It may be hard to imagine in today's world, but there was once a time when computers didn't exist, cell phones didn't exist. If you go back far enough, there was even a time the written word didn't exist.
We should feel privileged to live in an era of such advancements. It's easier than ever to stay connected with people and develop relationships all over the world.
But this era of Facebook and Twitter (each not even a decade old) can be dangerous too. Stepping back to a simpler world now and then can prove beneficial. It's also extremely difficult.
A Different Culture
This week I returned from my first ever trip to Hawaii. A friend greeted me, "Welcome back to reality."
It was an appropriate greeting -- and accurate. It didn't take long to notice the difference between the paradise islands and U.S. mainland. At O'Hare Airport in Chicago, I witnessed dozens of people rushing around, complaining about long lines and pushing those in their way while waiting for their flights.
I was clearly back in the land of "me first," "hurry up," and self-gratification. Cell phones were in full use, laptops popped up and poor attitudes filled the air.
OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a little. But there is no doubt a different energy and feeling in the air on the islands, isolated by thousands of miles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. What a beautiful place too.
It didn't take long in Hawaii to feel the "Aloha" spirit (the "breath of life"), learn how to say "Mahalo" (everyone else was doing it) and flash the "hang loose" symbol every opportunity. As explained here, the shaka hand signal -- thumb and pinky sticking out -- is seen all over the place as "a greeting, cheering, expression of gratitude and a great mood indicator at once" -- at its essence: "Relax & Enjoy Life."
All of this was very contagious. The islanders' patience, friendliness and respect for others and nature were irresistible traits to emulate. Life just slows down there. With this backdrop, Hawaii proved to be the perfect time to launch an ambitious experiment: no Facebook and Twitter for two weeks.
Breaking An Addiction
It's especially tough to step away from all of these gadgets and opportunities for connectivity when you work in the online business like I do. Industries today have been transformed by 24/7 Twitter feeds, touched by the ubiquity of Facebook and impacted by new tools like Google+. If you don't keep up, you'll be left behind by the intense competition out there.
The addiction is very real for me. Many told me I could never do it. I decided to try this anyway: Two weeks without publicly posting anything on Facebook or Twitter. I did the same on Google+, only posting occasional private updates to a special vacation circle.
On The Right Track
I sure felt good when I learned that I wasn't the only one giving up Facebook...
One of our tour guides, Daniel on the Big Island, said he and his fiancee had given up Facebook because it was "for your past" and they preferred to live in the present and future. It was a very Hawaiian thing to say, even though the Hawaiian culture has a lot of respect for tradition and honoring our ancestors. That's because in Hawaii you live for the moment. You enjoy it. And you interact in real life, not behind a screen.
This gave me some comfort to depart Facebook for a bit.
But it did little to ease my longing for Twitter. After all, it had become such a habit to post frequently since I joined the service in summer 2008. I've never gone so long without posting until these past two weeks, literally falling off the grid. Google+ was equally difficult to give up publicly, given my enthusiasm for the platform in the first weeks since its debut.
A Good Feeling
As Arianna Huffington says, we all need to "unplug and recharge" now and then. She's right, especially in our fast-paced digital world.
Fourteen days after I began my challenge, I'm proud to say I succeeded: not a single public update to Twitter, Facebook or Google+. Therefore, it is possible to step away, survive and even thrive. It's not necessarily lazy either -- it's opening up your eyes to brand new experiences (reading, observing and immersing myself in the culture and history of Hawaii, the people around me and nature, I learned dozens of new things every day).
So, as painful as it was at first, it was refreshing, relaxing and I truly do feel recharged, ready to get back to work. The proof is there in my streams, and no one can take it away from me: nothing public posted on my Twitter, Facebook and Google+ pages between Aug. 5 and Aug. 18.
Maybe that duration scares the daylights out of you, but I highly recommend you try this too. Even for just a weekend. You'll thank me later. Aloha! And mahalo for reading.