Social networking abroad

During a recent layover in Rome, I purchased the UK version of Cosmopolitan and came across an article that told of two reporter’s temporary strike from Facebook. They complained about how isolated they felt. Invitations to events were missed and messages went unread. Indeed, it seemed as though their world had come to a halt without their online profiles. While Facebook and other social networks are important to maintain relationships when you’re away from home, it’s also important to take a realistic look at how and why you use your social networks.

After a night out last August, I returned to my apartment in Korea with a cheeseburger in hand, kicked off my shoes and went straight to the computer. Without second thought, I double clicked on my browser and opened Facebook. After a disappointing lack in updates, I sat and thought. Why did I do that? Why was the need to check my profile, the longing for a new notification, so strong? I decided that Facebook had more influence on my life than I would have liked and deactivated my account. I wasn’t forced to do this, I wasn’t coerced by an editor. I was a willing participant and went without the blessing and the curse known as Facebook for over three months.

To my surprise, the transition was exceptionally easy. Actually, it was a relief. No pressure to present my cyber self in a certain way. No need to weigh in on current issues or make sure my friends knew exactly what was going on in my life. Best of all, it was a way to disconnect for a while as I backpacked through southeast Asia.

If you find yourself traveling, abroad or otherwise, take a second to evaluate your Internet use. How often do you check your profile? Tweet where you are? Check your notifications? Are you doing it once a day? Once an hour? Then ask yourself (and answer very realistically) is it weighing upon your experience? Are you more concerned about people at home knowing what you’re up to? Or are you trying to make the most of your experience for no one but yourself?

It’s important to understand that while Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr provide incredible forums that prompt conversation and debate, your online world should take a back seat to the real one. Don’t worry about letting others know you’re at the Eiffel Tower. Take it in, enjoy the moment and realize how fortunate you are to be standing there.

A good rule of thumb I use while traveling is to check my virtual world no more than three times a day (and even that’s pushing it). Once you cut your online time, you’ll begin to appreciate your surroundings in a different way.

I’m now back to Facebook and to be honest, indifferent to the situation. I could do with it, could do without. I’m glad I took the hiatus to prove to myself that I really do exist outside my profile. My absence was the catalyst to conversations in person and a return to “old-fashioned” communication; it was incredibly refreshing.

If nothing else, social networks serve as a wonderful way to communicate with friends and family I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. I admit, I’ve been (sometimes overly) skeptical of the website. However, in healthy doses and used for the right reasons, I’m quite fond of it.

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