The importance of taking a social media break

Hello again! I’m back after cutting myself off from the internet for a week—no blog, Twitter, or even email—and it was freakin’ tough. The only way I was able to do it was because I cheated—my husband and I went to rural Scotland and stayed in a cottage with no internet access for most of that week. I’m so dependent on the internet that I wouldn’t have lasted that long if we hadn’t.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a few things, though.

Writers are perhaps even more inclined than others to live in a virtual world. And as important as being involved online is to building a career and sparking ideas, it can be just as important to step back from it.

Here’s what I found out last week.

1. The people in my real life get less of me than the people in my virtual life.

After working on the web all day, I come home and turn on my computer for more time online. It’s my way of relaxing, but it means my husband doesn’t get the best of me. This week—when he was without internet access, too—we had a fantastic time together.

Not only that, but as I spent time with my husband and friends, I found my mind was more focused on them. I hadn’t realized how much of my brain is occupied by the hundreds of conversations I’m part of—all of which I enjoy, but which can pull me away from the people around me.

2. I can have conversations that are more than 140 characters long.

It was a bit of a struggle sometimes, especially when my husband wanted to discuss economics, but I found I was able to express myself in complete sentences. Except when I was tired or hungry—then it was mostly grunts and grumbles.

3. Social media is only the latest outlet for really boring people to have inane conversations.

Spending several days in the car meant listening to lots of radio DJs prattle on about the most tedious things. And loads of people called in to participate! Across Britain I heard all about what people ate for dinner last night, what their first car was, and (I’m not kidding) what kinds of fish they like to eat. So if you find you’re really missing people announcing their meals on Twitter, turn on your radio instead.

4. We are far too dependent on being able to get hold of people immediately.

During the week, my husband checked his email once. (I sat with my back to the computer.) He often proofreads papers for foreign university students, and one of them had emailed him asking if he could proofread a paper that was due the next day. That’s beyond procrastination—that’s an expectation that you’ll be able to get someone’s attention immediately. And she probably usually can. The problem with believing this is that there’s no time to make contingency plans on those rare occasions (like this one) when you can’t.

Now, for your viewing pleasure (stifle your yawns, please), here are some pictures of things I did instead of being online (or: we’ve come to the part of the post where I share my holiday snaps and stretch really far to make it sound relevant to the topic).

Sheep on road
Moving sheep in Argyll. The dogs were really amazing to watch as they worked.
View over Skipness
View over Skipness. This moor might not look like much, but it nearly killed me to walk up it.
Stream running through woods
Stream running through woods near Skipness (at the bottom of that moor, above)
View over English countrysideover
I may be in my 30s, but I can still be sickeningly jealous of my friends' toys - the toy in this case being her house in the north of England. This is the view from her back yard. Disgusting.

Have you ever purposely turned off your internet access for a set amount of time? Did you benefit from it? Or did you spend the whole time twitching on the couch until you caved in (as I would’ve done if we hadn’t found a corner of the earth with no Wi-Fi)?

Come back on Wednesday when I’ll be talking about how to take a social media holiday, without going to the Highlands.


  1. Great post! Great pics! (My husband and I are contemplating a trip to Scotland in a year or so. Any suggestions? Tips?) But back to your post: I have found that being online too much makes me impatient (or, even more so), which is my greatest failing as a writer. It also creates instant distraction when I feel bogged down–when I should be thinking about the problem and how to fix it. Even so, it would be hard to completely turn it off.

    1. Kaki, email me if you do decide to go to Scotland. I’ve been several times and have quite a few Scottish friends who could give tips. My biggest tip would be to check out the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh in August. If you like really random performances and craziness, you can’t miss it. If you want peaceful, quiet streets to stroll through, don’t go then. And if you fly through London, I’ve got a lumpy couch-bed in the living room with no privacy with your and your husband’s names on it (whatever his name is – I’m good at embroidery).

      I’m right there with you when it comes to impatience. Too much time online makes me feel frenetic, and I didn’t realize how much so until I stepped back.

  2. *Wah* I want a Scottish vacation in the countryside. I’d give up Internet for a week..well…do they have 3G service there for my BlackBerry? Seriously though, missed you. Glad you’re back. Love the sheep!

    1. Missed you, too, Suz. Weirdly, I ended up thinking about my internet friends a lot (and I knew you’d love the sheep! They were my absolute favorite thing).

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