Going Dark. That’s what some use to describe the idea of unplugging from all social media for an extended period of time. For many people in the power-user category of social media, it’s also a terrifying concept.

I am by no means the most influential millennial poking around the social web, but I am definitely consumed by it for work and play. If you asked my wife, the word “addiction” will probably come up frequently in describing my online habits.

When Daniel Newman approached me about possibly “going dark” for a short period of time, I immediately took the challenge and the first thought in my head was, “Oh, my wife is going to love this!” Seriously.

The Experience

I decided to run my experiment from midnight to midnight, foregoing social media and technology for an entire Saturday. The idea was that I don’t usually work on Saturday, so I can’t just distract myself with work because that would be cheating. I’m no cheater!

So, my Friday night was a bit strange because I skipped my normal routine of clearing out the notifications before bed. “How hard could this be?”

About that…

Okay, to be honest, the first few hours on Saturday morning were the most difficult. Breaking my usual habit of checking my phone when the screen lit up with a notification was tough. Beyond tough. It tugged at my social soul! The buzzing alerts that continued to tease me started to feel like fingernails on a chalkboard.

I decided to just leave my phone in the other room. Out of sight, out of mind.

By about 11 am, I had forgotten all about my phone. Being easily distracted seemed to be paying off, finally. Maybe it was the explosions of the new Robocop movie (now on Netflix, by the way) or the delicious tamale I made for lunch, but I honestly had an easy time once I distanced myself.

In any given day, most of us feel that there aren’t enough hours to do everything we want or need to do. I was amazed by the amount of time I seemed to have throughout the day. I really started to appreciate the world all around me.

I did some laundry, played with my 3-year-old son and his cars, went to dinner with my wife and took her to see a movie. All in all, it was a great day with some precious memories made.

Now, I said it was easy once I distanced myself from my phone. When it was nearby, it was flat-out torture.

The Takeaway

Through all of this, I learned quite a bit about myself as well as those around me.

Probably the most evident lesson was how calm I could be when I was disconnected from the world. When you tune the world out, you start to forget that it even exists. This, in turn, did wonders for my normally high stress levels. I just sat back and enjoyed life as it passed me by. I wasn’t looking for “life-content” to share with the online world. Instead, I was focused on just enjoying what was all around me.

Am I endorsing a complete disconnect from social media? Absolutely not!

This is by no means an anti-social media rant.

I am one of the biggest social media fan boys, especially throughout the franchise network in which I work. I will talk up the power of social and tips on how to effectively use it until I’m blue in the face. I live social.

I have made some amazing relationships and even friendships through the power of social. Heck! I even found a new employee in my family business through Twitter.

The biggest realization I made with this break was that the torture I felt was not due to the unplugging of social media and technology, but the disruption of routine in general. Think about it, if something plays a large and continuous role in you day-to-day life, shutting it off dramatically and completely over night (literally) is bound to cause a real feeling or friction and pain.

The Dissent

I have to say I was surprised when not everyone was positive about the experiment. In fact, I saw someone criticize some of us taking the challenge, especially when we talked about how difficult it was for us. I literally used the word “torture.”

Perhaps something missed by this group of people was the fact that the hardest part of my day was not the lack of social media or technology, but having to abruptly shift my behavior so dramatically. I would have felt the same pain if you moved my front door 3 feet to the left, especially when I ran into the wall. Yeah, that would have happened. I promise.

For those who take the position of “if switching off social media is so disruptive to you, then you have a serious problem and should feel bad,” I would like to issue you the challenge of giving up one of the following:

  •      Coffee for a week
  •      Drinking for a week
  •      Watching Netflix/TV/Movies for a week
  •      Driving for a week
  •      Eating out at your favorite restaurant for a year

Before we all rush to judge others, especially when they are venturing down the path of self-realization and self-improvement, let’s remember that we all have our own personal trials. None of us are in a position to understand the struggle of another, much less pass judgment or try to impose a perceived moral superiority to the situation.

Spreading To Others

Just before lunch on the Saturday of the experiment, my wife texted me: “Going dark for 24 hours.” My wonderful wife saw what I was doing and decided she wanted to be supportive of me. Besides, she told me she could use the reset as well. I was touched that she felt motivated by my actions.

Shortly after jumping back online Sunday morning, I noticed that my friend’s wife had posted on Facebook: “So, my friend Ben Phillips, is going “dark,” meaning no social media for 24 hours. It inspired me to go “DARK” during our entire vacation in Missouri. That’s 7 days!! I’m excited!!!”

The beautiful thing about all of this is that so many of us recognize the need for a reset button. Our lives are becoming more and more interconnected with one another. Connectivity is extremely valuable and healthy, but too often we don’t see the forest for the trees. We are so blinded by the little nuances of the ever-evolving social world that we can lose sight of the overall picture and purpose of it all – connecting with other people on a deeper and more personal level.

Resetting helped me refocus.

We can all learn something from taking a step back and reevaluating how we approach a social world. If I took nothing else away from this challenge, it’s that taking a break or “fasting” from the things that occupy a great deal of time and attention in our lives can really put our world into perspective.

By unplugging and disconnecting, I not only noticed more of the world around me but also better understood the value of social media and technology to enhance that same world.


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