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30 Day Tech Cleanse

Part Two

written by Kris Verlé March 26, 2020
30 Day Tech Cleanse

RD&T contributing writer, Kris Verle, challenges you to follow his tech cleanse for thirty days and the changes it brought to his life.

Neighbourhood Watch

I’m a curtain twitcher. Yep – one hundred percent.

When I’m seventy years old, I’ll be that neighbour who alerts you to the Amazon delivery guy who must have rung your doorbell at least three times.

I’ll also give you a rundown of the comings and goings at number twenty-three since those two young fellas moved in. And then I’ll grass you to the local council for putting your bins out too early.

But for now – or at least until a week ago – Facebook was my virtual porch.

People say we cannot have more than 150 meaningful relationships at any one point – also known as Dunbar’s number.

It was named after the British anthropologist who came up with it. He famously described it as the number of people you wouldn’t be too embarrassed about joining for a beer if you bumped into them in a bar.

Don’t know about you, but I’m guessing Dunbar must have been pretty dull company. There are currently about 1,764 Facebook friends I’d be delighted to see if they bought me a beer.

Some of those I never met, but most of them I have. In fact, Facebook has become a virtual library of pretty much anyone I’ve ever exchanged some kind of physical or emotional connection with – either during my misspent twenties, semi-passed out in a dark corner of a club, or, more recently, people I’ve met through travel or through my online coaching practice.

I know exactly how many people were at their youngest sister’s baby shower. I’ve read their heartfelt ‘I’m living quite the life’ New Year’s messages, and I’ve wholeheartedly thumbed-up their cryptic ‘I guess some people just aren’t worth the hassle’ cliff hangers.

I’ve hearted their ‘never give up’ Buddhist wisdom, and I’ve cried when their status went from ‘in a relationship’ to ‘it’s complicated’ for the third time that week.

Honestly, I can’t wait to rekindle the Facebook neighbourhood watch again in a couple of weeks my friends.

Zuckerberg’s No Longer Cute

No blog post yesterday. In my defence, I spent the whole day coaching online. My eyes and my soul needed a little break from the laptop.

Back with a vengeance today with a very long article about the tech industry’s baby steps towards a more ‘human-centred’ approach to developing apps and technologies.

When some of the very architects of social media’s most popular functionalities – the ‘like’ button and the endless newsfeed – become some of its most vocal critics, you know something’s up.

Indeed, Silicon Valley’s cute, geeky shine is finally coming off. Gone are the days where techies would hide behind the so-called ‘unintended consequences’ of their inventions. Even Zuckerberg is wearing a suit these days – a sure sign we should all be worried.

It’s quite evident that the apps and technologies we’ve come to depend upon were explicitly designed to mess with our most vulnerable human instincts – our desire to be liked, to belong and to be seen by our peers as someone who humbly got upgraded to business class, again.

Anyway, great article. Even if the Guardian’s big corporation bashing is a little predictable, I’m generally excited about the article’s conclusion that publicly or co-operatively owned ventures could one day provide some counter-weight to the mighty giants.

Unsolicited advice bit of advice for the day: Actually, this one comes from the Centre of Humane Technology (aka Silicon Valley’s newly found conscience); Those little colourful icons on your phone provide your brain with a tiny shot of dopamine each time you unlock. Try setting your phone to grayscale instead as a way to get rid of those unwanted positive reinforcements. It’ll help you check your phone less.

Disconnect to Reconnect

The news is a 140-character video at six seconds high speed, and you wonder why ADHD is on the rise faster than 4G LTE. — Prince EA.

I’m usually pretty allergic to motivational nuggets by the likes of Jay Shetty, but a friend sent me this beautiful three-minute video poem which perfectly sums up our digital habits.

And yes, I’m still on YouTube, thanks for asking. Unlike my social media and Netflix addiction, that one’s never been a problem for me, and I very rarely watch it. Something about the format of YouTube has always put me off. There’s just too much to choose from, and I find that choice overwhelming.

On top of that, my analog television brain still just wants to consume, which is why I find Facebook and Instagram feeds so damn addictive.

