Digital Detox: Leaving Social Media at Home to Take an Electronics-Free Vacation

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It's bitterly cold this morning in Washington, DC, which means that I have already thought about vacations in warm climates at least twice before breakfast. What would be perfect right now would be a beach -- someplace warm -- with nothing more to do than read books, sleep on the sand, and maybe go swimming every once in a while to cool off.

Though this post is about whether a laptop or smartphone features into this dream vacation.

On one hand, I usually do bring social media with me on the road, and I rarely find it a nuisance. I treat my intake on vacation in the same way I treat my intake at home: fairly balanced. I don't stand around reading Twitter to fill that gap between putting our name down with the host and being seated at the table; when I'm with people, I'm with people. But I do set aside time to clean up my email inbox and respond to time sensitive messages. I jump on and off various social media sites, doing a quick check in. And yes, that means bringing a blackberry onto the beach and rolling over two or three times between chapters in a book or swims in the ocean to scroll through what has come in since the last check.

Baby moons are so 2010: the hot new vacation is a Digital Detox, leaving your electronic devices at home and being unreachable for an entire trip. Which for most of us means simply reverting back to however we traveled even as recently as five years ago. Josh and I used to feel guilty if we dropped into an Internet cafe and used an hour of our trip checking email. What could possibly be pressing enough to need a response when you're on vacation? Everyone understood that when we were away, there was little chance that we'd be available to answer questions or do small tasks.

And now, we can't imagine traveling without being reachable by email. And if we're going to have email, we might as well peek into Twitter and Facebook too. And if we're going to do that, we might as well update our Good Reads account to reflect the book we just read so we don't need to remember to do it when we get home. And Stumble this one post. And see what is happening on Google+...

And if that's relaxing to you, so be it. It's your vacation. Right?


Detox implies that our usage of social media is a problem. That the digital world is poisonous to our delicate mental and social systems. People don't detox from healthful things; who has ever said that they need to give their body a break from fruits and vegetables or detox from getting 8 hours of sleep?

I can't agree that my social media usage is something that requires me to detox from any more than I believe that I need to detox from writing or cooking or doing the laundry, or any of the other dozens of things that make up my day that no one makes any judgment calls on. If I wanted to spend three hours cooking dinner, I'd be applauded for tackling a complex recipe. If I wanted to spend three hours checking Facebook, I'd be told that maybe I need one of these digital detox packages that vacation companies are holding out to the general public like location methadone.

Now, do I sometimes need a break from my phone and blog and social media accounts -- absolutely. Sometimes I need to step back because I have other things I need to accomplish, or I find that I'm typing and erasing a lot of snarky tweets/responses to status updates and probably should not be communicating with others electronically based on my mood. But I'm not sure I need a digital detox; if I'd truly find an inability to check in due to a lack of wifi or a rule that I need to leave devices at home relaxing. I have a feeling that if I couldn't check in once or twice a day, I'd be more stressed out thinking about what I'd be returning to tackle at the end of vacation.

I'm obviously of two minds about this; both recognizing that we never used to travel with social media (and was that better? Different?) as well as the fact that we should be able to set down our electronic devices without twitching.

In recent years (since we started expecting people to be reachable 24/7 and building these additional ways to communicate) have you taken a digital detox? Would you want to go to a hotel where electronics were banned from the premises?

Photo Credit: Beach and Cell Phone via Shutterstock.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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