Digital Detox

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.

stack of MacsNew 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.

Screen time

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?

Thank you pinterest for helping me feel creative even though I've really just been sitting at my computer for the last 3 hours.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!

2012-05-04_1336171533 2012-08-25_1345908723

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.

Subscribe to the Digital Detox

* indicates required

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.


  1. deandrea says

    THANK YOU for not making a grandiose announcement about your departure. When people do that, I just roll my eyes, because I am sure they do what you described. I did miss you loads though!

  2. says

    I noticed and figured you were taking a break. I searched you on Facebook and looked for evidence on your yoga FB feed. Just letting you know I stalked you :)

    I am too aware of my compulsion. The first thing I do in the morning is check Instagram first and Facebook second. The last thing I do at night is the same. I’ve liked photos by simply falling asleep and my finger sliding down the phone. And it’s never a good sign when your four year-old says, “Mommy, why are you always on Instagram.” How does he even know this word?!

  3. Heidi Bennett says

    I did notice you weren’t posting but figured you were doing something off line and in the real world. I have started the new year leaving my phone in other rooms so I’m not “checking” I also took Pinterest and Facebook apps OFF my phone. I like my little Instagram check ins because it is mostly intimate photos of friends snd their loved ones / pets. When you work for yourself there is a special challenge as you might feel more isolated. I’m doing my best to call people and get together. Seeing ‘em on social networks doesn’t count. I love the detox idea. Great post!

    • says

      I think you are spot on with the working for yourself and feeling isolated thing. I think being in a new town and not having many in-person friends since April has complicated things too – so I am looking for connections where I can get it – but the ones I’ve been making have just been feeling empty!

  4. says

    Do I win something? Because I noticed your absence! My brother did something like this last year – deleted Facebook, Twitter, etc. He said he would do it for as long as he could until he assessed things and decided it wasn’t worth it. He reemerged around mid-February and decided that while interesting, there was no great impact in his life other than he didn’t go to those apps/sites. I thought a lot about whether I would ever do it, tangled up in my greatest fear – becoming COMPLETELY (instead of just marginally) obsolete – so I just focused the rest of 2012 on “Not Caring As Much”. While I’m not perfect at it, doing whatever I want wherever I want to do it has really eased a lot of the pressure of that unquenchable desire to be noticed. Not all of it…but a lot of it. :-P Welcome back!

  5. says

    I figured you were up to something. I have had to keep myself in check since I have been working from home. I give social media a bit of time in the morning and at lunch..usually…it is easy to send a quick update in fb but try not to get sucked into the scrolling. I realized pretty quick into this home time that if I spent time looking at pinterest and not making anything I would have an empty table at the convention center show. BUT I will say by ‘liking’ pages on fb…like Culture:the word on cheese I have been learning things when they posts links to cheese related articles.
    I haven’t gone as far as you by un-friending fb folks but have hidden most of the form my newsfeed and keep it to my crafty, artistic, foodie, pet loving friends…people who post things that make me smile and occasionally learn something.

    • says

      It sounds like you have found a great balance! :) Yeah, working from home takes a ton of discipline. Moderation has never been a strong suit for me!

  6. says

    I noticed you were gone. I even e-mailed to find out what you were up to. Since you weren’t around, I just got concerned over your well being. Not you can’t exist offline and be fine, but since I got to know you on-line and didn’t see – I got concerned. :)

  7. Monique says

    I too noticed you were gone! I went looking for you & just couldn’t find a darn thing. I guess I’m more self-absorbed than everyone else b/c I thought maybe since we had just met before you left the area you decided we really didn’t know each other that well & you cut me loose. I’m glad to know you were just taking a break. My fragile ego is no longer crushed! (OK…well maybe a little!)

    I guess I’m lucky. I don’t have an iPhone. In fact, I don’t currently have a cell phone. I’m on the computer all day long at work. When I get home there are 2 teens & another adult vying for our ONE desk top computer & dinner time (no phones allowed) and all the other family drama that goes into an evening. The idea of a sabbatical is interesting, but now that I have a child living in Denver (yes, an adult child) I can’t see disconnecting in such a significant way. Thanks for the brain fodder however. It’s good to think outside of the box (or off of the SCREEN as the case may be!!!

    • says

      I didn’t cut you loose! I am only using Facebook for family now (and for my yoga page), and I do miss seeing updates from some friends. But I am hoping that I can cultivate more relationships off screen (via phone, or in person). I’d love to get together for coffee sometime when I am back in Norfolk. I come back once or twice a month for family stuff :)

  8. Sherry says

    Once again, you have done something that I find quite admirable, Amber (the farm experiment being the other). More than the actual “disconnection,” I admire your reflection and introspection- something that many of us don’t practice enough (and something that being constantly digitally connected probably does not encourage). I think your observations about researching vs. doing are spot on, as well as your noting that e-communication does not replace face-to-face. It makes me sad when I see couples (such as you and Jimmy?) sitting across the table from each other, scrolling instead of talking. Even more so when there are children at the table…how do they learn to verbally communicate without those models? One other note- while I think that your generation is uniquely attached to mobile devices, I can assure you that there are plenty of folks in my generation who are very attached to their email, Facebook, etc. My husband (not a particularly social guy in the “real” world), takes great pleasure (and lots of time each day) interacting on Facebook.; so much so, sometimes I have to remind him that, while some of the people are “real” friends, some are strictly FB friends, not the same thing.
    Thanks for the candid comments, Amber. I’ll be interested to see where you go with it from here.

