MADISON (WKOW) -- The trampoline is a new addition at the Hudson's. For Ryan and Kris, it's a welcome distraction to the constant tweets, pings, the incessant updates of social media.
It all started with MySpace. "I met a lot of good friends on there. A lot of stay at home moms who were just looking for companionship, friendships. I gravitated toward Facebook about 2 years ago," says Kris.
And then, in January 2009, Ryan left for Iraq. They were all lonely. Kris suffered from insomnia. Facebook became her lifeline. "I was able to post pictures of the girls. Posted a lot of pictures for Ryan to see and I did a lot of status updates, mainly for Ryan's benefit. I'm sure a lot of people hid me, at that time, because a little too much information," says Kris.
Once the girls were at school, or in bed at night, Kris could stay connected - instant messaging, updating her status, playing games, for hours on end. "It's easy to get addicted, and spend more time on it and less time maybe doing the dishes or laundry or just the mundane tasks around the house," says Kris.
Katy Culver is a social media expert at the U.W. Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She says getting sucked in is not at all unusual. "A lot of people, the minute they get on, experience this new level of connectivity. This social engagement that they had been craving. So they dig in and they're joining groups, games, they're writing on everyone's walls. They're tilling crops in Farmville, and they can't be without it," says Culver.
A University of Maryland study backs it up. 200 students had to unplug, to avoid social media for 24 hours, then blog about it. Researchers were taken aback by the number of "addiction-related" words they mentioned.
"Craving, no satisfaction, need, want, desire, have to have. It wasn't just the need to text. It wasn't just the need to email. It was the whole package. You know: I need my iPod, I need my email. I need blogs and I need constant updates of news and information," says Culver.
Social media is such a part of our lives, that turning off, becomes difficult. It was something Ryan could see from afar, with some concern. "Okay, I saw that she posted something at 11:09 pm and then I see she posted something at one am. And it's like okay, what's going on? I'm seeing multiple posts on her page wondering, is she really taking care of herself as much as she should be?" says Ryan.
By the time Ryan returned in April, Kris had done what Culver says is typical. Bombarded by information, she'd topped out, fatigued and let go. Now, when the family is otherwise engaged, she'll check Facebook and email. And she still has the game she plays with her girls. But she also has self control.
"Sometimes you lose perspective on things when you're stressed out or lonely or whatever but that's what it boils down to. Your family and how much time you're spending on the computer because ultimately it's either the computer or your kids," says Kris.
Kris and Ryan both see the value of social media and they like staying connected. But they've reclaimed the balance that was lost.
Culver says there's also a danger in allowing your professional life to interfere with your personal life. She says it's important to set clear boundaries for when you'll answer emails or tweets, to avoid being perpetually "on."