The Buenos Aires Twitter Detox

Speaker's Corner: On a trip to the Southern Hemisphere and with a need to disconnect, Valerie Conners pledges to embrace a Twitter-free vacation

04.21.09 | 9:30 AM ET

Photo by Valerie Conners

From the rooftop terrace of Café el Contin, I gazed at the late-night buzz of activity along Calle Armenia in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. I glanced at the nearly full moon and took a sip from my glass of perfect Finca La Linda Malbec. I thought, like any proper Twitter addict would, “Full moon, divine vino, balcony views. Palermo = Heavenly.”

Wait. Scratch that. I thought again. “Sipping exquisite wine, full from steak dinner, on rooftop terrace in Buenos Aires. Life is surely good.”

I reached for my beloved iPhone, ready to tap into my Twitter application, thus letting the world—or at least my couple hundred followers—know just how sated I was at that moment. Then I remembered the pledge I made to myself.

Before embarking to Argentina, I decided I’d go totally and completely dark. No Twitter, no Facebook, no email—and this was before the recent Twitter and travel controversy bubbled up. I just felt I needed desperately to disconnect. This trip was going to be like those heady days of social-media-free travel in the early ’90s, if I had anything to do with it. I ruefully placed my iPhone back into my new Argentine leather purse (oh, how I’d wanted to tweet about that supple cowskin). I turned to my friend and traveling buddy, Chrissy. And I started ... a conversation.

I’m hooked on social media. I love Twitter. I’ve been tweeting since 2007. I also admit I didn’t understand it or its usefulness much at first, nor did I fully grasp the power Twitter could harness. Watching my new media guru friends use the tool to disseminate news and information, track trends and blast out funny tidbits, I became addicted to Twitter.

As Twitter has become omnipresent, so has its role in my personal world. As Tweeter-in-Chief for @worldhum, and my own @vmconners, I spend a good portion of each day with my head dipped into the Twitter stream, reading and responding as tweets float past, often—I swear—quick as the speed of light. Getting sucked into the virtual chatter is all too easy.

It’s become hard not to consider my travels and experiences in 140-character descriptives. Or to tweet an “OH:” at the funny things being spoken around me. Or the worst—to watch when I’m out with friends and all conversation ceases, as we duck down toward our phones, tweeting who-knows-what to virtual worlds—and we don’t consider the act even remotely anti-social.

Clearing my head of the chatter seemed a good idea, and a trip to the Southern Hemisphere seemed a great excuse to shut it out. I’m not nearly so self-absorbed as to imagine anyone is truly bummed to not have read updates of my succulent bife de lomo steaks, or see twitpics from my adventures on a daytrip to Colonia, Uruguay, or imagine me as I saw the Southern Cross for the first time, while playing the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song on my iPod.

Going dark was a necessary act—to force me not just to document a moment, but to actually experience it, to sit in it for a good while.

John O’Donohue writes in his poem, “For the Traveler”:

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along.

I thought of those words in regard to this Twitter-free travel experiment, and I want to remember how freeing it felt to be fully a part of each moment: not feeling a need to blast it out, but letting it percolate in me.

Vacation is over. I’m home now, and back on Twitter. I’m not convinced I’ll always go dark while traveling—I really like the Twitter dialogue, and like every good geek, I love interacting with my internet friends. But the experience has left me with a lot to consider. As for tales of Buenos Aires—I have them and I’d love to share them in, yes, a conversation.

14 Comments for The Buenos Aires Twitter Detox

Kara/MountainMama 04.21.09 | 9:42 AM ET

Beautifully written, Valerie! I’ll do a Twitter-free vacation weekend this summer, for sure.

Reed Gustow 04.21.09 | 10:13 AM ET

I do like what you are saying and I applaud your going net-dark on vacation. A certain irony that I learned of this post on Twitter (via @alexknowshtml) but that is appropriate. I also love Twitter and have used it sinc 2007, but we are missing something important by not being where and with whom we are.

