The Pros and Cons of "Going Dark"

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When I tell people that I am actually an introvert, it usually surprises people. As someone who is in the public eye, and maintains some kind of brand that is recognizable, most people see me as an outgoing guy who is always trying to be a part of the latest social scene and while that is true, it’s important to note that it is only a portion of who I really am.

This goes for anyone on the internet. With the social web, it is easy for people to feel like they actually know us. They see us as marketers, branders, celebrities. They see us as subject matter experts and they want our time. Clearly, this was on display at SXSW this past weekend where a simple jaunt to lunch that normally take about 5 mins, would take 20-30 mins because of casual conversation assaults in the hallways.

3367053664_4b1c0da51dPHoto by: Jim Storer

Is this a problem? Directly, no. We go to these events to meet people and people are our lifeblood. Without people, we are no one and we have no credibility. Our credibility is wrapped up in our communities, readers, viewers, listeners and those who are influenced by our work. However, the cult of personality as a whole, is a larger problem.

When Mike Arrington was in Europe earlier this year, someone who felt like they knew him (in a negative way) assaulted him with spit to the face. When Kathy Sierra had vicious threats directed at her, she disappeared out of the public eye for some time. Jeremiah Owyang also recently disappeared for different reasons.

We are not wired to be the center of attention. In some sick and twisted way, we love every second of it. Our egos are stroked when adoring fans adore, but we are doused with harsh reality when that attention turns a different direction.

In the past few days, I’ve given a lot of thought to “going dark” – that is, disappearing from public view for a period of time. I still may do that, simply because, my own “celebrity” is beginning to hinder me. As those of us who enjoy immense attention grow into those roles, inevitably we begin to resent it. We hate it. We want to be “normal” whatever “normal” means. We want our lives back.

But at what cost?

In some ways, going dark can be therapeutic. It allows us time to re-examine our priorities, understand our motives and, in general, do soul searching. If done right, we come out the other side with a fresh perspective on life and our livelihoods.

In a negative sense, going dark can have tremendous effect on our social equity. In a “what have you done for me lately” industry, disappearing for some time can completely remove a person and their ability to influence. In some cases, our businesses and careers depend on our presence in the social space.

I don’t have the answers, as I have not “gone dark” at any point. If I do, I’m sure I’ll find my experience will teach me something about the process. It strikes me that a successful sabbatical requires some kind of balance so as not to lose social equity, yet still take enough time to recharge and re-energize.

Comments

  1. says

    Hey Aaron – Interesting and your post brings that saying to mind: ‘There is no up without a down.’ Is that pic true? Has the non-smoking Aaron gone dark? …asked with respect by all means. ;)

  2. says

    “I still may do that, simply because, my own “celebrity” is beginning to hinder me.”

    Really? Just go for a walk :)

    I doubt anyone on the street would know who you are. Don’t think because you’re internet famous more than a absolutely tiny slice of the world knows you. Yes you’re well known online, but IMO that isn’t really that big of a deal. You don’t have to answer every email, every Tweet and every blog post about yourself.

    Imagine how actual celebrities must feel! I question how much of a celebrity *any* internet personality is outside of the internet. Even people like Kevin Rose would be generally unknown outside our little circles.

  3. says

    I understand the struggle you’re having. It’s not easy when people look to you or worse, act like they know you, even though they don’t. I’ve often said to my friends that if I met a famous person I’d ask them about their kids, their hobbies, anything but their profession or talent…because I *don’t* know them. Sadly I’ve never had the opportunity to try that out.

    My advice to you: make sure you take time for yourself. You follow more than 2,500 people on Twitter. You might reduce that to the people who actually impact your life. Go to conferences that you think are really important. Don’t tweet about places you’re going, and just sometimes do things that no one knows about. We only know about you what you tell us, so you can control how much we know about you.

    If you decide to go dark, I hope it’s not for long. Your voice is useful in the community, and I for one appreciate it. I see you as a contributor to the community, and regardless of any celebrity you have I appreciate the work you do on things like WordCamp Mid-Atlantic.

