Monday, 8 September 2014

3 Things I Learnt From #24HoursNoSocialMedia

It started out innocently enough. From a tweet posted by Terri Nakamura, I learnt about @jakek's experiment on going a year without 'smartphone distraction'. I tweeted about how tough it'd be to go without. I am constantly online, reading and sharing info on mobile technology. It was difficult to imagine not having access to 'infinity apps' like Twitter and Facebook. It went like this...

At 0000 hr on Monday, 8th Sept 2014; I started my 24 hours experiment. Some rules for the experiment: I can use voice calls, SMS and IM apps on my phone. Do not use 'infinity' apps. Email and web use would be restricted strictly to work-related purposes and on desktop only. No social media app use at all. Not even looking at notifications which I left active on purpose.

0000 - 0459 hr: Sleeping. Didn't touch my phone.   

0500 hr: Phone alarm goes off. I nearly messed it up, as the first thing I normally do is check the Twitter/Facebook notifications that came through in the night from my Asia contacts. It took a conscious effort to not click on the notifications. I pressed 'Clear All' on the notifications bar. This feels strange. 

0515 - 0630 hr: Getting ready for the day, this is where I normally go to my Feedly page with a coffee and go through interesting news in the tech world. As I read, I share and post on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn/G+/AppNet via the Buffer app. Reading quickly, I'd normally post a dozen articles before getting ready for work. Again, I almost slip up and nearly clicked 'Share Now' 2 or 3 times. My thumb was antsy. I got info that I can't share? I saved the articles instead for later. 

0730 - 0800 hr: Commute to work. I'm lucky enough to have a personal driver in Ghana. My daily ritual while in the car is to browse Twitter for breaking news, retweeting 2-3 articles in 30 minutes. Today, I looked out the window and enjoyed the music on the car stereo instead. I texted my friends in Singapore. My Galaxy S5 was feeling a little underutilized.

0800 - 1300 hr: In the office. My computer boots up with Chrome as my company uses Google Enterprise for work. I had to close the open tabs for Twitter and Facebook (more notifications, what's going on in the world?). My phone hooks up to the company WiFi, and triggers it on silent mode from the IFTTT app. Blinking social media notifications beckon at me. I look away resolutely. I complete a customer proposal, respond to several business enquiries by phone and email, schedule meetings for the rest of the week. My hands were flying over the computer keyboard. Didn't have time to look at my phone. 

1300 - 1330 hr: Lunchtime, I get a packed lunch from home. This is usually the time I sit in the office canteen, with sandwich in hand and smartphone in the other to check what's happening with my Facebook crowd. Today, I plug in my headphones and listen to my music. I concentrate on my sandwich. It is a good sandwich. Nice sandwich. I text my wife to tell her. I wonder what's happening to my friends who were relocating, they were posting FB updates on their move. I search out articles on big data and analytics to pass the time. 

1400 - 1409 hr: A customer was supposed to meet us at the office. He's running late. As I sat waiting in the empty meeting room, I unlock my phone and click on the Twitter ap.... damn, I caught myself in time. Phew! I stick my phone in my pocket. 

1410 - 1515 hr: Customer arrives, we have our meeting with one of my colleagues. Maybe because I was paying a lot more attention to everyone. I noticed my customer's eyes glancing at his iPhone pretty often. Using the clock on my computer, I timed him. On average, my customer glances at his phone once every 50 seconds or a minute. Our meeting lasted an hour and a bit, so my customer probably looked at his idle phone close to a dozen times. I wonder if my customer has ADHD. I mentally correct myself because I do that too. I unlocked my phone to see more notifications. Facebook just doesn't quit. I clicked 'Clear All'.     

1515 - 1830 hr: As the day progressed, I kept at my work. It was a productive afternoon as I cleared up my 'To-Do' list. Mondays are normally the busiest as we create closing reports for the previous work week. I normally take Tweet breaks. Not today. Without the distractions, I was done with the reports by about 1700 hr. A new record. From the corner of my eye, i could see my phone's notification LED winking merrily at me. I click 'Clear All' again. 

1830 - 1905 hr: End of the day. I jumped into the car and as my driver pulls away, I texted my wife to let her know I was headed back. This is also the time I catch up with the Twitter news from the North American time zone. I don't do that. Nosily, I looked in on the other drivers in the peak hour chaos. In the 35-minute ride and playing backseat cop, I catch seven different drivers either calling, texting or peering into their phones in traffic. Not cool. 

1905 - 1930 hr: Dinner is being prepared. As I sit on our patio with the dogs, I am tempted to check my phone. Maybe I can look at something else? I checked the onboard pedometer instead, it recorded about 3000 steps today from walking around the office. I poured myself a nice whiskey. I shared a bit with my bulldog. She seems to like it. Social media seemed a distant memory.

1930 - 2230 hr: My wife and I chatted over dinner. I tell her about my 24-hour-no-social-media experiment. She asked why I was doing it. I reply no reason but why are we on social media? We've not had TV for the past 2 years because we thought regular TV programming was pathetic. I put up a movie on screen and we watch that. It's a romantic comedy and my wife's a huge fan. She's on Facebook and Pinterest as well. I glance over at her phone, catching glimpses of her busy reposting articles, googling the cute lead actor in the movie. I actually enjoy the movie.

2300 - 0032 hr: The movie ends and my wife heads upstairs to sleep, I powered up the Playstation. I had to seek out ZombieKilla99 on 'Battlefield 3'. It was his night to get fragged. He annihilates me instead over four merciless deathmatch rounds. Grumbling, I go up to bed. As I plugged in my phone to charge overnight, I saw the notifications LED blinking merrily. I'm too tired. No social media for me tonight. I sleep very soundly.

So what did I learn?

  1. I can do without social media distractions for 24 hours. I didn't get a pathological urge to check what's happening every 50 seconds. As long as I as I kept myself busy and engaged. I jotted the notes for this story as it happened throughout the day. I normally reserve my blogging for the weekends. I'd say I'd distracted myself in other ways? 
  2. It wasn't easy. Breaking bad online behavior that's so entrenched, I nearly slipped a couple of times and succumbed to checking my social media feeds. I had to consciously restrain myself from doing so multiple times within 24 hours. In fact, it felt like the default unconscious action, for when I had some 'down' time. 
  3. It wasn't difficult either. I'm not a social media manager and my livelihood doesn't depend on me being connected all the time, that's why it wasn't as tough as I thought. No, there's no drama, no lasting psychological effects. I was still connected albeit without a continuous, neverending stream of digital chatter. I can control what I see. That was a gratifying discovery.   
Once I gone past the first few hours, it was quite easy not be distracted by social media. I opened my eyes to really observe and experience everything around me. So, thanks to Terri for the article, it was a refreshing 24 hour break. I might go for a week the next time. 

To others like me, please go ahead and try out a #24HoursNoSocialMedia experiment. Let me know how your day goes when you emerge on the other side. :)