In a Break the Twitch first, I’m excited to offer you this interview with my friend Michale Sevy, a fantastic guy who also happens to be an Interactive Producer, traveler, and incredible photographer (the above photograph is one of his). He shared with me his insights after taking a 60-day sabbatical from social media after a 600 day streak of daily photographs on Instagram. You can see his work on Instagram and his website.
Hi Michale, what do you do, and what’s exciting you right now?
What do I do, and what is exciting for me right now? Currently, my “bio” on social media is something along the lines of “Wonderer. Wanderer. Producer. Photographer. Consultant. Project Manager. Developer. World Traveler.” I am currently employed as an Interactive Producer for an advertising agency in Minneapolis. When I’m not working on digital production, I am predominantly behind a lens or off traveling around the world (or both). It sounds cliché, but I’ve managed to make it to Thailand, Japan, and some domestic locations in the past 6 months, with a trip to Iceland happening at the end of June.
You recently took a 60 day sabbatical from social media. What caused the desire to do this?
A few weeks before my trip to Japan I did take a break from social media for 2 months. There was no immediate cause, but I had this clarity that I wasn’t posting for me anymore. It felt like anything I wanted to post was only for attention and not out of my own merit. Because of that feeling, I didn’t post that day. It broke a streak I had been carrying for over 600 days in a row. Once the streak ended, it was easy to walk away.
The deeper reality of the situation was that I had been extremely depressed for the few months prior due to some personal turbulences. Right before the time I had stopped posting, this may sound comical and menial, I had binge-watched the entire series of Californication. At the end of the series, I was left with an empty feeling and that took the depression a little deeper. At that point, I realized I was posting for the “like” and caring too much for the attention, instead of doing it for my own enjoyment. There was no passion involved, just an empty addiction.
What kind of results were you expecting from the sabbatical? Did you have any particular goals in mind?
When I stopped posting, I also turned off all app notifications, and put my phone in Do Not Disturb mode. While I never received many notifications (never turned them on for facebook), I did not need the reminder to return to an addiction I didn’t want. It was still unclear in the emotional haze, but the primary goal became to not be dependent on these networks for a false sense of well-being. We called them social networks, but I certainly wasn’t feeling loved.
My hiatus then became to find out who really noticed I was gone. Admittedly, it was still based on the desire for attention, but I was manifesting a litmus test to get the pulse of people. This also include me not actively reaching out to people (for the first few weeks). Surely, many people would notice my absence. Right?
What were the results? Anything you were surprised by? Was there anything that didn’t go as planned?
The results are not too surprising when you take the moment actively think about it, but at the time they caught me by surprise.
I naively thought that someone’s prolonged absence would be noticed more readily. I had about ten people message or email me wondering where I went and why I disappeared out of the blue. Most of those came within the first two weeks; only one person noticed the break in my posts 2 days later.
All those that contacted me directly were people that already had my contact information. There were none that contacted by going to my website to get my email or phone number. When I returned to Instagram, about 8 people left me comments on my last photo inquiring or wishing me well. A few people on facebook left comments wondering where I was, but it’s false data because I had allowed myself to automatically be tagged by friends in posts. Even though I didn’t post anything while in Japan, I was there with my best friends who tagged me. People could see I was still alive.
An active realization that occurred from this, despite being called social networks, everyone is living their own life beyond the digital walls. I was under the illusion that I had a stronger connection to people than in reality. When I took two months off this was prominently highlighted. This realization has helped me change the way I view myself as a person and how I actively live my life.
Other results that I observed through this was that my followers didn’t shrink. I was still “recognized” upon my return. Things digitally stayed pretty much the same.
Did you miss anything about participating actively in social media? Did you get the feeling that you were missing out?
I have taken a week off before from social media (and I told people about it); I knew that it would stay the same. This latest time, I didn’t miss anything while I was away. I had set out that if anyone needed me they could and can find me. When I started, I thought I may have some FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), but I have it setup that my Facebook Calendar is synced to my google calendar. If there are events happening, I can be notified. There were times when I wanted to see what was going on in other people’s lives, but it made it more apparent that I should just reach out to them for a direct connection.
At times I felt as if I was missing out on connecting with people, but it came with quick realization that it was only from a personal branding/marketing stance. It was the desire to give the appearance of relevance in people’s minds. Once I got over that idea, I was quite fine.
However, after 1 month, I was antsy; I wanted to return to Instagram because it was a creative platform for me. My creative mindset was redeveloping with the want to make and share things. I still held myself back and told myself to take the full two months off (based on the song Two Months Off by Underworld).
Anything else you’d like to mention?
After taking the full two months off, I returned with better perspective, not only towards social networks, but towards myself. There was still pain inside me, but it was transmuting into personal growth. It took two months off to remember who I once was before social networks. Even then it is still a minefield of cravings for “likes”. At the end of the day, social networks are not bad. They are simply tools for connecting people. It is still up to us to be active with those connections. We must find our tribe, and to do that I have to focus on the things that I want to achieve in my life.
I still keep most app notifications off. My phone is often in Do Not Disturb mode; emails and calendar notifications are allowed on my homescreen.