Commentary

Nine Days Of Social Silence

For nine days, I was silent. The world heard not a tweet, not a Facebook post, not an email from me. This is the story of one man who went to four South American countries with nothing but an iPhone, two digital cameras, a Kindle, and a couple suitcases, and survived without social media in even the darkest of times, like when I really could have used restaurant recommendations.

I didn't expect to be as disconnected as I was earlier this month while on vacation. I like to occasionally share updates from other countries, even if I'm not actively monitoring all the responses. Reviewing the travel journal I penned longhand while away, my first entry mentioned, "No phone for me (well, iPhone, but that's more for games and Foursquare)."

Then something miraculous happened. When I arrived at the hotel in Rio de Janeiro, there was no open Internet access. The idea of pay-per-minute Internet usage just to claim Foursquare mayorship bragging rights seemed ludicrous when I was trying to get away from my daily routine. Friends could wait for me to return to see my photos of Christ the Redeemer and the city's favelas (slums).

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Early on, it was tough to resist temptation. Lunch spots in the Copacabana neighborhood where we stayed all seemed to serve the same food, and I was tempted to tweet out a request for help. Thanks to certain articles getting republished in Brazilian trade publications, I even have a disproportionate number of Portuguese-speaking Twitter followers. Yet with the Frommer's guide to Rio, asking hotel concierges and other locals, and simply walking around exploring, I hardly went hungry.

The week progressed. My wife and I made it to Buenos Aires, where we knew about the best restaurants and biggest attractions. Advice we'd received before we left both from guidebooks and friends converged on the same places. Some spots underwhelmed -- really, avoid dinner theater-type tango shows at all costs even if someone swears it's authentic. Other tips couldn't have been better, such as when the city shut down for the Immaculate Conception holiday and we chose to spend the day in Uruguay. It would have been fun to post about the Uruguay jaunt on Facebook, but again, it could wait.

In Santiago, Chile, serendipity played an especially prominent role. As I led us in the wrong direction trying to find the subway, my wife spotted a tourism office and picked up information on a free four-hour walking tour covering a large swath of the city's colonial and bohemian neighborhoods. Being disoriented can pay off, as long as you keep your eyes open.

That final Sunday night, while waiting in Santiago's airport lounge for the return flight home, I resisted going back online. If I had any urgent business to attend to at work Monday morning, I could find out once I landed at JFK. Sure enough, when I arrived, there was plenty waiting for me:

·     652 emails in my work inbox

·     342 emails in my personal Gmail account

·     13 Facebook friend requests (only one from someone I clearly knew), plus five emails there and 11 event invitations

·     32 connection requests on LinkedIn (the vast majority from people I don't know)

·     22 friend requests on Foursquare

·     A handful of tweets and direct messages I had to respond to, plus some new Twitter followers to check out

And then there were all the updates I had to share, from the photos on Facebook and Flickr to a few blog posts I haven't written yet. All of it could have waited a few days more.

Foursquare wound up being the hardest social service to disconnect from for several reasons. For social media geeks like me, it's fun to get mayorships in other countries. I also love that on the Weeplaces visualization of my check-in history, it darts around to other countries, and I miss having four more additions to that map. Lastly, and more practically, food always plays a prominent role in my vacations, and it's helpful to access local tips, especially when you can do so passively, rather than by actively asking your friends.

I managed, though. Sure, it's not exactly the kind of survival story that James Franco will want to option. As a social media addict personally and professionally, I was able to disconnect and have at least as good a time abroad as I would have had I brought my social graph along for the ride. Completely disconnecting is possible -- a lesson I'm happy to both learn and share. I did miss it, though, and on my next trip I probably won't hold back from social media entirely. It will be that much easier to use it in moderation.

6 comments about "Nine Days Of Social Silence".
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  1. Harold Cabezas from Cabezas Communications, December 21, 2010 at 1:31 p.m.

    Great post, David! Thanks for sharing that story. Saw the pics, looks like another trip successfully completed. Happy Holidays-all the best for 2011!!

  2. Steve Sarner from Tagged, December 21, 2010 at 1:38 p.m.

    I always wondered what the incoming communication volume might look like for a social media pro like you....thanks for the insight. Glad you had a great - unconnected - trip. Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year David. Appreciate all of your columns very much!

  3. Scott Waxenberg from TBG Digital, December 21, 2010 at 2:50 p.m.

    Sounds like a great trip, David. And it hammers home the point that any form of Social Media (and really any form of media in general) is a "nice to have" not a "must have". Social properties are fun, allow us to interact with others when we want, and provide a form of entertainment and information. But without them we'll all get along just fine. In fact I would say that on vacation it's more fun not to be connected so you can talk to locals, learn about special places from people who really know, and relax without the worry of checking in, updating status, and sharing. I can't wait to disconnect during the holidays already!

  4. Donna DeClemente from DDC Marketing Group, December 21, 2010 at 10:18 p.m.

    Hi David, I too went on a trip in October with my husband to visit our daughter who was doing her study abroad semester in Florence, Italy. We spent a week in Italy, not all in Florence, and were on the go staying in a different hotel every night except for the first two nights.

    I personally chose to disconnect from social media & email this week, only to send a few messages back to our other daughter studying at University of Buffalo who was not happy that she wasn't with us. It was interesting to be disconnected, and while I'm not as connected as you, as soon as we landed in Philly I was checking my email and trying to get somewhat caught up while waiting online at customs.

    So even though it may be hard to disconnect, I think it is totally worth it every so often, especially when you want to immerse yourself in another culture and to be with family. I hope I have the opportunity to do this at least once a year.

    Glad to hear you had an amazing trip. Happy Holidays to you and your family and looking forward to reconnecting in 2011.

    Best, Donna

  5. Kennerly Clay from Lincoln Financial Group, December 23, 2010 at 7:07 a.m.

    What I love the most about this posting is that it reminds all of us how busy and concerned we are with our social media activities, and keeping up with email, and yet if we "disappear" for a few days, does anyone really notice? Alright, maybe a few stalwart followers but for the most part, everybody else is so darn busy managing their own social media activities and emails, they're not going to miss ours! So glad you were able to disconnect completely and simply "be" in another land. That, truly, is the essence of being a traveler.

  6. Darrin Searancke from Halifax Chronicle Herald, December 29, 2010 at 9:50 a.m.

    I went 30 days of Social Media cold turkey. Complete reset of my perspective on my personal/professional priorities ... and lifestyle. Nice to be back, but with restraint!

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