Quitting social media: Easier said than done

August 13, 2013: 5:00 AM ET

After announcing I was taking a month-long break from social media, I found myself, well, cheating.


FORTUNE -- I cheated. More than once. As Fortune readers may already know, on August. 1, I announced I was giving up social media for the month. After a decade of signing up for ever-more social services, I wanted to find out what I'd won -- and lost -- in the process. So I gave up social services, instant messaging, email in the evenings and early mornings, and texting.

Ten days in, I'm enjoying the silence and spare time that comes with this detox. And I've mostly kept to it: I haven't "liked" anything, and I haven't "pinned" anything to my "Upper West Side" pinboard, nor have I read my Twitter stream -- not even on the day that Jeff Bezos announced he was buying the Washington Post. That kind of self-restraint was hard.

But so far, I have been unable to forgo text messaging. To be fair, most people have told me that while my decision to stay off most forms of social media for a month made sense, I shouldn't deprive myself of text messages because they're not technically social media. But as an iPhone user, I rely on iMessage for my texting, and that's a web-based messaging product. If I give up Gmail chat, well, it's a slippery slope.

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Also, I didn't want to lose sight of the bigger picture: the goal was to peel back all the social media -- i.e. the media designed for social interaction -- I had added in the last decade. Maybe I was a late bloomer, but I didn't start texting until 2004.

So, no texting.

I did not, however, contact my provider to explore turning off the feature. I simply told all my closest friends and family members to please call me instead.

During the first few days of August, I received a half-dozen text messages. I called each texter back and, after explaining myself (by now, a laborious process), I addressed the issue or request. It was incredibly inefficient. My crafty friends realized that while I wasn't responding to text messages, I was clearly reading them. So, they kept texting. An example: "Jessi, I know you're reading this, dinner is at 7:15 instead of 7pm."

Four days in, I broke down. I was set to interview a dog sitter in the local dog park. The young woman texted me to say she was running late. She asked me a direct question about where to meet her. I considered explaining the constraints of my experiment to this stranger. Then I decided that if I were to text her, no one would ever have to know. All habits and addictions start this way.

In the interim, a friend in Florida texted to announce the birth of a baby. A friend in Europe texted to say he'd been offered his dream job. And my partner went out of town for a few days. In each instance, I fought the urge to communicate via text, and I only won that fight about half the time.

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I've realized that texting has become the most important and reliable communications platform I have. In the context of mostly asynchronous communications on digital platforms, its real-time nature -- we expect that most of the time most people will receive our messages immediately -- is both intimate and efficient. It's a quick way to check in with loved ones. Yet, it's also a useful way to interact with less personal contacts like, for example, my new dog sitter.

I'm still doing my best to observe this constraint. This type of learning is, after all, what my social detox is all about. And I appreciate the relative silence of my device now that fewer people are texting me. That urge to reach for my pocket anytime I hear an iPhone notification sound has dissolved entirely. But just so you know, it's possible I may cheat again.

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About This Author
Jessi Hempel
Jessi Hempel
Senior Writer, Fortune

Jessi Hempel is a New York-based technology writer for Fortune. She has written extensively about digital media, online advertising and social networking. Before joining Fortune in July 2007, Hempel worked at BusinessWeek and most recently served as their innovation department editor. Hempel is a graduate of Brown University and received a Masters in Journalism from The University of California at Berkeley.

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