In search of serendipity: why I’m signing off social media for the summer

6th August 2017

I don’t get paid holiday leave anymore. I work for myself and every day I don’t work I’m not earning. I don’t have a steady pay check and, having spent the bulk of my career in a corporate environment, that can be uncomfortable for me.

So why am I taking almost the entire month of August off work? And purposely shutting out social media during that time?

In search of serendipity

(credit: goir on iStock)

When I first moved to the UK 22 years ago, I was astounded to discover that my company not only offered 25 days of vacation every year, in addition to the 10 UK Bank Holidays, but actively encouraged every employee to take the full time on offer. Having moved from America, I was used to just 2 weeks as the standard benefit, though neither I nor anyone I knew had ever taken or were encouraged to take the full 2 weeks. I simply couldn’t imagine ever taking a full 5 weeks or more every year.

I very quickly got used to it! And now I can’t imagine not taking holiday time.

Yet, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more concerned about work/life balance. In the early years of my career I worked all kinds of crazy hours. For B2B marketers, particularly over the past 10 years, it seems that more and more is being demanded of us by our companies, we are increasingly under pressure to do more, and we never have enough time to do everything that needs to be done. So even though we still go on our holidays, how many of us completely switch off?

Three years ago, for the first time, I took almost an entire month off work at once. I had been working really hard and just needed to spend an extended period with family and friends. At the time, I had been blogging and actively using social media for about a year and I really wrestled with how much social media activity I should engage in during my holidays, or if I should do any at all. In the end, I had no choice; that holiday was on a boat with no Wi-Fi or mobile signal and no way to connect outside of that world of sun, sea and scuba diving.

It was an eye-opening experience.

I found that I really loved being ‘disconnected’, being totally in the moment, in the experience at hand, with all my senses focused on the people and the things that I could actually reach out and touch. Furthermore, I was able to mentally, physically and emotionally recharge in ways I hadn’t before, and returned home and to work with renewed energy and focus.

It’s hard to believe that social media is such a relatively recent phenomenon; for context, LinkedIn launched in 2003, Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006, and Instagram and Pinterest in 2010. Although most sources I’ve seen tend to agree that it was only in 2010 that social networking began to become mainstream, with broad business adoption coming even later.

For me, 2014 was the year that I began seeing real traction with social media professionally. There’s no doubt that in the years since, social media has fundamentally and forever changed how we connect and communicate with people across both our business and personal lives.

Fast forward to 2017, and social media has become intrinsically woven into the daily fabric of our lives, enabling us to interact with people in ways that simply were not possible mere years ago. Not only does it keep us connected to the people who matter to us – whether personally or professionally – it has the power to expose us to ideas and opinions that expand our knowledge, understanding and humanity.

Yet I’m becoming increasingly ambivalent about social media.

It started with the Brexit vote and extended through the American presidential elections. I realised for the first time that the algorithms used for the information we see online are increasingly resulting in filter bubbles where we are exposed to information aligned to what we already know, and people who think just like us.

We are losing the vast opportunity for serendipity in our social media interactions.

In search of Serendipity

This wonderful word was coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole, after reading a Persian fairy tale – The Three Princes of Serendip – where the heroes ‘were always making discoveries… of things they were not in quest of’.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines serendipity simply as:

‘Making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.’

This is one thing I am certain of: my work does not define me. I love what I do, it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ to me, and I admit I do make happy and unexpected discoveries through my work. But the discoveries that make me happiest – the people and the experiences – cannot be found online or through social media.

So, this summer I’m in search of serendipity.

And while I will likely schedule a series of posts on the various platforms I use before I go away, I’m choosing to take this holiday entirely offline and free from all social media interaction.

See you in September!


Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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