Why I'm quitting social mediaAugust 1, 2013: 5:00 AM ET
Well, temporarily anyway. The goal? To see what I've gained (and lost) in the last decade.
FORTUNE -- I'm signing off Facebook for the month of August. And Twitter. And Instagram. And LinkedIn, Pinterest, & MessageMe. If you'd like to reach me before September, please send an email to my @fortune address or better yet, call me. I suspect I'll have a bit more time than usual to call you back.
Put simply, I want to find out what I've gained -- and what I've lost -- since I first logged on to Friendster back in 2003. I don't remember what my life was like before I had a profile pic. I've been writing about -- and making efficient use of -- social networking tools since I authored the first business cover story on social networking for Business Week in 2005. By stepping away for a month, I hope to see these technologies with new eyes -- and to write smarter stories about how they will shape our future.
In case you haven't noticed, it seems to have become a trend this year. In May, Paul Miller wrote about his experience living one year Internet-free for The Verge. The New York Times has written about digital detox camps, and Fast Company ran a cover story about a guy who unplugged for 25 days. Seriously, that was the conceit of the story.
I believe this is happening now because we American Internet users have reached a point of maximum social overload. I credit a perfect storm of new tools -- smartphones, tablets, Up bands, Fitbits, and hell, even Google (GOOG) Glass -- and new services that all feel necessary even as the old services (like Facebook) remain staples. Each morning when I wake, I check (in this order): Text messages, work email, Gmail, Yahoo (YHOO), Instagram, Facebook (FB), Twitter, and then anything else on my iPhone notifications panel.
Much as with any other technology , we need to figure out how to integrate social services (and here I am defining social broadly as including email and text as all of these services now have a social network at their core) into our lives. Remember when we all got cell phones in the mid-90s? For several years, we let them ring in restaurants and movie theaters and answered them mid-conversation before we developed a set of cultural norms around how to use them. This set of culture norms is harder to pin down with social services since the services themselves are evolving so quickly.
For several years, I've sought the refuge of an international vacation each spring in order to wean myself off the Pavlovian response to reach for my pocket every time I feel a vibration. I've enjoyed small windows of solitude in Hungary and Croatia and Turkey, but even these far-flung destinations are hyper-connected. (A couple of years ago, I shut off my phone, donned a backpack and hiked to a bed-and-breakfast on the south coast of Turkey only to come across a wedding party dancing to the popular Turkish pop song lyrics: "Facebook! Facebook! I met a girl on Facebook!")
Also, a vacation is, by definition, a break from routine.
So this summer, I'm choosing instead to explore the impact of this technology on my routine. I have constructed a set of somewhat arbitrary rules to cut down on my social intake:
-- I will be available over both work and personal email between 9am and 6:30pm, the hours in a basic work day.
-- I will also be available on my work phone and my cell phone. At home, I plan to leave my phone in the kitchen, in the area once reserved for a landline. (I ditched mine in June 2003.)
-- I will not be available at any time on any social service.
-- I won't be available over any instant messaging service.
-- I will not text.
It's harder than I thought to figure out how to disengage. For one, social services have no incentive to offer vacation responders in the way that my email does; after all, once we leave for a brief period, we may not come back. Also, my social feeds provide the backbone for many of the tasks that I do online -- from watching movies on Netflix (NFLX) to ordering food through Seamless. Trying to decouple the tasks from the networks is daunting. And: Social is not just social. It's critical to my work life. I have no doubt I will long for LinkedIn (LNKD) before important business meetings this month in the same way that I craved caffeine when I tried to give up my morning coffee last summer. It won't be pretty.
But, I plan to keep notes on the process, and I hope to learn a bit more about myself -- and as important, about these social technologies I cover -- in the process. I'll share these thoughts at month's end. And I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts on any similar journeys. Extra attention goes to the letters I receive by snail mail ...