This post is part of a series about a 30 day digital detox series I did with my friend Amanda. Be sure to click over to Out Like Bandits and read her reflections on unplugging. Click here to see a list of all my detox posts.
New Years Day is my least favorite holiday. I’ve never been a big partier, even when I used to routinely stay up late, and the pressure to have new years plans always annoys me. The “fresh start” aspect of the new year doesn’t capture my imagination like it does for most, although as Lena Dunham hilariously tweeted, “it’s always nice to have a symbolic chance to assess your own shortcomings.”
So with January 1st rolling around, and everyone on diets and all, I decided to join in the fun. My friend Amanda and I went through a 30 day digital detox for the month of January. We both looked at our lives and realized that we have a serious Compulsion to Check.
Something started percolating in my mind when I was visiting Amanda before Christmas and heard her son Max ask, “Mom, can I use my 20 minutes of screen time now?” I almost laughed out loud at the notion – screen time. Of course it’s not healthy to constantly be staring at a screen. As a kid, my mom did the same thing – limited the amount of time we could spend with the Nintendo. Why as an adult had I not kept hold of this concept? Did I think I was immune?
As I thought about Max’s question over the next week, I examined how I was using “screen time” in my life (besides the time that I have to be online for work). I realized that there were many things I didn’t like about how I was using social media. The social aspect seemed to be missing, and I was sinking way more time than I’d like to admit into the enemy of productivity – the infinite scroll (embarrassing confessions to come later in this post).
I brought up my thoughts with Amanda, and she had similar concerns about how she’d become attached to her iPhone. We shared frustration with ourselves that we couldn’t stand in line somewhere for even five minutes without looking at our phones. Why were we doing this? And what were we doing in line for all those years before we were constantly consuming information all day long?
We came up with a set of rules, and decided to go on a full out digital detox. Our idea was to treat the month of January like an elimination diet – to figure out the root of the cause of this Compulsion to Check.
When did researching replace doing and making?
We both agreed that instead of researching all the time (reading blogs, pinning on Pinterest, gathering information), we needed to start making and doing again. When was the last time we’d actually used any of the inspiration we’d gathered online? We couldn’t remember. What I could remember was spending 20–30 minutes on an almost daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day browsing through pins on Pinterest, repinning projects, organizing ideas, yet never actually doing anything. Pinterest gave me this weird little satisfaction – like a check in the box that almost fooled me into thinking I’d been creative.
How many times had I referred back to my pins – maybe twice? The pin-to-execute-project ratio was embarrassingly low for the amount of time I’ve sunk into it.
Where are all the people?
Instagram truth time – this app totally became an addiction. I have an embarrassing confession – I’d get up in the morning, go to pee, take my phone with me, and then while sitting on the toilet, start scrolling through my feed while half asleep. 30 minutes later, I’d come to my senses, my backside numb and wondering how I got there. It’s a little scary to admit these things!
I also noticed that the subject of my photos that I share had changed dramatically. Browse through years of my Flickr account, and there are photos of friends and family, events to remember, things I was in awe of. When I downloaded my Instagram photos before deleting my account, I noticed that although there were a few wonderful memories, it was conspicuously full of photos of food I’d eaten or deliberately styled vignettes around my home that I knew would bring in “likes”. It was seriously weird. Where were the pictures of people? Amanda came to visit and we took a trip to Monticello and all I have are pictures of the garden or of food from the farmers market – no photos of us. Amanda noted something similar in her photostream. Do I really think in future, I’ll want to remember the awesome prosciutto I had? No! When I’m old, I’ll be kicking myself for not having more pictures of my friends and family. Those are the moments I want to remember!
Other offputting autopilot zombie social media moments – often I’ll sit down at my computer and upon opening a new browser window I automatically type, “f-a-c…” even though I didn’t plan on visiting Facebook! On my phone, autopilot is checking email. Swipe, tap the second button at the bottom. I have caught myself doing it many times without thinking.
The Compulsion to Check
I think the compulsion to check is unique to our generation. If we don’t check our Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, texts, and a million other accounts and apps for more than a few minutes, we feel like we’re missing something.
We have endless information at our fingertips, and we all have publishing and broadcasting devices in our hands. New content comes at us 24/7 but do we really feel connected? Are deep conversations even happening online anymore? Instead of comments on blogs or a conversation thread on a messageboard, now we get likes, hearts, retweets, or reblogs.
Instead of reading articles, we read a 140-character headline and think we are informed. I had an interesting moment when a tweet I posted became international news. I was seriously stumped when people who retweeted me were actually angry when new information came to light which made them think twice about RTing me. But they’d retweeted my post without bothering to read the article I linked to inside my tweet. Why hadn’t I checked my facts? Why hadn’t they read beyond a headline?
Before the iPhone, I had to wait a while to share a photo or look at a website – until I got back to my computer. Before that, there was nothing to wait on besides, what? A page on my Smartbeep beeper? A phone call? A letter? What had I been doing for all that time before I had a smartphone?
Will they notice I’m gone?
My immediate impulse was to make a big grandiose “I’m Leaving!!!” announcement on all social networks – maybe a cute little photo on Instagram, share it on Facebook, tweet it out. Then wait a few days to make sure everyone saw – watch the comments come in, get some likes, feel very smug at the people who are all, “I could never do that!” It was ugly, man. So I decided to just go. Delete all my accounts, delete all the apps from my phone. It stopped me in my tracks to think that probably no one would even notice I had gone (spoiler alert: I was right).
What does that say about me? That I’d likely sink 2–4 hours (sometimes more) per day into something that literally was making zero difference in the world. Something that gets me nothing on my investment except unsatisfying little nuggets of gratification in the form of likes. It’s not even authentic interaction, for crying out loud.
Digital addiction, really?
Like Amanda said in her post, the idea of a digital addiction is a bit silly. Doesn’t get any more first world problems than that. However, I felt like it was becoming a serious quality of life issue. When my husband and I are both sitting across from each other in a restaurant browsing on our phones instead of enjoying a meal together, something’s gotta give.
So we stepped back, took notes, got some clarity, and figured out a few things about ourselves along the way.
We’ll be writing a series of posts recapping some of our discoveries, and we’ll even be releasing an inexpensive workbook to help you organize your own 30 Day Digital Detox (all proceeds will be donated to a charity TBA).
If you’re interested, sign up below to get notified when one of us makes a post about what we learned during our digital sabbatical, and to be the first to know when we publish the Digital Detox workbook.
Does any of this ring a bell?
Do you feel like your smartphone is taking over your life? Have you ever felt like internet world was encroaching on real world? Could you delete all your social accounts for 30 days? Would you ever go unplugged cold turkey? Tell me in the comments.