This is a departure from my normal mushy essays on kids and faith, but I thought I’d share my reflections on my two weeks without social media.  This was originally sent to the folks at at the conclusion of the challenge. 

I spent the last two weeks disengaged from social media.  Well, that’s not true entirely – according to the terms set forth in the Social Media Disconnect Challenge, we could still SMS text and email.   I stayed away from blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Picasa.   And now, I feel like I’m a three-year-old at the beach with a bucket and shovel.  It looks like fun, but there is so much sand, and I’m not sure where to dig in – or how to dig out.

I spend my days at home with my two children, ages three and one.  I rely heavily on social media to keep connected with family, friends, and social groups…and of course, sometimes I spend more time than I need to online.  I thought I would end the challenge with new insights into how my life was richer when the time I spent on social media was replaced with real-life activities.  Instead, what this challenge confirmed for me is that social media isn’t at odds with real-life; it’s a way of doing real life.  Often, it’s the preferable way.

My sister-in-law and I live on opposite sides of the country.  She’s a doting aunt, and we both work hard to make sure that she and my kids aren’t strangers.  We do this through frequent photo updates, Facebook messages, and the occasional video chat.  A few days ago, I got an email from her that said, “This social media/Picasa ban stunt you’re pulling needs to end…SOON. I think I heard a rumor my niece was getting married or something….its been so long since I’ve seen her! But seriously I miss you!! The time change is so hard for me to connect except through social media sometimes.”  It’s true.  By the time she gets off work each day in her time zone, my kids are on their way to bed here.  Social media keeps us connected despite time and space differences.

My local relationships were affected as well.  I get together with a group of moms every other week.  I saw them on the last day of the challenge, and as soon as I walked in, a couple of them said, “We’ve missed you!”  Even though we met as frequently as we always do, my lack of online presence created a distance.  A few other friends also mentioned missing me online.  I change diapers and play with dolls for a living, so the things I share online tend to be mundane.  It’s pleasantly surprising to realize how much value exists there.  Sharing the little details of our day-to-day lives on Facebook enriches our relationships with one another and strengthens community.

Each day in the challenge, I challenged myself to use my extra time in a different way.  One day, I beautified an ugly area of our house.   One day, I volunteered at my friend’s neighborhood association office.  On other days, my challenge topics included physical activity, a road trip, personal interactions, organizing, and visited a new place that has been on my radar for a long time.  These experiences were fulfilling, but their success was due to intentional time management rather than a lack of social media.

There were times when I actually found my life less productive without social media, like when I had to contact people for information that was readily available on Facebook, or when I tried to do my normal shopping routines without the assistance of my favorite deal blogs that list the sales each week.  I actually failed at two of my daily challenges, and they were both simple – reading, and calling people on the phone.  Before I became a mom, I was an avid reader, but now, sitting down uninterrupted is hard to do.  Social media lends itself to multitasking; reading does not.  Also, I detest calling people on the phone.  I guess I figured that if I didn’t have the crutch of social media, I’d be better at keeping in touch via phone, but I wasn’t.

This challenge also made me realize just how deeply social media is ingrained in our society.  I’m in my mid-thirties, so I’m old enough to remember a time before email.  Now, even when I avoided YouTube and Facebook and Twitter, social media was everywhere.  I read news articles, and immediately following each article, I found myself reading comments debating and discussing the article.  I watched reality television, and competitors’ Twitter handles pop up on screen.  I don’t know if it’s possible to use a television or the internet today without being affected by social media.

The Social Media Disconnect Challenge refined my understanding about how social media shapes my life.  I have a greater appreciation for social media’s role in maintaining and enriching my relationships, and an awareness of what I can accomplish both outside of the realm of social media and within it.  As much as I am thankful for the opportunity to learn, it feels great to be back.