Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Pinterest. The list of social media options gets longer every day. And so does the pressure to be an active participant. No matter what dream you’re chasing or business you’re pursuing, the experts say you need to be involved in social media. It’s important, they say. It’s necessary if you want to be heard in today’s noisy world. It’s the way things are done.

I’m not arguing any of that.

But here’s the part they’re not saying: it’s not real. It’s an illusion, a virtual world.

Because it’s anonymous, it can hide predators and lead to awful things like cyber bullying.

But it’s also easy and fun and spending time there can be hugely addicting.

Unless we’re intentional about it, we can find ourselves somewhere we don’t want to be. Alone. Lonely. Someone with thousands of virtual friends, but no solid relationships with real people.

Several recent car commercials illustrated the irony quite well. The kids were home alone in front of their computers worried that their parents weren’t involved in social media and have no online friends. Meanwhile, the parents were out bicycling and laughing with real live friends.

It’s funny. But it’s not.

It’s so easy to get sucked in and realize we spent all our time in front of the computer conversing with cyber-friends and associates–and none talking to real people.

Social media’s pull is strong, and getting stronger. The pressure that we “have to” be involved in all of it–all the time–if we’re going to succeed, is huge.

Learn to say no.

Find the social media streams that make sense to you, and dip your toes in. Slowly.

Limit your online time. Turn Facebook and Twitter off your phone for a few hours every day. The world will not slide off its axis if you’re unavailable for a while, I promise.

Unplug. Deliberately.

Quiet the noise on a regular basis and call someone–instead of texting. Meet for coffee, instead of chatting via Skype from across town.

Sure, all the social media options can make staying connected easier.

But we are kidding ourselves if we let it replace time with real people.

That said, I’m off to spend time outside with a bunch of fifth graders.

What do you think? How much time do you spend on social media every day? How do you keep it in check?