Do you have a love/hate relationship with social media, particularly Facebook? I sure do! As a result, I decided to leave my computer and phone at home during my recent trip to Ecuador. I found that I was very present without the temptation of checking in or documenting everything I did for my friends and family. I found it liberating! As a result, I threw down a challenge to the Melibee team: Stay off Facebook for a entire week! Here is Ashley Houston’s account of the Facebook free “week!”
When I first read Missy’s e-mail challenging all of the Melibee Global interns to see what we would feel like without Facebook for 7 days, as a response to the article, How Facebook Can Ruin Study Abroad, I scoffed. I told myself that I’d let some other intern do it.. They’d surely have an easier time – this assignment was not for me. But, I caught myself, and shortly thereafter determined that the challenge was exactly for me. Who better than someone as addicted to social media as me to try and go without for seven whole days?
Before I responded to Missy’s dare I had an internal argument with myself. Was it really worth it to do this? How many important things will I miss out on? Do I honestly have enough restraint not to look on my phone? I was astonished at HOW addicted I have become, and I knew this was a chance to really know what it would feel like. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve gone on vacations before, been out of the country for extended periods, and even was outside of cell and internet service in the evenings on a recent trip to Vermont. And you know what, I struggled. I wanted to know what was going on back home. What were my friends up to? Were there important messages awaiting my attention? I knew that having the ability to access Facebook and not using it would be a test of my will. Judging from my lack of self-control with dieting and other new year’s resolution endeavors, I knew it would be a struggle. To me, this was a sad realization and one I thought would be worth exploring.
Even before I started this assignment I thought of ways to cheat. Maybe I could have a friend check my wall for me to make sure I wasn’t really missing anything super important. Perhaps it wasn’t cheating if I only checked my work page or my messages, because there could be time sensitive information. I discovered quickly that I have FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, a term coined in 1986 and recently used in Mindy Kaling’s best selling book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (see link below). I was constantly wondering what I was missing even amidst my daily work. I was amazed at how much I rely on Facebook for many things.
And guess what, I didn’t make it a full seven days. On day four (Wednesday), I gave in. I couldn’t take it anymore! I had to see what was going on. My curiosity was piqued to the max. My computer sitting open on gmail made it far too easy to quickly click my “favorites” tab and see what was on Facebook. I didn’t stay for more than a minute or so, reviewing a few key things that came up. But, it was long enough to reveal a lot. I saw that I wasn’t able to RSVP to a close friend’s surprise birthday party that had come and gone without my knowledge or attendance; I missed several of my students reaching out with questions or to locate missing items they left behind after flying back to Japan; friends thought I ignored their responses to dinner invitations; my co-workers didn’t understand why requests to trade shifts went unanswered and staff challenges were incomplete, and the list goes on. I felt relieved after checking it. I felt I could breathe deeper. I was able to hastily apologize for my lack of responses to several people and make sure my students’ items were still available and could be delivered to Japan. I didn’t complete the full seven day challenge, but was I successful. Time away from my constant obsession with statuses and checking on others opened up time for reading, in-person socializing, and schoolwork. Yet, I was constantly distracted and wondering what I was missing. It was hard to focus. My Facebook free few days did help me to see the sheer amount of time I was spending daily and weekly when it added up. Too much time, that is for sure.
I don’t want to, and I won’t, cut Facebook or social media out of my life because I see a lot of value in the medium for professional and personal communication. I value what it adds to my life and the abilities it gives me to communicate with study abroad students who do not have U.S. cell phones, my friends overseas and out of state, as well as my co-workers. But, I do think I need to rely on it a bit less and spend more time appreciating what is around me rather than longing for or needing to see what everyone else is up to. Using my phone and writing letters occurred more during my Facebook free few days than usual. Instead of posting, “Happy Birthday” on someone’s wall or sending a message to catch up, I made a phone call or sent a letter. These small gestures make life more rich and communication more personal. I’m sure I am not done yet learning from this experience.
UPDATE: It’s been nearly two weeks since my experiment. I have noticed myself being much more thoughtful about my social media usage. Do I spend less time than before? I would like to think so. I haven’t made any drastic changes, but I am much more attuned to the way I communicate with others and how I spend my time. What a great reality check even a few days without social media was able to give me!
About the Author: Ashley Houston is a very well traveled bee. After spending time in the the world of Higher Ed as an Academic Adviser, Ashley recently went back to school to finish an MA in Intercultural Relations at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.