Confession: I love social media. I use social media (I tweet a lot). I teach social media. I study social media. I consult about social media. I strategize social media. I am working on innovating social media. Despite all of this (or perhaps because of), I decided to walk away from social media. For a week. A WHOLE week. As a mini-social experiment of sorts, I decided to go on a self-imposed Social Media Sabbatical. My planned weeklong sabbatical actually turned into a 10-day one. From May 24th to June 3rd, I used very little social media. I decided to share the takeaways of what I learned about my social media usage (and non-usage). Here they are:
*Habitual: My social media usage is habitual. Every morning, I check Twitter primarily as a news feed to read articles from numerous outlets. My morning Twitter read is usually followed by email and Facebook checks. Just as my parents are accustomed to watching the evening news at a set time and channel (“appointment viewing”), my habit has become a routine of “social media-as-news-first thing in the morning.”
*Instinctive: The opposite of habit, but my social media usage is just as instinctive as it is habitual. While I have a ritual of checking social media at a certain time, I also noticed that during “down moments,” my instinct was to grab my iPhone or tablet and check Twitter or Facebook, almost without even thinking about it.
With social media there’s always the “FOMO,” or Fear Of Missing Out. Naturally, a social media sabbatical brings the fear of missing out. Facebook has the most daily engagement and it plays up the FOMO angle. Since I had the audacity to not log onto Facebook for days, and thus not be engaged with the platform, Facebook sent me emails telling me what all I was missing. So and so commented about such and such. This person posted pics on Topic Y. I also found that FOMO works two ways. When engaged with social media, there’s also the FOMO of what’s happening right in front of you, or missing out in IRL. Comedian Louis C.K. has a funny bit about this.
*Addicting: Yes, Social Media is indeed addicting. Much like an addict slowly weans himself off of a drug, quitting cold turkey was difficult. I did not succeed. I was able to avoid logging onto Facebook and Twitter for 10 days. But I confess I still had an occasional Foursquare check-in, and looked at LinkedIn from time to time. And like most addictions, you replace one addiction with another. I turned to eating Bojangles. Lots and lots of Bojangles.
*Prevalent: Social media is everywhere. While you can avoid logging onto and actively participating in social media you can’t avoid its reach. During my sabbatical, others were using social media and sharing it with me in the real world. My aunt showed me the Facebook page created for her insurance agency. Others pulled up pictures to show me. Of course, television shows promoted hashtags and tempted me. I filled my social media void by turning to old-fashioned books, about among other topics, you guessed it- social media. Yes, I spent a weekend at the beach disconnecting from social media while reading Shel Israel’s Twitterville.
*Useful and entertaining: The bottom line is that social media is useful and entertaining. That’s why it can be addicting. That’s why
we I use it. It’s far easier to come across news from at least a dozen outlets in one place (Twitter) than to individually seek out the websites of The New York Times, News & Observer, Hartford Courant, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Guardian and so on and so forth. I found the process of actively seeking out news articles far more laborious. I also missed using social media for recommendations on places to eat (Yelp, Urbanspoon), and what to eat (Foursquare, Yelp). I missed using social media for sports updates (how were my Braves doing). And I missed the entertaining “second screen” experience of Twitter during television. When UNC’s baseball team was competing in an epic 18-inning ACC tourney game with rival N.C. State, I found myself wondering what Inside Carolina reporter Dijana Kunovac was tweeting about.
*Connective: Social media is social afterall. It connects us, and (for better or worse) keeps us informed with what is going on in each other’s lives. I definitely felt less connected and less informed to friends and colleagues in my social networks during my sabbatical.