If you’re a friend of Victoria Fowler’s and she ignored you on Facebook in recent weeks, don’t worry. It wasn’t personal.
Well, maybe a little.
Fowler, 31, is the director of marketing and publications for Georgia College & State University, and it’s part of her job to integrate social media into how the school markets itself.
With Facebook recently celebrating its 10th anniversary, it prompted Fowler to ponder how much of her life she was giving over to social media, even though she doesn’t use other popular sites such as Twitter or Pinterest.
So on her birthday, Jan. 5, Fowler deactivated her Facebook account temporarily to see if she could go a month without it. She called the experiment 30 Days Disconnected.
There was no checking other people’s status updates or tagging her in pictures. She didn’t even respond to people who had left “Happy birthday” messages on her page. Nor did she announce her departure ahead of time to her nearly 600 Facebook friends.
It wasn’t just Facebook, either. Fowler limited her use of email and texting to work-related issues, with a couple of exceptions, such as checking on flight information while traveling, for example.
“I couldn’t tell people what I was doing,” she said. “Otherwise, that would compromise what I was doing. My friends are people from high school, college, people I know socially,” she said. “There are also business contacts and friends of friends. (I wondered) ‘How many of those people do I really interactive with?’ Really, do you have that many friends?”
Fowler wanted to see if people would notice if she was gone, or if people would reach out to her in other ways beyond Facebook.
She said more of her female friends noticed her absence than did her male friends -- and some of them took it personally.
“Some of them thought, ‘Oh, Victoria must hate me!’ ” she said with a chuckle.
She did let co-workers in on her experiment, out of necessity, because they needed to keep an eye on social media since she couldn’t.
“It’s extremely difficult to work in communications, and I realized I can’t not be on social media,” she said. “We handled the office (work) as a group.”
Fowler kept a journal of her time off social media, which she published as part of a blog at http://30daysdisconnected.wordpress.com once she returned to Facebook on Feb. 4.
There was another aspect in play with the experiment. She and her boyfriend had just broken up, in part because of communication.
“I said that we never talked anymore, and he said, ‘We talk all the time,’ ” she said.
Fowler said she realized that most of their communication had been through Facebook, not personal conversations. She also discovered that for the current generation of college students, social media is often their primary means of communication.
“I deal with students who rely heavily on social media to communicate,” she said.
Another problem Fowler has with social media is the availability of information out there for people who are merely acquaintances -- or strangers.
She said she’s had friends who’ve had their homes burgled because someone posted on social media that they were at a specific place, meaning their homes were empty at a specific time.
“Someone you don’t know can have a huge insight into your life” because of social media, she said.
Coincidentally, there were a few things that happened during her 30-day disconnect that made Fowler miss being able to update or check statuses.
On the second day of the experiment, Fowler was coming back from New York and was trapped in the parking lot at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 11-degree temperatures because of a malfunction of the lot’s payment system. Attendants wouldn’t let Fowler leave the lot for more than an hour, even though she had paid for her parking. Eventually, Fowler had to call police to get out of the lot.
Fowler said it made her realize how valuable a tool social media can be in terms of customer service.
If someone isn’t getting good service, a single posting about the experience can reach hundreds, if not thousands, of people instantly.
Fowler said she missed social media a great deal during the winter storm that shut down the midstate for much of the last week of January. With schools and stores closed, checking social media would have helped kill some of the boredom, she said.
Fowler said she still used news websites such as MSN or Yahoo to keep up with what was going on in the news, but because of her disconnect, she couldn’t see what her friends might have thought of a particular news item.
She also missed out on a few social events, such as get-togethers or friends announcing the birth of a child, because she wasn’t on Facebook.
“(Facebook) is still a good place for finding out things -- people getting married, getting pregnant, announcing births,” she said. “One of my friends got engaged (during the disconnect) and put the call out for help planning the wedding. I could have helped with that.”
Fowler said she has heard of other people who tried to give up on social media but threw in the towel after just a couple of days.
“Why do they come back? Boredom? Curiosity? Because they are addicted?” she said. “This was a personal challenge. I wanted to get to 30 days. ... It was so weird coming back. I was re-introduced to something.”
Fowler said she realized she was depending on social media sites for a lot of things. For example, virtually all of her photos are on Facebook and MySpace, which she said she hasn’t used in years and for which she can’t remember her password.
“I think people see it as a storage device,” she said. “You might want to get something off it and not be able to get it off. We almost take it for granted, that (specific sites) will be around forever. ... My boss said he has stuff saved on floppy disks. How do you access them?”
Fowler said she realizes she uses Facebook enough that it would be tough to go cold turkey once more.
“Would I do it again? I’ve debated leaving Facebook altogether, but I need it for work,” she said. “I don’t know if I’d do it again unless it becomes more cumbersome than beneficial.
“It really hurts personal relationships, in my opinion,” she said. “People have gotten into the habit of checking Facebook a lot. If they go six hours without checking, they’re asking, ‘What did I miss?’ ”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.