  4. says

    This is a stupid question and maybe a little out of line, but I’m very curious to know what the concrete effects of your “celebrity” (I’m using quotes because you did) have been on your life, and in what specific ways it has hindered you. I’m asking, as a fellow introvert in a non-introvert-friendly profession (teacher), because I wonder whether a clear, concrete, specific statement of precisely what’s happened in your life since you began attracting this kind of attention might not help others in similar situations.

    • says

      Nathan: No offense, but it’s none of your business. I’m not looking for a shrink in the social media community. When I start, I’ll let you know, k?

  5. says

    Do it. If you’ve been feeling like you need it, you probably do. Don’t ask for permission and don’t worry about who will say what, just let the people who need to know what you’re doing, know–and then do it.

    People are not wired up to handle constant immersion in social activity with so many different people. And the trap is that with the ability to talk to someone across the world so easily–whom we’ve never met–we can forgot to talk to the person standing right next to us, who probably means a lot more to us than that person across the world. Those are the relationships that energize us.

    I don’t think social media will go away, but I do think it will eventually settle down once people realize they simply cannot maintain over-involvement. Maybe you don’t need to “go dark,” you may just need to do a little prioritizing.

  6. says

    Brandon’s advice above sounds pretty sage. If you eliminate only the personal (tweets, etc.) from social media, you could continue to keep your professional name before the world.

    Seriously, I don’t know how you and others in your situation do it. Facebook bores me to tears so I ignore it, and use Twitter only for news, reference, and being a smartass. But I could not be as constant as you without a good cry every . . . few hours.

    Good luck, Aaron.

  7. says

    If you truly are an introvert, then this life must really be draining you. Take time for yourself to be alone and unwind. Introverts NEED time to be alone. The people who really care about you, and KNOW you will understand that and give you space when you need it.

  8. says

    Hey Aaron – didn’t mean to sound negative earlier, I guess what I was thinking is this: there are a lot of people who would probably kill to be in your shoes. I know it may seem overwhelming sometimes but you’re in a special position to help/inspire too. Take some time off and come back refreshed.

  9. says

    This is kinda amazing. is not like I never thought it could happen to people like yourself and your colleagues, is just that I don’t want to believe that kind of world, although I do know it exists, I have had the occasion to meet some public figures of my country when traveling, the most I have ever done is get closer and say hi, pay my respects and tell’em that i love their work, then day good bye, cause i do respect other’s people privacy, one of the former presidents of my country stated: Respect the rights of the other is peace for both nations and man alike, -Poorly translated- Hopefully one day, must the world will agree!

    Iaax Page

  10. says

    I found that quote correctly translated, Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace, this is what I wish for you and the all the people out there doing such as great work as yours, the rest of us to understand that you have rights, and have not gave up on them cause you are public people, therefore everyone shall respect that!

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Benito_Juárez

  11. says

    Aaron? You’re famous?

    :: runs ::

    Clearly, everyone needs “self” time, and you are no exception. I will say don’t let ‘em get ya down. Only because I have known you for some time and I do know you let “your adoring fans” affect how you write, what you write, and ultimately what we read.

    You’re a good person Aaron, but grab that “you” time. It’s ok. (coming from a writer who has taken his fair share of “you” time)

  12. says

    I think that you just need to pace yourself. Don’t go completely dark, just cut back and give yourself some “me” time every day. There is a good balance out there; you just need to find it.

  13. says

    Despite 70% of the world’s population branding themselves as extroverts, many seem surprised to learn the likes of Albert Einstein, Socrates, Meryl Streep, and Steven Spielberg are introverted. You may enjoy a blog post by Hunter Nuttall called “The Introverts Strike Back.”

    While introspection is always a powerful medium, might I suggest, in echoing Leslie Poston and others who’ve tweeted about the issue, just do it.

    Sometimes, not always, but every now and then, the best decisions I’ve made in life are the spontaneous ones. No build up, no fanfare, no reasons given when or why.

    Enjoy the journey.

  14. says

    I hope you do decide to try it Aaron. You’ll be surprised I think, to find that everyone else is still here when you come back.

    Yes, I know you’re an introvert… most people I know in the Social Media space are. If we weren’t? We’d be busy carving out a space in a much more physically public arena – but instead we do it online – in a place where we control access.
    There is some irony to our conferences because you end up having a bunch of introverted but gregarious people meeting in a physical space – where few of us are actually comfortable for long periods of time.

