Why Unplugging for a Week Was the Best Thing I Did

A tech and social media break could save your sanity

Relaxing without tech
Lifewire / Maritsa Patrinos

I recently took a social media break and I highly recommend it.

It was nearly a full-on digital break as I rarely consulted my phone, looked at a tablet, or even used an electronic device. My only concessions to modernity were the dozens of vacation photos I took on my iPhone and my Amazon Kindle e-ink reader, which I did use for hours at a time to read long books (three on one vacation may be a new record for me).

I put aside all social media. Not only did I stop posting, but I didn’t peruse the feeds. No Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Byte. Nothing.

Twitter was naturally the hardest for me to give up. It was like I’d lost a constant companion, a close confidante with whom I shared not so secret thoughts and observations.

That loss reminded me how much I depend on Twitter to take the pulse of the world. When I occasionally checked Google News—just to keep tabs on planet Earth—it was without the Greek chorus of the Twitterati, and the context (or confusion) they sometimes provide.

I didn’t share a single photo on Instagram or video in Instagram Stories, nor did I consume mass quantities of TikToks.

My eyes, ears, and brain were private audience to everything I saw, touched, and did.

throwing phone
Okay, I didn't throw my phone away, but this was the next best thing. Rare Exotic Birds Club

Another Retreat

It had been five years since my last digital detox and, if anything, I was now more immersed in social media and technology. Which meant I felt its loss more deeply. I had no idea how often I used it to fill in gaps, to beat back encroaching boredom. As I looked around at other resort goers, it was obvious at least some of them were still using social media in much the same way.

On the other hand, I found many people reading physical(!) books, staring out at the ocean, or engaged in long conversations with those around them without the use of emojis. Our resort skewed to an older, possibly less-digitally savvy generation. Had I conducted myself the way I normally do, I might have stuck out like sore thumb, but I fit right in. Instead of a phone in my hand, I held a virgin piña colada.

Still, it wasn’t always easy. The sense of detachment from tech and cultural events grew and faded during those seven days. Without the social stream, I had more time to read and think. I also spent less time wondering and worrying about what other people thought of my micro thoughts.

Horse on beach
Who needs social media when you have this?.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

No Participation Trophy

Because I tracked the news, I had a keen sense of what I was missing. This includes, in no particular order:

  •  Palindrome Day
  • The Super Bowl
  • The Super Bowl ads
  • Saturday Night Live’s cold open
  • The chance to tweet a proper tribute to Kirk Douglas
  • Tweeting a comment on Google’s first YouTube revenue release, which naturally would’ve been “First!”
  • Sharing my inchoate coronavirus fears
  • Seeing angry or incomprehensibly misleading political tweets
  • Tweeting my “amazement” that a smartphone app failed the Democratic Party in the Iowa caucuses
  • Humorously—because how can you do otherwise?—live tweeting the state of the union

I missed turning pretty pictures from my vacation into heart-worthy Instagrams. Sure, I’ll post some later (I’ve already started), but “Insta” is in the name and I missed that, “Wow, look what I just saw or did” feeling I get from a successful Instagram post.

Chemical Reaction

A break from Instagram, though, was a chance to experience life through my own eyes and not the reactions of others. I’m no less awestruck by what I saw on my vacation because no one else was commenting on my “amazing” photos.

Stingray
I did use technology (my iPhone 11 Pro) to record vacation highlights, like this underwater photo of a stingray. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Being off social media also meant I couldn’t share almost drifting out to sea or an instant reaction to a stingray trying to remove my thumb.

Taking a solid week-long break from social media temporarily rewired my brain. Without the dopamine drip of social media response (likes, retweets, comments), I lost the ADHD edge, that distractibility that would sometimes leave my wife wondering why I stopped listening to her mid-sentence, so I could check a feed. That terrible habit disappeared during our vacation.

If anything, I found myself talking to, maybe at, my wife more than normal. Since I couldn’t share my random thoughts with the world, I shared them with her. She was not always amused.

For as much as I appreciated the break, there were times when, while reading the day’s news, I had intense FOMO feelings. Not reacting and being part of the conversation sometimes made me feel disconnected and adrift.

So What

Tech and social media breaks offer some obvious benefits for any healthy human being. There’s the ability to enjoy things purely and inside a judgement-free bubble. Focus on the activity and task at hand is heightened. Sometimes the days feel longer and that’s not a bad thing.

Being off social media also meant I couldn’t share almost drifting out to sea or an instant reaction to a stingray trying to remove my thumb.

Not experiencing things through a screen is like the difference between watching a movie on, well, a smartphone versus an IMAX screen. Yes, I took photos to remember, but just as quickly pocketed the phone to shorten the distance between life and my cerebral cortex.

Oh, and my iPhone battery lasted a full day, every single day. I never needed a backup charger.

Taking time away from social media and significantly cutting down on my digital information intake allowed me some much needed perspective. The natural distortion and amplification that occurs through the social media filter is gone and, while I had less information, I also enjoyed a little less hyperbole and alarm.

I don’t want or even encourage everyone to leave social media, but I do think everyone should take a nice long break once a year, if only for your sanity. I know that’s why I did it.