As @SilentClark, Clark Harris is communicating solely through social media channels during the month of May to raise money and awareness for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Harris started the experiment as a tribute to his mother, Ruth Harris, whose 10-year battle with cancer ended last February.
Thinking back to a more traditional fundraising campaign he participated in in 2006, Team in Training Century Ride, Harris began "looking for a bigger challenge to accomplish in her memory." How could a cause campaign in today's social media-enabled world compare to a primarily direct mail campaign from only a few years ago?
Soon the concept of SilentClark was born. "What better challenge for a guy who never shuts up than to not talk for a month?" Clark can communicate on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube(), Flickr(), LinkedIn() and Google Chat; e-mail, talking, writing, text messaging, and sign language are not allowed — not with friends, not with colleagues, not even with Harris's wife.
We "met" @SilentClark through Twitter and caught up with him via Facebook to find out more about the Social Media Experiment, how the project is going, and what it's like to speak only through social media for an entire month.
When Clark Harris says he was looking to have his "normal life challenged," he wasn't kidding. For a guy with a self-professed love of gabbing, going silent except for social media for an entire month is no easy task.
"I'm a talker — that's my primary means of keeping in touch with people. My phone gets a workout while I am driving and I can happily talk for hours on end with various people. If I can't talk in person, I'd like to do it over the phone."
So what's been the biggest challenge thus far? "It sucks to lose something. Before I could just speak when I wanted to speak. Now, I have to find a phone or computer or I'm stuck. It makes being social in public more work." As a result, a lot of thoughts that would otherwise be conveyed get dropped. "It's too much effort to tweet a response to everything. My percentage of talking to listening has completely reversed."
Harris says that being involved in the technology world professionally has helped the project along significantly. Without an existing network there, "it would be nearly impossible to get through it. I've been able to chat, tweet [and] Facebook message with everyone because all the people I deal with are in that world now. Just a year ago, I don't think this would have been possible."
The intense and frequent dependency on technology to mediate communication has been one of the major hurdles during the experiment, which Harris refers to as the Delay Factor.
"The times I need to talk most are ones when the Delay Factor is really apparent. Times when my wife really wants to talk about something or when we both get frustrated and have to wait on the iPhone to load for me to be able to convey a response. We've just had to bite the bullet and flex our patience."
Face-to-face silence introduces an inevitable wild card into every in-person meeting with a stranger. How would people react? How would friends and family deal with a month of social media-only communication? Harris says the reactions have by and large been overwhelmingly positive. "It's amazing to see how quickly people adapt," he marveled.