Disconnecting to Reconnect: Why I Took a Social Media Vacation

I’m on a mission to observe my thoughts and behaviors around social media and technology in general.

My finger shuts off my iPhone for the last time for awhile. I also left my laptop at home; I can’t remember the last time I haven’t been on my laptop for several consecutive days at a time.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

With social media feeling increasingly essential on college campuses, it doesn’t seem like there is an opportunity — or option — to allow ourselves a real break. In fact, I’ve found the idea of giving ourselves space away from technology as a form of wellness seems almost too taboo to discuss. As a higher ed professional it can be hard to leave work at work, since email and group chat notifications seem to be nonstop. And because I also work in marketing, social media is a significant part of my work.

In a piece from The New Yorker titled “The Limits of Friendship,” Maria Konnikova highlights University of Oxford anthropologist and psychologist Robin Dunbar’s work around social media. Dunbar explains how social media like Facebook is “changing the nature of human interaction.” Sure we can all laugh at the same YouTube video on our mobile devices, but we can’t share those feelings in-person.

“…One of the things that keeps face-to-face friendships strong is the nature of shared experience: you laugh together; you dance together; you gape at the hot-dog eaters on Coney Island together. We do have a social-media equivalent — sharing, liking, knowing that all of your friends have looked at the same cat video on YouTube as you did — but it lacks the synchronicity of shared experience. It’s like a comedy that you watch by yourself: you won’t laugh as loudly or as often, even if you’re fully aware that all your friends think it’s hysterical. We’ve seen the same movie, but we can’t bond over it in the same way.”

It’s not that I don’t value my online connections, but I wanted more meaning from my relationships that are right in front of me — my real-life connections. I was yearning for time spent where I wasn’t looking down waiting for the latest update from my phone.


Here’s what happened on my vacation

Day 1:

I called my Mum to let her know that I’d be off my phone for a few days. She reacted with concern, “What if an emergency happens and I can’t reach you?” I explained that I’d be back on my phone Monday, and be back on social media within a week. I am constantly attached to my phone for work and to keep up with friends’ social media postings. I told her it was only 4 days out of the 365 day year that I wouldn’t have my phone on me, and she was more understanding.

I turned off all of my push notifications — Twitter, Slack, and Instagram. At first it felt good, and then I felt guilty for taking self-care time. I knew I had to rid this feeling, because the leadership at Presence fully supported my need for disconnected time away to recharge.

I pulled up an email from a past mentor to help me rid this wasted feeling of guilt, and when I’ve struggled with guilt in the past,

“Don’t ever feel guilty. Vacations help us re-center. Work is often a large part of the American identity and we must recognize that our whole selves show up to work, which is not necessarily considered “work.” So when we take time away, you better bet that most people consciously reflect on work while on vacation — you’ll be more productive and centered when you return.”

I felt a freedom in knowing that I wasn’t attached to my phone, and there were no expectations from others.

Days 2 & 3:

I woke up and immediately rolled over to check my phone for the time, only to find myself trying to swipe open a phone that had been turned off. My usual ritual of turning off my alarm and scrolling through Instagram was quickly squashed.

Instead of worrying about the time, I got up, grabbed a cup of coffee, and sat on the porch. I let go of control. To be honest, it felt weird. It was the first time I hadn’t checked my phone in a long time.

I stayed still and took in the atmosphere around me. It had been a long time since I appreciated nature. I realized that I often take it for granted.

I didn’t think much about my smartphone or social media during these two days, except when I observed others’ usage around me.

I noticed that people were taking pictures of their food, of the place they were visiting, or updating Snapchat with their latest selfie. It made me wonder how much time we really spent on our smartphones.

ComScore reports that Americans spend 2 hours and 51 minutes each day on our mobile devices. Another study’s average rises to 4 hours by including tablets in their definition of mobile devices.


graph from comScore Mobile Metrix data

During these two days, I reflected on how I felt fully present. I indulged in reading, writing, and walking outside, listening to the sounds of nature.

Day 4:

I finally finished the book I’ve been trying to get through for almost two months. I was fully ready to embrace my last day off of social media and my phone. However, Mother Nature had different plans in store.

After hearing about potential inclement weather (Hurricane Irma) through a friend and the radio, I decided that it may be best to turn on my phone and get in touch with family and friends, for emergency purposes.

The seconds before turning on my phone I felt a wave of nervousness. I thought, “How many notifications will be waiting for me? Missed calls? What if there was indeed an emergency I missed while offline?”

Those thoughts dissipated when I only had a few notifications, and I reminded myself that I set boundaries with my phone for a reason.

How to manage social media & tech in your life

Social media and technology isn’t going to go away, so it’s imperative we take some time to reflect on our relationship with it. When we start observing our own behaviors with social media, we can be better role models for students and give them pointers on how to create balance. In the meantime, there are resources you can share with students about how to create mindfulness with technology.

Don’t have time to go on a full fledged vacation? Here are some steps to provide space between you and your social media:

1. Manage smartphone notifications

Instead of fully deactivating your account, consider managing your phone’s notifications so you don’t feel like you’re “on call” with your social media. The way we make ourselves available and “always on” doesn’t attribute to great work/life balance. A constant stream of notifications limits us from relaxing with friends and family, and keeps us thinking about work. We have a responsibility for creating the relationship we want with the technology in our lives.

2. Schedule out your social media time

It may seem simple, but it makes a big difference. Schedule time blocks on your calendar where you can check social media or time blocks where you’re away from social media altogether. You could build some goals to help hold yourself accountable, like connecting with specific friends, learning about a new topic, or finding articles you really enjoy reading. You may find that you want to fill your time doing other activities instead, like journaling, meditating, or playing ultimate frisbee.

If you’re a marketer in higher ed like me, you know it’s hard to take a break. Consider using a tool like Buffer to schedule out specific posts ahead of time so you don’t feel the constant need to fill up your queue or think of your next post.

3. Stay focused

If you know you’ll be tempted throughout the day, consider downloading the Chrome Extension called Stay Focusd. It limits how much time you waste throughout the day on social media feeds. I know that I will be using it during a few hours at work where I need to get major projects done.

My new normal

I no longer feel like my phone is glued to my hand for work or for my own personal use, feeling the need to document everything going on in my life. I’m much more aware of the time I spend on my smartphone, on social media, and spending time in front of screens in general.

It’s our responsibility to start these conversations around social media, and how they inherently tie back to our mental health. What is your experience with social media vacations? Have you ever tried one? Is it on your mind? Let me know on Twitter @kayleyrobsham!

Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the former Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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