It was 3 in the afternoon, but it could have been 3 in the morning to judge from the exhausted faces of a roomful of entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs constitute the up-and-coming generation of businesses in Cluj, Romania, and I had just spent the day talking them through their best approach to social media as part of a full-year entrepreneurship program, the School for Startups.
Since we only had 6 hours together I’d raced through the basics of web 1.0 vs web 2.0, social media marketing, online customer relations, social media crisis management, case studies in business social media, a methodology for developing their own social media approach, plus the essentials of their social media toolkit: RSS, Google Reader, iGoogle, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, HootSuite, Delicious, Evernote, LinkedIn, Basecamp, Mashable, Google blogsearch, Google news, and advanced search operators.
It might have been just a tiny bit too much for 6 hours. Or at least, that’s what their exhausted faces seemed to suggest. “I feel overwhelmed,” someone in the room volunteered. “I feel overwhelmed, too,” said S4S creator Doug Richard — which is a bit like a freight train complaining about a collision with a unicycle.
Yes! Once again I’d delivered on my personal brand promise: I will overwhelm you with social media.
But I did have a way to make it a little easier to bear: FOMO. I explained that when you’re working with social media, overwhelmed is your natural and perpetual state of being. That’s because social media ensures you will be constantly exposed to everything everyone eslse is doing, tweeting, and beta testing. There will always be a conference you’re not attending, a party you weren’t invited to, and a software tool you have yet to try. You will always feel overwhelmed. You will always suffer from FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.
Even as I was telling this room that they’d have to get used to living with FOMO — I certainly do — I had a fresh attack myself. I’m no stranger to European travel, but this was only my second trip in the 8 years since our daughter was born, and that first trip (to Paris last summer) was a family vacation, when I stayed offline (ok, offline by my definition — you know, only using my computer, iPad and iPhone to find restaurant suggestions on Yelp, organize travel tips in Evernote, check travel logistics in TripIt, share family photos on Facebook, check in on FourSquare, handle emergency e-mail and post the very occasional tweet).
So this was my first experience working overseas in the social media era. More precisely, in the Twitter era. While in Romania, I’ve had HootSuite open on my computer just as much as I would at home: in other words, 24/7.
And I suppose the HootSuite interface functions the same over here as it does at home. I’ve got my tabs, my columns, my stream of tweets. The structure is familiar, but the experience is completely different.
That’s because a 9-hour time difference — the difference between Vancouver and Romania — is enough to sever me from real-time communication with my tweeps. My tweeting hours over here (let’s call it 9 am to 9 pm, roughly) fall mostly during sleeping hours for my west coast tweeps. And while I usually feel like I’m racing to catch up with a tidal wave of east coast American and central Canadian tweets by the time I wake up in Vancouver, being 6 hours ahead of the US east coast has made me realize how slow they are to wake up and tweet in the morning. Getting up and actually having to wait for hours before Eric Andersen posts his first real-time tweet of the day is a new and discomfiting experience.
Of course, it’s not like Twitter is empty at any time of the day. I follow enough people outside North America that I can count on a steady stream of updates around the clock. What’s different is who is tweeting, and how: my core tweeps may have updates that pop up at noon in Cluj, but if those tweets weren’t pre-scheduled, I should send them all some free samples of Ambien.
It’s enough to make me think that Twitter is about something more than tracking the real-time news cycle and ensuring I read the latest hot social marketing diatribe. Those “this just in” and “must-read link” tweets are as plentiful and visible from GMT +2 as they are from GMT -7. Separated from my personal TMT (Twitter Mean Time) I can satisfy my need for information; I just can’t satisfy my need for connection.
The fact that a weeklong time zone shift is enough to make me actively miss my tweeps is a testament to how quickly and effectively Twitter has become not just a useful information stream, but a vital community. For once, my Twitter-induced Fear of Missing Out isn’t based on hearing all the cool things my online pals are doing without me, but rather, stems from not hearing about what I’m missing. Call it FOMOOFOMO: Fear of Missing Out On Fear of Missing Out.
Jet lag has given me a fresh appreciation for my friends, conversations and life on Twitter. I’ve really missed my real-time conversational circle — the first-thing-in-the-morning tweets from Boyd Neil, the mid-day DM consultations with Lauren Bacon, the back-and-forth with Raul Pacheco that has been an invariable part of any night I spend in a Eastern Standard Time hotel room. Not to mention the dozen or so tweets and DMs that I exchange with Rob over the course of any day, covering everything from client projects to kid pick-ups to actual exchanges of affection.
Missing these interactions has a real emotional impact. Jet lag may make me queasy and tired, but only Twitter lag accounts for the twinge of loneliness I get from a HootSuite tab with no fresh DMs or replies.
Twitter lag has reminded me that my constant tweeting isn’t driven by FOMO alone. My Twitter conversations — far more than my Twitter-based news-gathering — weave the texture of my day, fortify me with affection and humor, and increasingly, ground me in a sense of relationship and relatedness.
Switching time zones pulls the emotional rug of Twitter out from under me. But it has its advantages, too. That 6-hour presentation, followed by a flight back to Bucharest, left me no time to write my March 24 blog post. I’ve become almost neurotically invested in my 5-day-a-week blogging practice, so it really bugs me when I miss a day.
Now I’m on a Bucharest-Frankfurt flight, looking forward to a 5-hour layover before I get on my plane to Vancouver. When we get to Frankfurt, it will be 7:25 am on Friday March 25 — also known as 11:25 pm on March 24 in Vancouver. If I can get to wifi quick enough, I will JUST make my end-of-day deadline.
And when I do, I’ll tweet it out…hoping that on the other side of the world, my West Coast tweeps are still wide awake, ready to resume our conversation.