Lessons Learned From A Two-Week Social Media Blackout

When I decided to go on a hiatus from the social networks (read Twitter and Facebook, two of the products that I use most), it had more to do with trying to get a handle on things in both professional and personal life than anything else. Over time, my use of these sites had become more of a crutch to support increasingly bad management of time and effort. Nothing spectacular happened because of the blackout. The world did not become a better place, nor did any of my problems vanish magically, but I did get to focus a lot more on matters that needed dedicated and sustained attention.

For me, the first rule about doing such a blackout was to not tell anyone about it. I was not totally offline and was easily available over email. I had forsaken instant messaging services a long time ago and I rarely use them (Skype, mostly) other than for work-related short stints. It was well over a week before the first messages of 'all ok?' started coming through and even those maxed out in the single digits (including the DMs on Twitter that I did not get to see till today). If this were a popularity contest, I would certainly have lost it hands down, but taking it account my largely asocial self, we are working on a flawed foundation there.

It was not easy going at all. Day one was hard. I am a compulsive 'command + tab' and 'command + n' user. A bad habit and muscle memory are like two peas in a pod – perfectly made for each other. Two or three days into it, things became much easier. I was working with more focus and it was getting more OK to not know immediately what was going on anywhere within seconds of anything happening. More importantly, it was OK to not have a smart ass comment or a snarky response to something or the other. Week two was not something that was part of the original plan, but it so happened that I was heading out of town to the Himalayas for some R&R and it worked out perfectly fine to extend the hiatus for seven more days.

Having popped up back about 11-hours ago on Twitter and Facebook I don't think I missed much. Some observations:

1. Yes, there is a certain delay in knowing what is happening out there, but that actually works out much better for me, with significantly reduced noise levels and better reporting.

2. There are a lot of easily offended, highly opinionated people out there. A lot of times the realtime world feels like a nerve that is ready to burst.

3. Real life (the one without Foursquare, Latitude, GPS etc) is not a fallback. In our part of the world, it is still the primary option.

4. Unless they do eventually get into the payment/shopping space, Facebook will be so passe in 5-years.

5. 12157 tweets and 1115 followers down the road, I still could not explain Twitter to a digital non-native in either 140 characters or even using 140 sentences.

6. I have grown to love email even more.

7. The importance of 'social' in your life is vastly overrated when it does not involve meeting people face-to-face.

8. Both Twitter & Facebook have scaling issues (not speaking about technology). After a point, both become more about distribution than interaction.

9. There is something absolutely lovely about enjoying an icy cold breeze going up the Himalayas and not wondering how to fit the feeling in 140 characters.

10. We are, sadly, slaves of the refresh button.

Of course, none of these need not necessarily apply to anyone else. But it is an interesting experiment. I would suggest that you give it a shot and see how it works out. Obviously, don't tweet about it while you are at it.