Meanwhile, an unplanned beach day yesterday provided a very welcome break from my laptop and from writing.

I’ve decided that for the next three Sundays I’ll digitally disconnect myself entirely. Yes, disconnect to reconnect. The only thing allowed is face-to-face contact and phone calls.

I can feel my anxiety rising just from typing that sentence. A sure sign I’m on to something here.

Let’s Just Be Friends – But Not Quite Yet

Yesterday marked the last day of my digital detox.

Thirty days of clean, digital minimalism and unfiltered living have come to an end.

I can’t say it’s been a particularly tough challenge, which has made me wonder whether I actually made it hard enough for myself.

While I did miss my usual online curtain-twitching and Instagram voyeurism, I haven’t craved my Instagram friends’ homemade reality TV shows and speedo-posing Instagram stories as much I thought I would.

In fact, by the time I’d finished week one, the novelty had firmly worn off and my delightfully uneventful life was keeping me occupied enough to forget about everybody else’s.

Nonetheless, there were some critical milestones and lessons I learned through my thirty-day digital detox.

  • I finished two books. That may not sound like a lot to some of you, but it’s two books more than what I usually finish in a month.
  • Eat, Pray, Love is a really great novel. Just don’t bother with the movie.
  • Although I’m curious to know which new series have come out on Netflix, I’m not yet brave enough to go and find out.
  • I’m still not good at having idle fingers. There’s only so much nose-picking and ball-scratching I can do in public before I reach for my phone and stare at the weather app for twenty minutes.
  • I think I understand now what people mean with ‘enjoying things as they unfold.’ I no longer feel the need to turn every little poop my dog does into an Instagram story. Indeed, I’ve realised I don’t need external validation to know my dog is way cuter than yours. I mean just look at her!
  • I noticed most people exchange Instagram IDs now instead of phone numbers or Facebook profiles.
  • While I’ve spent very little time on my phone, my overall screen time has definitely increased. As an online coach, it doesn’t help, of course, that I’m making a living from my laptop.
  • I unfollowed literally everyone on Facebook, which ended up a ridiculous ninety minutes of my time. Looks like Zuckerberg is desperate to keep us all locked into the Newsfeed rabbit hole for as long as he can.
  • Speaking of Facebook – I’ve really not missed it one iota. Plus, I’m now able to check Messenger without getting lost in your family weddings, stag parties, and cute dog poo stories.
  • I’m seriously behind on which cat videos and RuPaul gifs are trending at the moment. But since I’ve reduced WhatsApp to a purely organisational tool, I guess I’ve nobody to share them with anyway.
  • I’m able to hold a conversation without having my phone on the table. In fact, I’m starting to find it rather infuriating when table guests regularly check their phones on the table.
  • I’ve had more face-to-face conversations and phone calls with my friends in the last month than I normally have in six months. I’m also trying to reinstate the ‘unexpected’ call. Judging by the number of people who’ve been screening my calls (you know who you are), the success of the latter has been somewhat mixed.

The Problem

So, here’s my problem. I do want to develop a better relationship with Netflix and Instagram, but I really don’t want my usage to go back to how it was before I started my digital detox.

They say it takes twenty-one days to form a new habit, but certain cue/reward systems are so ingrained that it takes a bit longer for our brains to develop alternative habit loops.

Frankly, I don’t think my new neural pathways are strong enough yet to draw a line under years of unfettered social media use.

I’m not yet capable of restricting myself to watching a single episode of Homeland without coming out the other end twelve hours later without even as much as a pee break.

Like with any kind of breakup, there has to be sufficient time to allow the relationship to be reset, and thirty days probably isn’t long enough for me and Netflix to be friends.

So… nothing changes. I’m sticking to my life of digital minimalism, and the detox slowly moves into an analogue lifestyle.

For the foreseeable future, I shall continue my nose-picking, ball scratching, and blog writing ways. Hopefully, at least one of those activities will get me some likes in real life.

This is Part Two of a two-part series. Find Part One here.

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