Pullin the plug: Facing overload, many social media users take a vacation

Pullin the plug: Facing overload, many social media users take a vacation

January 5th, 2014 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment
Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

WHY THEY UNPLUGGED

According to the Pew Research Center, about 60 percent of Facebook users have taken a break of several weeks or more from the service at some point. Here are their reasons:

21 percent "Was too busy" or "Didn't have time for it."

10 percent "Just wasn't interested" or "Just didn't like it."

10 percent "Waste of time" or "Content was not relevant."

9 percent "Too much drama/gossip/negativity/conflict."

8 percent "Was spending too much time on the site."

8 percent "Only an intermittent or infrequent user."

7 percent "Went on a vacation/trip/deployment."

6 percent "Just got tired/bored with it."

4 percent "No real reason" or "Just because."

2 percent "Concerns about privacy/security/ads/spam."

2 percent "Did not have computer/Internet access."

2 percent "Prefer other ways to communicate"/"Facebook [is] not 'real life.'"

1 percent "Health or age issues."

1 percent "Didn't like posting all the time"/"Didn't want to share."

There are just over 17,000 words in Shakespeare's 154 sonnets. F. Scott Fitzgerald's magnum opus, "The Great Gatsby," barely squeaks past 47,000. Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" doesn't even crest 50,000.

Yet according to a 2013 study of more than 3 million social media accounts by Lifehack.com, the average social media user is exposed to content totaling about 54,000 words every day. Not to mention 443 minutes -- more than seven hours -- of video.

Faced with this glut of content and the pressure to monitor and update their accounts, some users say that, for the New Year, they've resolved to take a temporary "vacation" from social media.

"I know I need to take a break from it because I get so wrapped up in what's happening on Facebook that it begins to affect my mood," says Heather Kilgore of Rossville. "When I try to stay away from it, there's a bit of anxiety about 'What am I missing? Has anybody said something about that thing I posted?'

"It's almost like a feeling of withdrawal. That can't be healthy."

A desire to unplug from the hyper-connection of social media is fairly common. In February, the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project found that 61 percent of active users of Facebook reported taking a break of "several weeks or more" from the service at some point. The largest percentage of users who signed off (21 percent) reported leaving because maintaining their accounts was too time-consuming.

Kilgore checks or adds content to her accounts with Facebook, comic generator Bitstrips and photo-sharing service Instagram "probably 20" times a day. These services help her stay in touch with friends and promote her band, The Scarlet Love Conspiracy, but she says the time required to maintain them can feel overwhelming. So, she decided to take a break.

"I am going to take a hiatus from Facebook," she wrote in a Dec. 11 post to her profile. "I have gotten so wrapped up in staring at other people's lives and having opinions about everything that I've forgotten my own connection to things great and small.

"Until I see you again my [Facebook] family, know that I love you all."

Disconnecting proved easier to write about than to actually adhere to. The same day, she posted again. And the next day (twice).

"I haven't been able to completely disconnect for more than a few hours, maybe a whole day once when I was too sick to check it," she says. "It's become such a part of me now that not having it would just be odd."

According to Pew, 9 percent of Facebook vacationers opted for a hiatus because of the amount of gossip or negative posts that appeared in their news feed. Ten percent said the site was a waste of time and lacked content they considered relevant.

Chattanoogan Constance Nolan, 37, cited both of these qualities -- and feeling a lack of genuine connection to her friends -- as her primary reasons for severing ties to Facebook in late December.

"It's depressing. The most horrible stuff gets posted," she says. "It's reposting stuff from Huffington Post and Fox News and crap like that. People aren't keeping up with each other; they're just regurgitating stuff."

Many -- like Kilgore -- say they ultimately end up questioning their decision to disconnect.

According to a 2012 survey of social network users by Mylife.com, 62 percent of adults who are active on multiple social media sites say they keep an eye on their accounts out of a fear of missing out on an important update. And they'll do just about anything to stay in the loop. About 40 percent of those surveyed say they would rather do a handful of unpleasant activities -- sit in traffic for four hours listening to polka music; get a root canal; clean their gym's shower drains -- than give up social networking.

Last September, the first hospital-based "Internet Addiction Program" began accepting patients for 10-day voluntary in-patient treatment at the Bradford Regional Medical Center in Bradford, Penn. Some of the signs of addiction listed on the program's information page include making repeated unsuccessful efforts to cut back or stop Internet use and feeling restless, moody or irritable when attempting to do so.

Even if they do take a social media vacation, remaining committed can be difficult.

"You're always tempted to cheat," Chattanoogan Ronald Hicks writes in an email. "I get texts saying 'Check your Facebook' at least once a week. Much like being on a diet, you just have to learn to say 'No.'"

Hicks is a dedicated user of Twitter and LinkedIn, but he spends the majority of his time on his Facebook profile, checking it every 15 minutes and posting content to it several times a day. Every once and a while, he says, he feels like he needs to take a step back. Although he doesn't forbid himself to access his profile, he does remove the Facebook app from his smartphone and limits himself to one post and a maximum of 20 minutes on the service a week.

He occasionally feels left out when friends continue a conversation online during these absences but, on the whole, he says, taking a break helps him reprioritize his real-life relationships.

"I think I get so caught up in the 'reality' of Facebook that I forget that there's an actual world out there and that Facebook is just presenting it to me through a filter," he says. "I don't like the person that I see myself becoming because of all that, so I am working really hard now to keep that in check and make sure that I'm spending quality time in the real world."

Like any vacation, however, most social media users eventually return to the service. As for Nolan, she says she hasn't set a date for when she will return to the service, if ever.

"There's nothing I miss, [except] maybe the cute little cat pictures" she says, laughing. "There's really not a whole lot that's redeeming about it at this point."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.