Taking a break from social media …

One month ago I posted the image below to my Instagram account. The responses were to be expected from friends who are similarly connected 24/7 to a variety of social media apps – they were shocked and unsure of my motives for giving the finger to social media … even temporarily. I guess my text speaks for itself in regards to my motives … I needed to escape the connection to something that felt ‘other’ than the real world.

It is a curious world we First World kids inhabit. We spend much of our lives working in order to pay bills and purchase stuff we feel is important, and then we we come home we spend much of our time online accessing information, entertainment and connecting with people. For me it was the latter that preoccupied the majority of my time – even when I was at work. There are many, many stretches of writing that praise this connectedness and seek to inspire others to similarly connect. I have written a few stretches about it myself, right here on this blog. But the thing I haven’t read much about, and have never written about, is the need to disconnect.

A couple of years ago I was given the book ‘Hamlet’s Blackberry’ to read. It was a purposeful lending because the person who offered it to me could see me sinking under the weight of my connections. It took me two years (after reading the book) to finally feel the burden of social media threaten to break me.

So what was the metaphorical straw that broke me? Questions. Each day, through a variety of platforms, I would be asked and would ask questions. What about? Anything really, but mostly education related stuff. My incessant question-asking, my eagerness to know and try new things simply garnered answers and further questions (from me and from the people I am connected to). Then there were the questions directed at me from people interested in things I have said or done and shared via social media. I felt pressured and strung-out. The world got really busy. The world got really noisy and I wanted it to shhhhhhhhhhh.

Another thing was sharing. This is super obvious – after all it is the human desire to share our experiences, our struggles, our joy, that is the backbone of social media. I had (and have) multiple platforms for sharing my thoughts and experiences – twitter, facebook, edmodo, email, texting, foursquare, my blog and instragram were the main places I left the marks of my existence for others to ponder and respond to. Of course this is no one-way street, I commented on the marks left by others but – like all good conversations – this results in a follow-up comment and you are hooked. You will revisit that mark to see if another share is there. And you will revisit often and unconsciously. You are drawn back without even understanding why. And I was drawn back to these multiple platforms repeatedly each day until there was barely a breath that was not filled with a thought or an experience shared. And it was overwhelming. I wanted it to shhhhhhhh.

So I did it. I deleted all of the apps off my phone. That was a huge step for me. The phone, I think, was the clincher. If it was all just web-based stuff I know I could escape – after all I have a couple of kids so I’m often not in the house and hooked up to my mac. The phone and its connectivity meant I never could escape the questions and the sharing. I spent so much time looking down at the tiny touch screen that I forgot to look up and at the world. I know this isn’t the experience of everyone, but for me it got to the stage where everything I did, every thought I had, needed an audience bigger than just me and my mind. Weird. So I got rid of it all, I closed this blog and spent a month on ‘hiatus’. Well, I guess I didn’t disconnect entirely – I still emailed, texted, used edmodo and occasionally facebooked. I guess for me there is no complete silence.

And what was the result of my forced escape? I thought more. I read more. I sat with my boys and watched them play games, I kicked the footy around and played cricket. I read and I listened. I didn’t fill every breath and every silence with my words. Even now I can’t think what to write. What was it about that time away that I value so much? I think it was the solitude. It’s the experience of being disconnected, of not knowing and not needing to know what everyone is doing and thinking right now. That was hard in the first week – feeling left out and unsure – and then by the second week I felt empowered. I was excited about doing something alone – mentally alone – and enjoying that it was my moment and not yours. No one needed to say anything about the Chai I was enjoying and they didn’t need to reassure me if my day had started badly. I had to think for myself. I hope it continues.

Mental solitude is just as powerful – if not more so – than physical solitude. I encourage you to try it some day.

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25 thoughts on “Taking a break from social media …

  1. Funny how I hesitated to leave a comment on here because i didn’t want you to feel compelled to respond to this comment only to have me respond to that response ad infinitum. I love that you did this act of disconnectedness because I have been wrestling with all of those things you spoke of in this post. I’m not sure when I will get to that point of just needing to totally disconnect but I see it in my future and now I know someone who willingly did it. Thank you for leading down the path.

