Even in Vancouver, summer has finally arrived. (It’s the three months between the end of our seasonal hockey riots and the resumption of the Rainy Shitness.)  Ahh, summer: once school lets out and the sunshine pours down, it feels like time to take a vacation.

I am told that in some cultures, the term “vacation” may involve such rituals as turning off the computer, putting an auto-responder on your e-mail account and even (shudder) going out out of 3G range. If your spouse or kids or friends are begging you to unplug as part of your vacation together — or if, more improbably, you are taking a self-imposed break from all things online — you might as well make a virtue out of necessity and get something out of the experience.

Your vacation from the Internet may prove much more rewarding if you follow the example of Black Girl in Maine (aka Shay Stewart-Bouley), who has a terrific post today about her experience unplugging from social media for a weekend. I particularly appreciated her experiment because she approached it with a sense of curiosity rather than panic. Instead of the “OMG I’m soooo addicted” tone that often forms the jumping-off point for would-be fasters, BGIM’s post is measured and reflective.

Her post inspired me to think about what would make for a good social media vacation. Not as I’d define it: my idea of a good social media vacation is two weeks spent entirely online. But for those who want a vacation from social media, these questions can make the experience more meaningful:

  1. What do you want to get from your vacation? I often read posts by people who have unplugged for the sake of unplugging. But unplugging can be a lot more useful if you know why you want to sever yourself from the hive mind. As BGIM writes about selling her “spousal unit” on the idea of a weekend offline,  “I won’t say that I was met with resistance but I did have to clarify exactly what the goal was”.
  2. What will make your vacation feasible? Many of us punt on the idea of unplugging because there is some situation that precludes us logging out, whether it’s a painfully-awaited e-mail or a game of Facebook Scrabble we aren’t prepared to concede. BGIM and her partner agreed to allow themselves one hour online per day in case they had to deal with client emails, and while BGIM confesses that she went a bit over her hour, she still largely kept to the spirit of their plan. Setting up an exceptions rule — whether it’s for a limited amount of online time, or for specific types of activities or devices (like games only, or phones only) — may be just the trick to making a vacation possible.
  3. What are your metrics? Before you go offline, think about how you’ll track the impact. Will it be the quality of your sleep? Your mood?  Your ability to sustain an uninterrupted thought for gosh I could use a snack but it’s almost time to pick the kids up hey a tweet.  You may be surprised at both the payoffs and challenges of unplugging.  My favorite part of BGIM’s post is how she describes the way she noticed the impact of going offline:

    When the girl child (I think she is outgrowing the kidlet moniker) asks me something, I found even when I was reading a book, it was far easier to simply put it down and tend to her need. Unlike the times when I am plugged in either to my laptop or Droid, and inevitably I tell her just a moment, baby. This weekend there were few just a moment baby minutes and I loved it.

  4. What did you learn? When your social media vacation is over, take a little bit of time to reflect on your experience and note what you’ve learned. Amazingly, your blog may not be the place to share (all) these lessons, since your blog readers may not appreciate hearing that once you were liberated from their voracious demand for your latest posts, you realized that your life was richer without them. But your social media friends may well appreciate hearing insights like BGIM’s observation that “without the sweet pull on places like Twitter, it turns out that I could churn out a funder’s report far faster than usual because I was not distracted.
  5. What will you do differently? If your social media vacation felt valuably different from your day-to-day life online, you may want to adopt some new practices that reshape how you relate to life online. BGIM noted that her family’s weekend offline led to a discussion about the role of screens in their lives, and inspired them to start a new project of reading out loud together: “We are now starting to compile a list of books that we will read together; looks like the next up will Voltaire’s Candide.” Whether your unplugging leads you to reconsider the habit of reaching for your phone whenever you have a spare moment, or adopting offline hours as part of your daily routine, it’s worth documenting your resolutions — both what you intend to do differently, and why it feels important. Once again, your blog or Twitter feed is a great place for doing that.

Are you taking a social media vacation this summer? If you’re unplugging, I’d love to hear about what you hope to learn. And if you’re not unplugging — if you’re taking my kind of social media vacation — please don’t tell me about it. You’ll only make me jealous.