    But all of that aside? I think perhaps you’re hitting that point where you start realizing that other peoples’ expectations of “Aaron/Technosailor” are getting in the way of the reasons you started doing this in the first place.

    Find your center. Reground yourself. Recharge.
    You’re interesting, insightful, and thought provoking… the “masses” will still be here when you get back.

  15. says

    Hey Aaaron.

    I’m no celebrity on the web by any means, but I’ve taken a little break from the web (well, at least from the heavy content and networking bits) for the past little while — gone dark, we might say — just to remind myself that distance and introspection is a good thing.

    Even us non-web-celebrities can get caught up too quickly in the push to produce and share, and sometimes it’s important (even for an extrovert) to break away for a bit.

    I’m officially back in April, I think, but in the meantime, whatever you do decide, I hope just the process of thinking out this decision has been good for you.

    Talk to you later.

  16. says

    Perhaps I didn’t phrase my question clearly enough. It seems to me that your post describes pros and cons of one possible response to a current predicament. But you don’t actually say what the predicament is. My question, speaking as someone who’s experienced what I suspect might be similar issues, was whether you could be more specific. I didn’t mean to suggest you needed a shrink or that I had any interest in or aptitude for the role. If that was out of line, my apologies.

  17. says

    Nathan- my point remains. It doesn’t matter “why”. It’s not anyones business but my own. The post was about the symptoms of burnout and a possible remedy that I’m thinking about. This is kind of my point… I can’t have my own business without people feeling the need to be intimately involved in it.

    Respectfully, drop it. It doesn’t matter why.

  18. says

    There are so many people feeling the exact same thing and you definitely speak for many of them here.

    It’s funny. By nature, we’re all somewhat introverted and socially awkward, which is why we have careers on the Internet to begin with. But then somewhere along the “fame” hits. People begin to “know” you. They expect things. There are conferences to go to. People want a piece of you. You have to be on. There are more conferences. And you’re forced to be this hyped version of yourself 24/7. Because if you’re not that person, people feel let down. It hurts your brand. It hurts your social profile. So you do it.

    And it’s completely exhausting.

    We all need a break at some point to reevaluate and refuel. I’ve stopped blogging for 1-2 months (but still Twittered) while I changed jobs. I became far less visible for awhile and when I came back the people who still read were still there. The only thing that changed was that I was different. More committed. Back at it.

    Take your break. You deserve it.

  19. Andrew Feinberg says

    You once gave me some similar advice. And you probably weren’t sure if I “got” it or not — that I didn’t have to be “on” all the time. I figured that it made me happy to concentrate my mind on things I cared about. Instead, it was just me shutting out all the things I knew I needed to get better with. I guess I thought if I never went “there” I’d never have to try.

    Well, you were right. It worked. I may seem “on” more of the time than not, but I’ve taught myself to switch off. Or at least to separate myself from my “self.”

    Do I need to go dark? Probably not. Did I need to take myself less seriously? Yeah.

    Am I glad I didn’t go to SXSW this year? Yeah. Why? Probably because I’d be feeling the way you are now. Because I’ve felt that way, after I’ve given myself out a million times over because I’m “supposed to” and I have nothing left for me after I’m done.

    I knew this Technosailor character before I knew you, Aaron. And there is a difference. I think you let people blur the lines too much. It’s a risk we take. You taught me that.

    Technosailor can go on vacation. His fans can wait. But if Aaron gets hurt, his friends will be hurt far more than any audience Technosailor will ever have.

    Take a break.

  20. says

    Aaron, I do this a couple times a year on a schedule and then here and there. From speaking at conferences to simple presence online, it only makes sense to not check in with BrightKite, not tweet or not even fire up any device.

  21. says

    Aaron,

    Do it, go dark. I did last fall/winter when things came up in my professional life, that led me to break from blogging. I also try to tweet as little as possible on the weekends.

    Sometimes you just need time for you and walk away. My therapy is driving to the beach or just driving around with the top off my jeep in the warm weather. In the winter, I just curl up to a marathon of a TV series I need to see. Whatever you choose to spend your time doing instead of being on and under the spotlight, leave the phone out of reach for the instant crackberry addiction fix.

    Good Luck.