    • says

      Thanks, the self reflection bit was hard. I have some other realizations I came to that I will share in future posts. Not any of them are nice ones! Haha

  9. Ally says

    I really found it interesting that you did this experiment. I have often wondered if the sky would fall in if everyone stopped using their smartphones on the same day. I’ve stopped using Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr because they didn’t really seem to have any practical uses; they really are the ultimate time wasters. I still use Facebook because I do have a lot more interaction on there. From the point of view of keeping in contact with family and friends that I don’t see regularly ( for instance, I’m in the UK and my sister lives in Canada) it makes life a lot easier to keep in contact that way.

    • says

      I agree about Facebook. I took it from 577 to 36 friends, and am really only using it for family. Since I don’t live in the same town as my immediate family, it’s nice to get to see pictures of my nephew and know what’s going on with others.

  10. Nicole @enemee1982 says

    Thanks for sharing. The bathroom confession is similar to me. ♡♥♡ There’s no shame we all all the same♥♡♥. I admit I stopped myself from paying attention to shows and movies at home. Like the tv and movies aren’t enough time wasters.

  11. says

    I noticed you were not posting as much, but didnt notice enough to think you vanished. i kinda figured you were doing your own thing somewhere out there.(something productive and creative in your neck of the woods) I’ll have to tell you when i checked my email today and saw this blog post. It was one of those i couldn’t wait to read! I have always admired you and your crafty ways. So I new this would be a good one. I cleaned up the house and made a cup of coffee before i sat down to read this.
    Always wanted to “take some time off” like you and Amanda did. It’s not an easy thing to do. I did it for 2 days and felt like I was missing something. I don’t have an IPhone or a Smart phone thank God! If I did i would be a complete distracted mess. Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are time and productivity killers for me for sure, but feel really good about cutting back little by little.

    So now that you have done this. Do you feel better and think you can do it again or stay unplugged digitally?
    Thank you so much for another interesting, inspiring story. Hope we here in VA. see you again soon!

    • says

      Aw, thanks for what you said – very flattering! As to your question, I am being more deliberate about my interactions online. I want to have deeper connections and conversations, and am using the networks I’m on differently than I did before. Or at least trying to! I feel no regrets for unplugging and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again if I notice things getting out of whack!

  12. jude says

    I missed you! But I tend to think that a lot of people just are too busy to update much. I guess I don’t like to pry,when a lot of blogs feel like friends but then I remember that I don’t actually KNOW the person, and if they aren’t sharing stuff online then they might want some privacy from internet strangers.
    I’m glad all is well, and I’m looking forward to hearing your lovely yoga thoughts again.
    I would happily detox myself, but I lost my job a few weeks ago, so I’ve been a recluse lately.some of my long distance friends are trying to get me through it, if I detoxed now…I don’t know what I would do to be honest. :(

  13. says

    Hello! Well, I kinda had a feeling you were doing a detox, as I need one too. But mine is almost like an acceptance for my new life kinda of deal. You see, none of my closest friends live in the same area anymore, so I feel this need to stay connected with them, and doing it online seemed very convenient. I’m also very proactive by nature, so I’m not too worried about the balance part with online. THOUGH I am terribly concerned about my connection with my daughter, I have given my husband my phone when I am spending time with Ellie, and absolutely (and I mean it ain’t easy) to not use the computer at all when I’m making art. I also do web design and graphic design and run my own biz besides art making. So the internet is essential. This year has been revolutionary for me, I finally have been pushing for more work in the illustration and painting world that things are happening. So I finally made a decision that I will not be taking on any graphic or web design projects anymore. I’m just going to making art and doing illustration this year. I’m not sure financially how it will all work out, but I’m happier already, doing more then online. But this also forces the idea that I will also like you, take a instagram, facebook and flickr cleanse, My flickr albums I’m just going to delete everything. instgram just the app. and then facebook will be interesting. Anyways, I’ll subscribe to your 30 day detox! ;-)

    • says

      I am so happy to hear about your change of focus! Your illustration and painting skills are amazing (and I do still want to get you to work on some things for me when I have time to focus on them!) – and I have no doubt you will knock it out of the park.

      Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

  14. says

    Hi Amber! I noticed you were gone since I emailed you about possibly doing a Skype session in January…. Oops! I’d love it if you could get back to me about it when you have a chance, I’m sure there are a zillion emails, etc. vying for your attention right now. Take care!

