Three years ago, I began taking August off social media. I wasn’t alone. That was the year everyone started writing about digital detoxes, smartphone-free summer camps, and Facebook cleanses. One writer at the Verge took a year’s vacation from the Internet.
I don’t seem to see those stories as much anymore. To figure out why, I decided to ask my 1,868 Facebook friends. I pulled up the site, but before I could properly articulate the question, I noticed a guy I met briefly five years ago had posted hiking photos from the same place I went hiking last week.
We had both been in Oregon!! What a coincidence! I clicked on the photo and saw he’d been there with a woman I knew from high school. Well, how do they know each other? I clicked on her photo and up came a profile pic of three tiny children, all adorable.
The youngest had a Brown University shirt on. A little bit of digging revealed that, in fact, her husband had gotten a job at my alma mater and they’d all moved to Providence. I’d learned so much in just five minutes, but what was it I’d wanted to know from Facebook?
Welcome to my social life. I acknowledge, it’s not pretty. Somewhere the really good, talented Facebookers are diligently exercising self-discipline to use Facebook only for useful things. There are so many useful things! They’re catching up on current events, reimbursing each other for dinner over Messenger, RSVP’ing for book readings, choosing Airbnb stays based on friend recommendations. They don’t get lost in their Newsfeeds. Their trigger fingers aren’t locked on the “like” button. They aren’t me.
That’s why my August respite has become something of a ritual. I create a folder on my phone labeled “Don’t touch,” and move every social application there. I turn off my alerts so those apps can’t remind me I’m ignoring them. Since social, by design, does not offer “away” messages, I replace my profile pics with the words “Back 9/1,” and use my status to announce my departure. Then, I log off. If my experience resonates, I invite you to join me.
In the time since I took up this endeavor, social media has become much more pervasive, as access to the Internet creeps into our cars and onto our wrists. It is now a staple even of office communication. Consider that when I began this experiment, Slack, which boasts 1.1 million users, didn’t exist. Today, my colleagues and I exchange messages all day on Hipchat, a similar enterprise software product. For this reason, I will make an exception: if you use social software to communicate with your colleagues, keep using it.
If you join me, here’s what will happen: For three days, you’ll have the kind of racing heart you get when you give up sugar or coffee or anything else that your physical body believes it can’t live without. And then the addiction will subside, and you will miss it.
The missing will be acute but temporary, and it will come at unexpected times. You’ll stop having the urge to reach for your phone before bed, to take one last scroll through Instagram. But from time to time, when you want vacation advice from friends who’ve been to Iceland, or when you wish you had an email address for a professional contact, you’ll remember: this stuff is useful.
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