    • Haha Chris, that’s funny! Nah, but seriously (and interestingly for me) the one place I long for a continued conversation is on my blog and often (unfortunately) it is the one place where I don’t get it. It is here that I put my thoughts into a more developed form, where my musings seem purposeful and not simply fleeting observations. So of course this where I would like deeper discussions about ideas and experiences. I do feel that this is happening less and less on blogs which is sad.
      I think sometimes blogs have become places to glean ideas and move on – hence my rather cynical statement when I closed my blog: ‘take what you need and go’. It felt like that’s what people were doing anyway and it was frustrating me – I longed for the conversation here. Do I sound like a hypocrite? I dunno. I just think the blogging community should be different from the other stuff – like twitter.

      Ah well … I’m rambling.

      I do hope you take time off from it all – it’s terrifying at the start and then you adjust and it becomes normal. However, once you’re back, you’re back. I don’t know how changed I am … I think I am different for the experience though.

      🙂

  2. HI Bianca, if you liked Hamlet’s Blackberry you might like Susan Maushhart’s, “My Winter of Disconnect” – funnier and more realistic. Then if you’re really into dropping out (if only from social media!) you could try ‘Walden’ by Thoreau
    Regards, Kate

  3. Good on you Bianca. I sometimes feel the social network is an alien technology, where people communicate in a virtual way and can sometimes sucks you into feeling it is a substitute for communication with flesh and blood people.
    As you may recall, I tweeted a couple of months back that I had decided that for me the twitter was ‘a total waste of time’. That was certainly an overstatement, but I have very rarely bothered to tweet since. I had a few astounded ‘why could you possibly feel that twitter is anything other than marvellous?’ type responses. However for me, it just made me feel more alienated and isolated being on twitter than keeping out of it.
    I have a handful of actual family and flesh and blood friends on facebook, and my privacy settings are ramped up to the max. Edmodo is the social education network I value the most. Probably because it involves kids and classes as well as adults. It is supremely useful, but that is not something I have to tell you. Edmodo is also a *lot* more inclusive than what I have experienced on twitter or elsewhere on Australian social education media where there is a strongly entrenched hierarchy. One can really start on a level playing field, and feel there is no big brother watching over you, unless of course you invite them in to your group haha.
    Yammer is great, but I am always very aware I have to hold my tongue for fear of expressing an opinion something that will threaten my very survival with the higher-ups
    I doubt very much that I will ever go back to checking into twitter everyday, that is for sure. It just makes me feel like an outsider. I do not feel any pln love from twitter, though I appreciate that others do.

    • Hi Viviene,
      I know what you’re saying about twitter – it can seem to be very hierarchical. I think what does seem like coldness from some of the more prolific tweeters is most likely just accidental … when lots of people tweet to a person it is difficult to reply to them all.
      However I do agree that edmodo is a wonderful community where everyone is welcome and can just feel comfortable being themselves. I think we each choose a favourite and stick with it – some days I love twitter and other days it does my head in.
      Lucky you found edmodo so welcoming and it’s a space where you can connect with amazing people!
      🙂

  4. You mentioned Edmodo. I also have been thinking about deleting Facebook…but not Edmodo. I feel that site is a true link to a professional learning group rather than just social networking.

  5. Being a bit of a Buddhist at heart, I absolutely understand the disconnectedness from the physical world when one is online. It stretches our understandings of “present” and “reality”. I’ve thought too about my engagement with the staff in my building compared to the educators with whom I connect online. Balancing work time, me time, and family time is an ongoing challenge and the formula changes frequently. Trust you’ll find the balanced equation that works for you :). Cheers!

    • Thanks Miles … I think from my time away I am starting to appreciate that I can leave the phone at home and disconnect when I’m out of the house. That’s the best bit for me – just driving and forgetting the world for a bit.

  6. Glad to hear that you managed to disconnect. As you can see from the comments on here so far, plenty of people also struggle to manage the real/virtual world divide. I too have felt the disconnect from the real when pursuing too much of the virtual. Seth Godin has written before about how the Internet, Twitter, etc. can stop of from doing “the work”. Sure, it can help us to find out more, but (i’ve found) that there comes a time when you can read about all these great ideas and ways of transforming education BUT to actually bring about change in your classroom you need to connect with the real, to make a difference in the classroom. In fact, I am not surprised at all about your hiatus, in fact I applaud you for it! Sometimes the cup is so full it is overflowing and nothing happens. Sometimes we need to empty the cup and start afresh. Sometimes we can get to caught up in abstraction, the world of ideas – how refreshing it can be to get out of that headspace and become grounded. I think that it is important to keep your feet firmly grounded, to reconnect with that ground of who you are and what you stand for, to soar above, but also stay connected. Well done!