Michelle Slape 04.21.09 | 10:15 AM ET

What a great experience it is to “black out” of technology for a while! I did it last summer when I backpacked through Scandinavia. It was most liberating and I found solace in the quiet moments (after the first 48 hours of iPhone withdrawals)! When i arrived home, i didn’t even pick up my phone for a few hours b/c I kind of forgot I had it! But, much like you, I’m not sure I’ll do this on my next long trip to OZ/NZ…Twitter can sure be helpful when backpacking!

Andy Ciofalo 04.21.09 | 10:24 AM ET

Nice piece, nice site, Valerie. I wonder how twitter would fit into our international reproting program this summer. Was the O’Donohue poem created for twitter?

Andy Ciofalo 04.21.09 | 10:26 AM ET

How was the Malbec?

Valerie Conners 04.21.09 | 10:32 AM ET

Thanks for the thoughtful comments! I really think it’s important to note what extreme value Twitter can bring to travel, and the gift of connectivity it offers in far flung places. I mean - how fun to tweet out a question about a tiny, random town and in minutes have restaurant reviews at your fingertips?! But I think what this trip really reminded me of what the great need for balance in our travels/lives. It is frightfully easy to become all-consumed with Twitter, et al - and really lose a moment.

I totally relate to the Twitter withdrawal, too—I would literally twitch when I couldn’t reach for my iPhone!

And Andy - I think you’d be really remiss not to add a social media element to the program - it’s omnipresent in media right now! The poem is an oldie, but goody - I love O’Donohue - was written well before Twitter. And yes ... that Malbec was DARN good!!

CultureS 04.21.09 | 10:52 AM ET

Good writing Valerie!
I recognize the urge, the need to Twitter. Oh, the social media are so addictive!

Jenna Schnuer 04.21.09 | 10:53 AM ET

Nice piece Valerie. I’ll definitely pass along on, well, Twitter. While I don’t take issue with people who want to post while away, it does change the experience. For better or worse? That depends on the person. But on a recent trip, I was forced offline by a downed WiFi system and it turned out to be a really good thing. It made me anxious for about a day but then I gave myself over to it. It didn’t take long to leave the Twitter post thinking behind—and that made me very happy. The only downside: since I didn’t tell people on Facebook and Twitter that I was going away, I returned home to emails and voicemails expressing serious worry that something bad had happened to me.

Lanora @writingtravel 04.21.09 | 12:47 PM ET

Going off the grid is a good thing, but I wouldn’t want to return completely to those days when traveling dark was not a matter of choice!

Valerie Conners 04.21.09 | 4:53 PM ET

I agree, Lanora and Jenna. Posting while away can certainly change an experience, but I certainly don’t believe it to be a bad thing. Still there’s a powerful freedom in going off the grid. And it’s funny - I really did feel that anxiousness at first, too - I always marvel at how once upon a time, I traveled non-stop with no one knowing exactly where I was at any moment, without the internet, and without a cell - it’s seems so wildly far away from where I stand today - where leaving my cell phone in a hotel room can set off a stream of odd feelings.

Tim L. 04.21.09 | 6:00 PM ET

Funny isn’t it that nobody ever feels a need to attempt a “conversation-free” vacation or “contemplation-free” travels? And that nobody talks about random face-to-face interactions with heads on shoulders as being some kind of addiction to get over? And I’ve never heard someone say, “Gosh, I need to start speaking in shorter sentences!”

On my last two international trips I’ve witnessed four people sitting around a table in a restaurant, all looking under the table at their tiny screen and moving their thumbs around. The only time they talked was when the food came and they needed both hands free. Good thing they flew all that way…

chuck 04.24.09 | 12:13 PM ET

valerie I’ve always wanted to see Buenos Aires. No jive it’s on my list and the ESO Observatory in Chile.

Nancy D. Brown 04.25.09 | 12:59 AM ET

Great post. Yet, how ironic that I’m reading this while in Cozumel, Mexico. I’ll admit that my heart gave a little flutter when I learned the hotel didn’t have wifi in the rooms. Thanks to BAM I was able to get on-line.

Sign me a hopeless Twitter addict. Is there a hash tag for that?

Lindsay 05.15.09 | 1:26 PM ET

Hmm..maybe I need to succumb to Twitter. Ive managed to resist thus far but it seems like Im missing out!

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