Earlier this week, Mike Stopforth posted a thought-provoking article on his blog about social media addiction. My hand is raised: I also check Facebook and Twitter through bleary eyes before I’ve got out of bed in the morning (email can wait though) – and just before I go to sleep. You know, in case anything earth-shattering has happened in the world or to my friends.
But despite working in digital marketing, I often feel overwhelmed by social media. Twitter in particular – I feel my stress levels rising if I’m not able to read every interesting link people tweet. Of course it’s ridiculous to expect to digest everything that comes into my news feed, but I do sometimes feel panicky that I might be missing out on a gem.
Come December, after a long year of helping clients with their social media strategies and trying to manage my own addiction, I’m usually near breaking point. And that’s why I do my annual social media detox. Despite the thought of it making me short of breath, it’s something I have to do to keep me sane. Will I fall behind my clients and competitors if I don’t go onto Twitter for three weeks? Will my friends even notice if I don’t update my Facebook status for a month?
To make this hiatus less stressful, I’ve developed an easy and enjoyable way to enforce it: I travel somewhere which has horrendously expensive data roaming rates and unreliable hotel wifi. I’d rather spend money on delicious local food than a local SIM. Corny as it sounds, that moment at the airport when I send MTN the USSD to deactivate my calls and data is when my holiday begins.
The first time I did this, the cold turkey symptoms were bad. I felt bereft at my friends no longer being a tap away. Every time I heard a phone beep, I’d dive for mine – despite the fact that its settings meant it was useful only to keep time. It probably took about four days to stop experiencing the social media equivalent of an amputee’s phantom pains. Taking 2,500 photographs in two weeks may just indicate that I swapped one addiction for another though…
By the end of last year, I slipped comfortably into my third annual no-social-media hiatus before my plane had even taken off. Now it’s easy. Without the constant interruption of social media, I can focus on the exciting new places I experience and the people I meet. I’m much more present, interested, and – yes – interesting. I’m less stressed and less distracted. The thought of live-tweeting my travels fills me with horror. For me, a holiday is a break – it’s about getting away from it all, not taking it all with me.
On my return to reality and my desk, I find I can handle my social feeds better – for a couple of months, at least. That’s also the time to prune the list of people I follow. Perspective and balance are restored and you know what? The Twitterverse didn’t implode because I missed a few #followfridays. The really important information got through to me anyway. And the lovely, warm ‘Welcome back! We missed you!’ messages from my Facebook friends are a great antidote to post-holiday blues.
Do you ever unplug from social media? How often and for how long? I’d love to hear how you do it in the comments below.