On a cold, dark Tuesday night, alone in my room, I wrote a short note saying goodbye to my friends, my followers, and the world. Starting Wednesday I would abandon updates, forget Facebook, turn away from Tumblr—I was quitting social media! Along with several TNGG members, we decided to experience the effects of removing social media from our daily routines.
Given that most of my communications are digital, I was a bit nervous about where to draw the line. Technically, e-mail and text messages are two of the original forms of social media, but I allowed them during my hiatus since the point of the experiment wasn’t to disrupt all of my communications, but rather to limit them to their basic manifestations. I need e-mail for school, and I use text messages in lieu of phone calls. I was pretty excited for the break. In January I got my first smart phone, and during the first week or so I almost resented having it; I felt over-connected.
I thought the first day would be easy, but my first pang of regret came when I wanted to leave a big, public “Happy Birthday” post on my sister’s wall, settling instead for a quick and cozy e-mail. Later in the day, Sarah Palin’s Tea Party Express was assembled in the Boston Commons. There were so many protesters and poorly made signs! Prime twitpic opportunity! I felt a little left out not being able to contribute to any live tweets of the event. Instead I just enjoyed being in the moment and made fun of the tea baggers with my friend, rather than the faceless, digital masses. This sentiment about wanting to contribute to, or start a conversation via Twitter is echoed by Angela Stefano, who lamented about her social media respite, “Oh, but I’m doing (insert fun thing here) tonight, and (insert fun thing here) is going on this day, and I’ll want to tweet about it.” The need to share, as well as instantly find out information, has obviously become a strong part of our millennial culture.
The next 3 days were much better. I was connecting more to the people and world around me, instead of constantly taking small time-outs to tweet. It was nice to be able to really be a part of my environment and not feel a dull obligation to share the experience beyond my immediate surroundings. Rianna Mallard, who also participated in the social media blackout, similarly concluded that she “gained a real appreciation for being more engaged in [her] physical life.” Without a doubt, the greatest lesson my hiatus taught me was about keeping a balance between being in the moment, and sharing the moment.
Giving social media the cold shoulder encouraged me to be more proactive about meeting up with friends, and I noticed we had more to talk about. Too many of my conversations have fallen prey to the dialogue-stopping, “I know, I saw the tweets,” or an, “Oh yeah, I saw that on Facebook.” Fellow millennial Ryan Regan agrees, acknowledging, “Going 2 days without knowing everything about my friends’ lives was somewhat refreshing.” Even more so, I find that Facebook doesn’t just keep me updated about my friends, but also a lot of other people I don’t really need to know anything about (like my ex-boyfriend, or the girl I sat next to in my high school Spanish class.) For that reason, Facebook was one of the easiest social media outlets to give up. The only element I missed was the events section, since it helps me know what’s going on with my friends or in my community, as well as on a larger scale, with events in the city that my friends are planning on attending.
There were a few times when I wasn’t sure if I was keeping kosher or not—was it okay to use Yelp if I wasn’t leaving a comment? What about YouTube? And when I open iTunes, my Last.FM app automatically launches—does that count? Taking a time out from social media wasn’t so heartbreaking, and it helped that I was kept busy with classes and going to work. I’d love to say that this almost-five day vacation radically changed my life, and my productivity increased to new levels, but that’s just not the truth. Instead of reading my Twitter stream on the train ride home, I played solitaire—either way I’m still tuning out from my commute, but at least Twitter allows me to connect with other people.
Christian Miller, a Gen-Y guy who loves his iPhone, also took a quick break from social media. His time off gave him a deeper understanding of what social media really is: “It’s about sharing your thoughts and having people share theirs. It’s being excited to see what people think about your silly picture and being excited for theirs. Social media is an online hearth for people to come together and communicate with each other in a way they never have before.”
On the fifth day, I caved in. I was leaving work and heard a lot of noise coming from the Harvard campus. I tweeted, asking for an answer. (And I got one, too!) That night I went to a party populated by a few social media enthusiasts. Someone started a hash tag for the party, tweeted pictures of the fun, and made sure to thank the host with an @ reply. It was a hearty welcome back into the world of retweets and social interactions that have an added digital element. Social media is more than just communicating; it’s sharing an experience with others and, in the process, creating a living form of documentary about your life.
When I said good-bye to social media, my friend Christopher sent me a Facebook message (probably using social media on purpose, knowing I wouldn’t reply). It read, “uhh, dude, you’re a marketing major. social media is your life. fyi.” How absolutely true.