@ what point do you shut down?

Original version of the article, on page 13 of the Sunday Tribune's Sunday Magazine.

After my #7DaysOffline experiment, I was asked write a piece for the Sunday Tribune (@SundayTribuneSA) Sunday Magazine. Here’s that piece, originally published on page 13.

@ WHAT POINT DO YOU SHUT DOWN?

Overwhelmed by a constant barrage of information, Matthew Savides went offline for a week. No social media, limited internet use and work-only e-mails. This is his story

Radio silence. It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? In the days of BlackBerry Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and an endless host of other social networks, radio silence just doesn’t happen any more. In fact, the only time we get real radio silence is when we fly.

There’s just this influx of information that seems never-ending. Smartphones have made this information accessible at our fingertips, and it’s easy to become attached – addicted, even – to these devices. There’s a reason a BlackBerry has become known as a CrackBerry.

I’ve been feeling this way recently. It’s the feeling that I’m more interested in tweeting about an event than actually being there and experiencing it. And as a result, I’m only half there and miss out on so much. There’s this desire to be quirky, funny, smart, witty, whatever – instead of actually being there in the moment.

It hit me recently when I was at the Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve with my girlfriend, Megan. We came across a pride of lion. After taking a few obligatory photos, we just sat there and watched. It was so refreshing to be experiencing this rather than taking photos of it.

It’s like Irish comedian Dylan Moran said about holiday photos: we’re so concerned about taking the perfect photo that we’re not really there, in the moment, and when we get home and look at the pictures, we’re actually looking retrospectively on somewhere we weren’t. He makes a good point.

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Or maybe I’m just reading too much into this. Maybe it is just pure entertainment and there are no negative implications. Maybe people enjoy having conversations with people who are attached to their phones. Maybe people like play-by-play commentary of every aspect of everyday life, irrespective of the setting they’re in.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I love social media – and it’s not just because I have to be in touch because of my job. The amount of information, and instant information at that, available on social media is incredible. Michael Jackson’s death broke on Twitter, the killing of Osama bin Laden was, albeit unwittingly, tweeted moments before it happened and I can keep tabs on court trials, press conferences or just about anything by virtue of people’s Facebook updates.

Social media, Twitter especially, has changed the way I watch sport. Even though I’m sitting alone on the couch, the fact that I’m tweeting about the match with hundreds of other people makes me feel part of a crowd. There’s definitely a feeling of being around a watercooler and chatting to mates. For that alone, social media is brilliant.

But it does get too much. It gets to a point where there is pure information overload. Where the updates just become noise and there is a noticeable feeling of being utterly overwhelmed. It’s when that happens that it’s time for a break.

So what do we do? Do we shut down our devices and shut ourselves off from this information overload? Frankly, I don’t think so.

I’ve never heard anyone say they want to stop using their phones or that they want to stop using the internet. I have, however, heard – several times and in several different social settings – people say they want to use their phones and the internet less.

That’s what I did over the course of last week. I decided it was time to get away from my phone, to break away from Twitter in particular, and only to use it under certain circumstances. There were some rules, obviously, like BBM could be used, but only for close friends and family. Only for work purposes could I log on to social networks, and I was not allowed to read blogs other than for work purposes.

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Initially, this seemed like mission impossible for me. I thought I would really battle. But, as it turns out, it was quite easy. Mostly. Here’s a play-by-play of what happened:

Sunday:

11pm – Last Twitter post was made. Said something like “see you in a week” and had the #7DaysOffline hashtag.

Monday:

7.30am – Alarm goes off. Roll over, pick up phone, open the ÜberSocial Twitter application out of habit. Curse myself and log off without reading anything. This is going to be tough.

1pm – Bored, on the couch, watching highlights of soccer games I’d already seen several times. Tempted to log on to relieve the boredom, but don’t. Starting to regret this whole #7DaysOffline thing.

7.30pm – Time for Greys Anatomy. I hate this show, but Megan (@MegSouthAfrica) loves it. To make it bearable, I tweet about it, normally mocking it relentlessly. But tonight I have to watch it.

Tuesday:

7am – Wake up, get into the shower, get ready for work. Phone vibrates, it’s Megan telling me she’s at work safely. This is the first time I’ve looked at my phone. Pfft! This being offline thing is easy.

8.30am – The work week has begun. Got an early page feature to do, so time flies and I don’t even look at my phone. Not even once.

5.30pm – Go home, go out, see some really good friends, and continue to be offline.

9pm – Lie in bed smiling at the realisation that I’m not addicted to my phone (I really thought I might be). Will sleep well tonight.

Wednesday:

9am – Training with media specialist Paula Fray. She loves social media, Twitter especially. She talks about how essential it is for journalists to be on Twitter, how great it is for information-sharing and how many people it puts you in contact with. In the process, she makes me want to log on. Desperately.

10.15am – My phone is on the desk in front of me. I’m hovering over the ÜberSocial icon. Must… resist… urge.

10.16am – Phone switched off. This is the only way I’ll be able to resist logging on.

11.30am – Phone is back on, the moment’s passed.

8.30pm – Ah, Moses Mabhida Stadium. It’s time for Bafana Bafana vs Senegal – and I can’t even tweet about it. Why did I choose this week to go offline? Dammit!

9.30pm – Megan’s been pick-pocketed. Her phone’s been taken out of her handbag at the drinks vendor. A furious search commences, but the phone isn’t found. Sour end to a good night. And I still can’t tweet about it…

Thursday:

4.30pm – After a good, yet uneventful, day I go through to Vodacom to get Megan’s phone sorted. Her contract is in my name. It’s sorted and easy. Previously I’d have wanted to tweet about it, but today I don’t feel that need at all. I think I’ve overcome this Twitter thing.

Friday:

8.30am – Training’s done for the week and I’m back into the news swing. Reading through the papers I’ve realised just how much news I’ve missed out on. Clearly I get most of my news from social networks – breaking news in particular. This was always my suspicion, but it’s now been confirmed.

5.30pm – Work done, stories submitted and feeling good. Only two more days offline.

7.30pm – Meet up with my colleague Masood (@masoodboomgaard) and comedian Glen Bo (@GlenBoShow) for a comedy show on the Bluff. It was a twit’s dream. The people, the place, the everything was perfect to tweet about. But I resisted.

Saturday:

6pm – Arsenal, the team I love, have beaten Liverpool at Anfield. Too happy for words. I wanted to mock ’Pool fans endlessly, but can’t. When I go back online on Monday it’ll be outdated. Stupid, bloody, #7DaysOffline.

6:01pm – I think I’ve just gone through the anger stage of grief.

Sunday:

7.30am – Tropical storm Irena has hit. It’s raining. Hard. Megan tells me people are saying on Facebook and Twitter that it’s raining. I’m glad I’m offline. That would just annoy me, as people state the obvious.

3pm – There’s lots of sport on. I like tweeting about sport, but I’m enjoying watching for a change. It’s much more enjoyable just to watch.

4.30pm – Head to Megan’s for dinner, but fall down the stairs. Stupid Irena has claimed a victim. My bum is bruised and sore, but saying that on Twitter would open me up to endless abuse. Previously I’d have tweeted it anyway. Now I don’t even think about tweeting at all, let alone about this incident.

9pm – In bed, sore, but smiling. This #7DaysOffline thing really has been good. I’ve realised it is easy to pull yourself away from social media and to function without it. Does it mean I will never go back online? No, definitely not (I was back online the next day). But I will use it less, and have started doing so already. And that’s exactly the point, isn’t it?

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