A Chat With an Internet Addict Who Was Forced to Go Off the Grid

    by Corey Eridon

    Date

    May 22, 2013 at 9:00 AM

    internet-addictMy fellow inbound marketer Sam Mallikarjunan is an internet and social media junkie -- always connected, always checking in, always tweeting, always emailing. He went on a cruise with no internet for a week, and had to leave his cell phone and computer at home. Here's how it went.

    Me: Hey Sam! Thanks for talking with me. You just got back from a vacation, so I know you're probably quite busy catching up on stuff. Where'd you go?

    Sam: Hey Corey! Took a cruise to the Bahamas. I needed the laws of physics to separate me from my phone.

    Me: Haha yeah, sooo, that's the reason I wanted to talk to you today. I've known you for about a year and a half, but it only takes like ... a day ... to know you are a social media/internet junkie. How much anxiety did you have over leaving the internet behind for a week?

    Sam: A fair bit. Actually, a lot. I've jumped out of airplanes with less anxiety.

    Me: What made you so anxious?

    Sam: Mostly just worry/concern. For example, I wasn't able to confirm with my parents that they understood I was going to be unreachable (they take AGES to answer text messages -- like 24 whole hours can pass). But also, I didn't want to miss anything interesting. I follow some awesome people on Twitter. I get a lot of emails. It's just been a long time since I've completely separated myself from my phone.

    Me: So some of the anxiety was around FOMO (a term I just learned, "Fear of Missing Out")?

    quote-1-samSam: Heh, that's an interesting acronym. That's definitely part of it. I think it's also partially that the user interfaces of social media play on the innate addictions we're all prone to. Not to go too sciencey, but we all get just a tiny bit of excitement when someone sends us a tweet or we see that little red number on Facebook. It's a frequent but small trigger that creates a dopamine response; that is what makes it so addictive. It's why playing slots can be more addictive than the lottery -- there are frequent small rewards that bring us a bit of happiness. Ironically, as someone who knows about how user interfaces are built for this, I'm incredibly succeptible to it.

    Me: No by all means, get sciencey. You're right. And people are starting to profit off this stuff, too. Did you know there's some camp out in ... somewhere I can't remember right now ... but they charge like 10K for people to go there for FOUR DAYS and just ... not be on the internet. That's the whole business model. It's like internet rehab. So maybe you could consider internet rehab?

    Sam: Haha well that's a bit much. I think for that amount I could just toss my laptop and phone into The Charles for some catharsis and buy a new one.

    Me: Which did you have more anxiety over leaving -- email, or social media?

    Sam: Email I think. People on social media don't usually send me anything work related so it's rarely SUPER urgent. Although resisting the urge to check my Facebook notifications was tough, too.

    Me:  Interesting. Kinda expected you to say social media.

    Sam:  Why?

    Me: Because I know for you, your social media presence kind of IS your work to an extent. You got your job here largely through social media and your ability to garner attention there using inbound tactics. Kind of a good tie in for us at HubSpot. Plus you have a personal brand you've built up through social media -- I mean, you even get free samosas through social media.

    Sam: Haha yeah. I love social media, so that's hard, too. Don't get me wrong. I was worried about Twitter because I try REALLY hard to answer every single tweet I get and I didn't want people to think I was ignoring them.

    Me: Well let's talk about why email was harder to leave behind. Were you concerned you'd get back to work and just be really behind, or was it more concern about losing ground and missing out on opportunities?

    Sam: It was FOMO. Fear of missing out. For example, we launched our new social inbox tool while I was gone and I didn't have the resources to deploy my campaign around it, so I promoted it to our ecommerce community a full week later than everyone else.

    Me: And what about what it felt like to leave behind social media, versus what it was like when you got back. Did you lose ground? Were people like, where is Sam? Why isn't he responding? Why isn't he tweeting (did you autoschedule?) Did you see follower churn? In other words ... was your anxiety about leaving social media justified?

    quite-2-samSam: My follower growth definitely stagnated, but I didn't lose much ground. I did have to go through and cancel all of my automated tweets. I'm scheduled to shamelessly promote my new book daily. I've always joked that it'd be weird if anything unfortunate ever happened to me because I'd keep tweeting for months. As a marketer, I try to create consistency for people. So when I got back I ramped up publishing volume slowly, so it wasn't just a sudden deluge of content. All in all though, it wasn't that bad, and my anxiety probably could have been quelled had I known that.

    Me: So you think marketers and social media managers out there can probably go on vacation for a week and largely chill, and things will be alright? (Readers, feel free to send this to your boss if he says yes.)

    Sam: That depends. You said I have a bit of a personal brand on social media, but fundamentally, I'm not a "real" brand. People expect brands to answer quickly. I'm not sure if I'd ever be okay leaving the HubSpot account unmonitored for more than a day, for example.

    Me: Yeah, it seems like people are more forgiving of a person going off the grid for a week. A brand? It's powered by people, but those people can't leave. I guess people versus person is the operative distinction there, though. Brands are expected to have failsafes in place.

    Sam: Totes. There's an accountability for a company that an individual doesn't have to have. People are more forgiving when, for example, I post the occasional drunk tweet. HubSpot as a company could never get away with that.

    Me: Haha, I wonder what the sprocket would say if it got drunk. So, did you ever get to a point where you were glad you were disconnected? Where you lost the anxiety?

    Sam: Yeah I got over it fast. Within a few days I was fine. Although I did cheat my last day of vacation; I checked my Facebook and did some Pinning .

    Me: Good gravy, thank you for being a proud Pinterest user and a dude. It's not just for ladies, right?

    quote-sam-3Sam: I love Pinterest. I have my "Things I Wanna Build" board which is ideas for my blacksmithing and woodworking hobbies. I also have an awesome "Zombie Apocalypse Survival" board. Pinterest is also super practical; Jen and I have a board we use as our "Queue" like you might have on Netflix, but we use it to plan our healthy meals for each week!

    Me: I know, whenever my boyfriend gives me grief about using Pinterest, I tell him every good meal I've made for him wouldn't exist without it. Anyway, did you feel actively BETTER after a couple days on internet hiatus? Or did you just generally forget about it?

    Sam: I definitely did feel better, yes. Every once in awhile you have to unplug. Even an addict like me. And I actually came up with some great content ideas while I was doing it, too!

    Me: So is this experience going to change your approach to/reliance on/obsession with being constantly digitally connected?

    Sam: Haha, well ... no, not really. It was more of just a deep breath. I need to be engaged on Twitter, for my personal brand and for HubSpot. I need to be monitoring and reacting to what people tweet, as well as focusing on creating interesting content to share. Facebook is more of a personal thing for me -- I'm trying to fight the urge to start arguing on Facebook again. This used to be me:

    sam-cartoon


    Me: Amazing. I've also been in conversations with you while you're doing this, so at least you're self-aware :-) Alright, so, what you're saying is (if I may put words in your mouth), that breathers are good. Be present in whatever you're doing, whether it's arguing on the internet, or being on vacation, or whatever. #SoProfound

    Sam: #SoundsDeep

    Me: Whatever, might as well end deep. Anyway, thanks for chatting with me Sam! Welcome home, glad you're back. Boston was a sad, tweetless place without you.

    Sam: You're welcome! Glad I'm back and connected again.

    How do you deal with the difficulty of disconnecting in this digital world? Do you handle personal and work-related digital activities differently?

    Image credit: exquisitur

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