18 days abroad and a bad set of Internet connections gave me a rare opportunity to take a break from social media. What happens when the lives we live online disappear, even momentarily?
This week I came back from a wonderful trip to the United Kingdom and Germany to a social media world that had been largely ignored for the first time in years. As one who works online a lot, whether using Twitter, or Facebook, Foursquare, or this blog (or one of the others I contribute to), the tools that fall under the rubric of social media are ones I use daily. So it was an interesting experiment of sorts to see what might happen when I left it largely alone for a couple weeks.
In truth, the experiment was forced on my by a series of unreliable Internet connections and the unwillingness to pay for a service I was supposed to have access to for free (I will not use this as a platform to badmouth the service, although I was disappointed). So I relied largely on a small window of time every few days when I went for an espresso at Starbucks and used their free service. What was interesting was noting how much I wasn’t missing. For reasons of expediency, I checked my email and maybe glanced at Facebook occasionally, but that was it.
No photosharing with Instagram
No updating the blog
I checked in almost nowhere (except the airports, because I like the Jetsetter badge on Foursquare)
No reading my RSS feed using Google Reader
I didn’t even respond to any of the Google+ invitations I received until I got home.
No YouTube videos were watched
Nor did I create any content for anyone else’s blog or read anything that wasn’t the news — and even that was tiny.
What this showed me (once again, I’ve seen it before) was how powerful the everyday pull of social media can make things seem so big, bold, important and urgent. Yet, when removed for a couple weeks, there was actually little if anything that I can determine was worth missing. It’s something to ponder when the pull to update our status and track ourselves and others online can be nearly addictive when involved in the everyday.
It’s good to be back, but also to have had some time away from social media. In taking time away, it reminded me about what it is there for and what it offers, as well as what it takes away.