he leaves his desk and walks around the office, or stops by a colleague’s desk. If he wants to reach out to a friend, he picks up the phone. He even shut off the Facebook function that sends posts to his personal e-mail inbox.

He’s happier as a result.

“There’s a bit of weight off your shoulders,” Mr. Crantz says, “when you can pull back a little and say, ‘This isn’t that important.’ “

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