5 things I learned from my month off social media

3rd September 2017

September has come. The nights are noticeably cooler and each day is darkening that much earlier. Summer is over.

5 reasons why I switched off social media for my summer holidays

Credit: Terry Rodham

Which means I’m home from my summer holidays and my search for serendipity – back online, back blogging and engaging once more with my social media feeds.

A lot has changed for me in the years since I began taking extended summer holidays. Leaving the corporate world 2 years ago, starting my own business and working for myself means no more paid holiday time; when I’m not working I’m not earning.  So, continuing to take almost the entire month of August off from working has felt like an incredible luxury.

Each year I’ve also had to totally rethink whether I would continue to switch off my devices and opt out of both social media and email while I was away from home. In particular, social media has become increasingly embedded throughout both my personal and professional life. And from a purely professional standpoint I may actually miss an opportunity for work if I don’t stay connected.

However, as I wrote in my last post, I decided that the value of disconnecting is, for me, worth far more than the risk of missing something.

5 reasons why I switched off social media for a monthcredit: Malekas85 on iStock

Choosing to switch off

This summer holiday has been different to past years, when I went to places where there were no internet or telephone connections. This year I was land-based, rather than sea-based, and in places where there were good Wi-fi and mobile connections. So, I had choices that I didn’t before.

I have to admit I really struggled.

Particularly because some – not all, but some – of the people I was with were constantly on their phones, looking at their emails and catching up on their Twitter or Facebook feeds.

I actually felt physical withdrawal symptoms.

Which started me thinking about modern-day addictions and what is driving us further and further into social media. Because although technology has fundamentally changed how we communicate with others and in so many ways has freed us to do and be more, there is always a cost.

Social media is now so intrinsically woven into the fabric of our lives, that I can barely remember what life was like without it. As I’ve written before, the optimist in me tells me this is a really good thing, exposing us to ideas and opinions that expand our understanding and our humanity, as well as keeping us connected to the people who matter to us. But the pessimist in me wonders if this is too fragile a connection to too many people we never have an opportunity to actually meet and have a ‘real’ conversation or experience with.

There’s been a recent discussion about some of this on LinkedIn, started by Tom Goodwin, and the variety of comments are fascinating, many of which really resonated with me.

Where are we finding fulfilment as human beings? What nourishes our souls? How ‘real’ are our social media relationships?

This summer it was especially difficult for me to switch off social media, but I made that choice anyways and stuck to it. Even while I was surrounded by people gazing intently at their phones, I did not engage with social media once for almost an entire month.

I’m sure it’s not for everyone; all I can say is that it was necessary – and enlightening – for me.

Because life went on and nothing stopped without me. I was with the people I care about most, doing things I love, being totally in the moment and sharing experiences with people who were right there with me. Nothing else mattered. And when I got home and finally caught up online, I found that nothing really new was being talked about, no one had suffered because I wasn’t around to engage in a conversation, and no one had freaked out because I chose not to do business for a few weeks.

5 things I learned by disconnecting from social media:

  1. No matter how much I love it, my work does not define me. Who I am is fundamentally connected to the people I care about and the experiences I share with them.
  2. Every so often we need to look up from our smartphones and tablets and other devices and take a look around, at what’s actually happening right in front of us.
  3. Otherwise, we risk missing out on life’s experiences – especially those serendipitous ones – by being so engrossed in our social media feeds. How much are we neglecting of what’s right in front of us by seeing so much of our world through the lens of our devices?
  4. For me, being disconnected was so extremely restful that I do wonder why more people don’t do it. More than anything else, the silence was palpable, giving me the opportunity to really listen, see and feel, and have a summer of such awe and beauty that it will stay with me for a long, long time.
  5. The bonus is that I’ve returned home and to work feeling renewed, in ways I wouldn’t have if I’d stayed connected, with a lot more energy and absolutely bursting with new ideas and purpose.

Well worth the disconnect I’d say, at least for a little while.

Have you ever switched off social media for an extended period? What was it like for you?

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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