A Week Without Textual Communication

Internet marketers in today’s world whose legitimacy, trustworthiness, experience, and marketing savvy are judged based on their online presence can’t exactly be disconnected from the online world. Someone whose livelihood depends solely on the web, can’t be disconnected.

I took a week to challenge that. And I survived.

Rules

  • No texting
  • No instant messages (only work related during work hours)
  • No Twitter
  • No Facebook
  • No Instagram
  • No Google+ (huge loss for me there)
  • No sharing via a third party (e.g., Sharing “I’m listening to xyz on Rdio” tweet, “Liking” an article, etc.)

 

For each offense of the rules above, I faced the following consequences:

  • Run one mile or
  • Donate $10 to charity
  • Endure extreme shame and guilt

Comfortable Silence

Upon deciding to challenge myself to a “digital sabbatical” I happened upon a TED Talk by Sherry Turkle that explains, in short, that we have become so dependent on our devices that we are losing our ability to be comfortable in solitude.

“I’m not suggesting we turn away from our devices, just that we develop a more self aware relationship with them, with each other, and with ourselves… Start thinking of solitude as a good thing. Make room for it.” -Turkle

While I don’t recommend everyone trash their gadgets and pledge an Amish lifestyle, I do recommend making an effort to become aware of all the ways technology and connected-ness enhances our lives, but also that it can be a disruption if we let it.

Reduce Speed for Horse and Buggy

Finding Replacements

The beginning of the week-long challenge was the most difficult when I was finding other activities to occupy my time. I cannot confirm nor deny the occurrence of “I wish I could text!!” arm-flailing hissy fits. I can confirm, however, that I managed to spend more time cooking meals, writing, reading everything saved up in Instapaper, and even got a facial!

I almost forgot some of these things even happened because I didn’t post about it on my go-to social networks. I wasn’t able to post a picture of every meal I made on Instagram and I couldn’t check in at the spa on Facebook. In this way, I can appreciate social media. It is a way to document the things that happen in our lives. For example, it may seem silly to check in to places on Facebook or Foursquare, but when you look back in a few years, all of your travels will be chronicled like your own personal yearbook.

Obviously didn’t start getting into the habit of checking in until I moved to California.

Feeling Free

The biggest sense of freedom during my week of solitude came from the lack of pressure to feel “caught up” or “up to date” with everything going on in the industry, in friends’ lives, and in the news. I trusted that if something truly important happened, I would find out somehow. I realize that relying on someone else to relay news to me is not the most effective nor convenient strategy, but for seven days it sufficed. I realize there’s other sources to get information like a news site or the radio. However, I’m less reliant on those traditional media sources because my social connection provides me with the same information whether I actively seek it out or not.

Becoming Aware

It is important to appreciate the luxuries we have, but often times the instant access to an entire virtual world can easily become an interruption to daily life. I love being able to log in to Twitter and in a matter of minutes, have an instant snapshot of everything that’s happened in the industry that day. It becomes a problem when I’m constantly refreshing news feeds to see if any breaking news has occurred. The likelihood that Google rolled out the new Rhinoceros update in the past 30 minutes is slim.

Moving On

I encourage you at the very least to become aware of the way that the digital world is shaping your personal and professional life. Be aware of how often you check your pocket to see if you have your phone. Limit yourself to only a few news feed refreshes a day. Take time to get to know yourself in solitude without the incessant alerts of your phone. While I’m the first to embrace technology in all its glory, don’t forget that there are ways to still connect with the outside world without being constantly plugged in.

I can’t promise that I won’t obsessively check Twitter, pretend that I don’t love to creep on Facebook, or even keep my phone on silent, but at least now I am more aware of just how addicted I am.

A Look at the Numbers:

“Blackout Week”
32 un-answered text messages
9 incoming phone calls
15 outgoing phone calls
0 tweets

Average Week
4 un-answered text messages
7 incoming phone calls
6 outgoing phone calls
36 tweets

What do you think about a “digital sabbatical”? Do you think you could unplug yourself for a week (or [gasp!] longer)? What do you think you would miss the most? And most importantly, did you miss me?!

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4 Responses to A Week Without Textual Communication

  1. Yourmom says:

    Your sabatical was rough on me, I missed our texts throughout the day. I liked talking to you on the phone every night but I did give some thought as to why I love texting. I think that it is because on the phone it is hard to know when it’s your turn to speak. Without the visual cues that the other person is finished speaking I find myself cutting people off and vice versa and end up never finishing a thought. It’s nice to be able to share thoughts as they happen because otherwise I forget to tell you things.
    I’m glad you’re back, I’ve missed your corny little witticisms on twitter and facebook but not as much as I miss your face. See you soon.

  2. Mike Wilton says:

    Great post Emma. I like that you took this opportunity not just to say “hey I took a week away from the digital lifestyle and survived”, but to actually look at HOW technology and life online really impacts your day to day. Work/Life balance is a beast in our industry. It’s something I still, after all these years, am trying to perfect. Hell, I still struggle with disconnecting when on vacations…

    That being said, I think they key point you made to readers is awareness. Once you are aware of how the digital lifestyle is affecting you, it should be easier to tackle.

    As a final note, I think your mom’s comment on the struggle to communicate over the phone as compared to texting might actually be another valid reason to disconnect a bit. I think as a society our ability to effectively communicate outside of the digital realm is becoming more difficult and uncomfortable because we aren’t used to that direct human interaction. It’ll be interesting to see how much these things will impact social skills in 5-10 years.

  3. Alex says:

    I don’t use a mobile phone (much to the annoyance of some of my friends) and barely use social networks. Soon I’ll be sorting out my own website so it’ll be interesting to see how I do without much social promotion.

    Not only will social skills be impacted in 5-10 years (they are already) but I reckon people will be super-stressed to the max before they realise it. How do these serial smartphone-checkers ever relax? People are beginning to expect instant responses to everything and it seems easy to get caught up even if you don’t intend to. I hate all this tweet/text/live chat during TV programmes too (here in the UK at least) – why not relax and watch it, then talk about it after? You end up missing half of it. It’s so refreshing to go away on holiday and be unaware of what’s going on in the news too.

    And well done on getting so much traction with the SEO Dudes post so early in your blog’s life; the plaid shirts (it’s so obvious now you’ve mentioned it) and funny tags were my favourite bits.

    And and did I see bacon mentioned somewhere?

    And and and, some of your title fonts are a bit weird, I have to copy and paste them to see what they say (e.g. becoming aware (ah, that’s what it says)). I’m using Chrome.

    • Emma Still says:

      Thanks for all the feedback, Alex. You definitely hit the nail on the head with the part about expectations of instantaneous response. That’s actually one of the main reasons I took a break for a week. I would get so frustrated [embarrassingly so] when I wasn’t getting that ‘instant satisfaction’ that I wanted. Which is crazy! Hence the week-long chill out session.

      Totally agree with the font issues…one frustration with using a WP theme and being afraid to mess up the CSS :) I’m working on it though!

      Thanks again for writing :)

      ….and bacon is EVERYWHERE.

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