  15. says

    I too wondered what happened to you. I was use to seeing you on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I applaud you and Amanda. I was thinking that I wish I could just unplug from everything for awhile. Unfortunately I have to use it for my job and its difficult to just get away. Right now I’m checking my blog and replying back to comments. I got up here to read your Digital Detox story and I have freelancing work to do. Yes it does become too much sometimes. I might not go for 30 days but I might do it for a few days just to give myself a break from the world. Great article Amber.

  16. Rachel says

    I’ll be honest- I didn’t really notice you were gone. But I don’t actually spend a ton of time doing what you mentioned above. I don’t have a smartphone or a tablet, just a laptop and an e-reader. I can’t stand how people are always screwing around with their phones- it makes me crazy. And I try not to spend too much time on my computer. I feel like I can’t reasonably tell my children they can’t watch tv or play a game if I am attached to a screen. Leading by example and whatnot.

    But I love that you have this idea! Whenever anyone stands still to figure out that there IS more to life, and perhaps their iphone isn’t really something they NEED to have after all (not that you have to get rid of it- but I know far too many people who have convinced themselves that they can justify their costs for it because they NEED it for whatever- even though, truly- NO ONE needs these things.

    I look forward to using my screen time to read more :)

  17. says

    Transatlantic high-five!

    I’ve realized over the years of my involvement online, from my conversations in weird AOL chat rooms in the mid-90s to Livejournal and Myspace to this always-on broadcast of our lives, that it comes from a desire to be social and feel connected. We are social animals and these networks are just a manifestation of that. However, just like in real life, we can choose to make those connections meaningful or just keep them as simple acquaintances. I think social networks blur expectations and we become confused about what relationships we should maintain and how to maintain them in a healthy way. We’ve gone from blog comments to FB post shares to tweets to simple likes and hearts. The networks have made it simple for us to say “Hey, I see you! I’m validating your existence with just a tap of my finger! I hope you do the same for me!”

    To be honest, I love the little acquaintances and conversations I’ve made online and I know you do too, but I’ve become confused about what I need to invest in these relationships or if I need to truly maintain them. What’s worth maintaining? And am I really “maintaining” a relationship by RTing something someone said or by responding to a post on FB?

    It’s also a numbing behavior. I sometimes don’t know what to do or I want to avoid a chore or the fact that I need to think about what to do next and so I scroll and scroll and scroll. As long as I’m scrolling through international news headlines, it’s okay, right? As long as I’m “educating myself” with the infinite scroll, it’s not harmful, right? I might as well be scrolling through LOLcats, because I’m lying to myself all the same. I’m just trying to tune out the real world sometimes. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing to do sometimes – we all need to tune out – but there’s a balance I’m missing.

  18. says

    I L.O.V.E. this post.
    What does it mean that I am commenting on it? Maybe I need a detox as well? However, I DID read the whole post :)….not JUST the headline.

    Love you, Amber! Miss your face!

  19. Sarah says

    Just so you know, I noticed, and I thought you just unfriended me. I was hurt and finally talked to Beth about it and she told me read your blog. Now I feel like an idiot! I am so sorry!!!

  20. says

    Yep. I get it!
    I’ve experimented several times with Facebook detoxes, only to find that the compulsion to log in and answer unchecked notifications were driving me nuts! The only way I made it work was to deactivate my account. If nobody could contact me, I had nothing to check up on. Since then, my house has never been tidier, I see my friends more often and I feel significantly less ‘plugged’. :D I can’t imagine ever going back!

  21. Alicia says

    I noticed you weren’t on Facebook…but thought you just didn’t like me anymore! I have thought about the digital detox many times. Especially now that we are temporarily living with my dad, I find myself drawn to the computer/tv/phone more, because we don’t have them at our house. I need to find a way to be in town with all the things available and not be obsessive about them. I must say I felt a little silly signing up for an email alert about posts about digital detox, is that a trick?!


  22. Lisa says

    I actually did wonder where you had gone. Though I don’t pin, tweet nor ‘gram, I found I have spent more hours reading Ravelry than actually knitting. Glad you were able to do it, I don’t think many can, they are so tied to their damn phones.

  23. Wilbur says

    You’ve made some really good points there. I looked on the net to learn more about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this website.


  1. [...] about a 30 day digital detox I did with my friend Amber. Be sure to click over to her website, My Aim is True, to read her posts about unplugging. Click here to read all the detox posts on this site. [...]

  2. [...] is part of a 30 day digital detox series I did with my friend Amber. Be sure to click over to My Aim is True and read her reflections on unplugging. Click here to see a list of all my detox posts. [...]

  3. [...] Digital detoxing is a good thing. I gave up Facebook for Lent and I’m going through serious withdrawls. I’m almost at the point where I don’t miss it. I wish I could say the same for Pinterest and Tumblr. I really need to work on that. Social network sites seriously take up the bulk of my time at home. [...]