    And well done for keeping the blog going. Your thoughts on the decline of blogging interaction are too, sadly, true. For some, blogs might be “old school” but as English teachers we know the value of getting ideas into writing, refining those ideas, and blogs can do that. Keep up the great work, Bianca, you are inspirational just by being who you are – a thoughtful educator.

    • You’re so right about refining ideas, Brendt. Sometimes I wish there was more focused conversation on one topic – like the topic of the blog post, where we could work together to come to some type of break-through. I guess that happens on twitter and edmodo to an extent when you have a concern, but what a blog does is it archives it for future reading – so others who are interested might stumble across it one day and find our musings useful.
      Optimism, huh? 🙂
      Thanks for your comment – always appreciate it!

  7. Hi Bianca,

    Well, looking at the length of your ‘hiatus’ (19 days), I would say that it is lucky you are not ‘a drinker’. Most Australian edubloggers find it difficult to crank our a post a month, you are still way in front of the average.

    @Darcy1968 😉

    PS Seriously, I think this is a very important issue and the question, from an education POV, is what programs and policies do we put in schools to assist with the issues your correctly list in this post? Some ‘balance’ is needed: http://darcymoore.net/2012/04/28/balance-wisdom/

    • Thanks Darcy, I’ll check it out.
      Oh, and I actually had 30 days away from social networking … it took a little longer for me to say goodbye to the blog for a bit 😉

  8. A great blog post Bianca. What you’ve reflected upon is so very true. I suppose I haven’t got to the point of wanting to walk away from it all, but I did get rather sick of foursquare and deleted it last year. I decided it wasn’t important that people knew where I was having coffee number 3 for the day. I decided that in all reality, what did it matter whether someone ‘stole’ the mayoralty from where I drank coffee once a day. I agree that there is a real danger that people can overlook or neglect parts of their lives in favour of their social media constructed identities. I read Darcy’s post about balance and I think it also comes down to balance. Everything in moderation. Anyway, thanks for posting and for your honest and forthright accounts.

    • Thanks Alda … it’s all really subjective depending on how much the person devotes him/herself to the connectedness. I felt like I had (and still do) devote far too much time to it with sometimes amazing benefits and sometimes less than amazing results.
      I know that I certainly don’t do enough reading of what other people write and think and I wish I did … for some reason I can’t find an easy solution to that. Like I need to limit myself to alternate my responding and composing days (to use English teacher talk) … might work?!

  9. Been there too Bianca. http://jennyluca.com/2011/11/24/connected-and-conflicted/ I feel like my life has more balance now, but I think those of us who choose to learn this way will always be battling with how we meet the demands of work, family and, god forbid, leisure! You have given so much in these networks and many have benefited from the learning you have shared. I, for one, hope you continue to share with your readers. That’s provided you’ve attended to your most important charges first, those gorgeous boys who need you more.

    Jenny. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your post … I will have a read of it! Isn’t it funny that I have no idea that other people are writing similar things to me. It just further supports my own confession that I simply don’t read enough. How do you fit reading blogs into your schedule? Thanks heaps for the nice words you said … it is very sweet of you. Often I think I’m just blah blahing for the sake of it. I need to stop sometimes and focus. But really that’s not my personality at all 😉

  10. …which explains why I adore roaming around #woolies whilst shopping for 5 grocery items over 40 minutes- no questions! From home or at school! Just wide open isles that one can get lost in on auto pilot….up and down 🙂 Bliss. Simple pleasures.

  11. Pingback: Connecting » Ruminations

  12. Well done Bianca. I have started doing “screen free Sunday”. (thought I think i forgot to yesterday – blaming the long weekend). It has reminded me that I have children who love hanging out with me, that I own a bike and a kayak, that I like reading books and that I enjoy playing piano. Also worth reading is Sherry Turkle “Alone Together” (cf. her TED Talk) and Nicholad Carr “The Shallows – What the Internet is doing to our brains”.

    • Thanks Dave – I’ll keep an eye out for those books 🙂
      I think when we come back from the US we’re going to do an ‘every other day’ screen ban and see how it changes the dynamics in our family – I want us all to concentrate on a musical instrument plus one other creative pursuit like painting, drawing, quilting, knitting, poetry-writing etc. It’s a dream but I think it’s OK to dream.
      B 🙂

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