You know that commercial where a man and a woman sit across the table from each other, engaged in what appears to be an intimate conversation, but the guy keeps sneaking looks at the football game playing on the phone in his lap?
If you ask Kevin Williams, husband of San Diego blogger Deb Williams, he’ll tell you, “The guy in that commercial is Deb. She pretends to pay attention to me while she’s checking — I’m not sure what — her blog statistics or something.”
“Yeah, I know,” Deb says. “The truth is, I’m in front of the computer way too much. That’s my life, and it’s not always well perceived.”
It’s the week before Christmas, and we’re dining on salad and a large pot of minestrone soup at the Williamses’ family home. Seven-year-old Toots, the elder of the couple’s two daughters, sits at the table with the grown-ups, cramming overly buttered bread into her mouth. Booger, her five-year-old sister, watches television in another room.
When I met Deb last August, I found out within the first ten minutes that she takes antidepressants and that her husband claims not to recognize her if her face isn’t bathed in the blue glow of her laptop. We were at R Gang Eatery on Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest, discussing obsessive blogging with three other female local bloggers and “Twitterati.” When the food came out, all four women snapped photos of their strawberry-basil salads, chicken sliders, and tater tots, but it was Deb who, 20 minutes later, admitted that she was forcing herself not to check her phone to see if anyone had responded to her food-pic tweet.
A few days later, curious about her Twitter usage, I counted three days’ worth of Deb’s tweets. On August 1, she tweeted 58 times. On August 30, 31 times, and on the 31st, 23. That’s an average of 37 tweets per day. If you multiply that by 31 (for the month of August), you get a total of 1147 tweets.
Even on Twitter, Deb’s candor is compelling. In my favorite tweet, she wrote, “I use my husbo’s nose-hair clippers on my girl mustache. It’s noisy but effective.”
Today, Deb tells me that her obsession with social media is one that ebbs and flows. At the moment, it’s more ebby than flowy, with “only two or three tweets a day,” probably due to the holidays, she says. But the routine remains pretty much the same.
“This is my normal schedule, always, even when I’m not obsessive: I wake up early, and the first thing I do is check my phone. Then I come down to my computer and check my stats [site views on her blog]. I check my email, I check my Twitter. I check everything.” She dips a piece of bread into her soup. “Then the kids will come down, and usually they’re waiting for me for a couple of minutes, maybe ten. ‘Can we have breakfast?’ And then I sign off, but I always have my phone. I check my phone all the time. I go to bed with my phone. I wake up in the middle of the night, at least once every night, even now when I’m not obsessive, and I check my stuff.”
And that’s not obsessive?
“No,” she laughs with a cheek full of bread. “That’s not my obsessive.”
Deb explains her personal definition.
“Normally, I’d be on Twitter from 8:00 to 10:00 at night. I’m tweeting back and forth, I’m commenting on blogs, I’m on Facebook. So, I guess what I mean by less obsessive is that I’m not tweeting as much on Twitter, but I’m still always checking [for comments and mentions]. My phone is very much an appendage.”
In her first blog, which she started in 2001, Deb shared the experience of planning her wedding with friends and family. After the wedding, the blog morphed into what she calls a web diary of personal stories. In 2007, she quit her job as a communications director for a nonprofit and began to work from home as a full-time freelance editor for an overseas IT market-research company. Around that time, she began her current blog, San Diego Momma, another public diary of sorts, though this one excludes stories about her sexual relationship with her husband or their finances — topics Kevin has declared “off-limits.”
One unspoken rule in the blogosphere is that bloggers read and comment on the blogs of others. This, and an active presence on Twitter, responding to and re-tweeting the tweets of others, are requirements for a successful blog. For some bloggers, that means freebies from companies and their public-relations firms (for reviewing products) or fees from advertisers who want to take advantage of the blog traffic. Deb makes approximately $150 per month from advertisement on her blog, but the majority of her success comes in the form of more opportunities for freelance writing and editing work. These average about $750 per month.
“I interact for a living,” Deb says. “The interacting and engaging online is what brings in the work. It’s not like a 9:00 to 5:00 thing, but it has definitely taken over.”
At the other end of the table, Kevin nods emphatically.
“I think you have a warped view about how much people need to be in contact,” he says. “I don’t need to know what everyone else is saying or thinking, and I think you do because you’re so caught up in your small little blog world.”
Deb sips red wine from a glass. She is quiet for a moment.
“It’s not so much a need to know what people are doing or thinking,” she says. “It’s more checking in, so I’m not forgotten. Like, ‘I’m still a part of this.’”
That night in August at R Gang Eatery, another local blogger at the table, Stacey Ross of San Diego Bargain Mama fame, let slip that she is in the midst of writing a book that is, in part, about obsessive use of social media. Earlier in December, a week or so before my dinner at the Williams home, I caught up with Ross and her co-author, Dr. Michael Mantell (a local psychologist known in San Diego Magazine and on Twitter as “Dr. San Diego”), over the phone.