RD&T contributing writer, Kris Verle, challenges you to follow his 30-Day digital detox.
After realising my anxieties in the last couple of months have been directly correlated with my time spent online and my social media addiction, I decided it was time to press the reset button on my relationship with technology.
Online Life Coach Goes Analogue
But let me be clear, I’m not turning my back on technology. Rather the opposite. I hope that by the end of the thirty days, I’ll be able to tune into the dangers of social networking and assess which apps and activities I can safely reintroduce without being a total slave to them.
You can follow my journey in this two-part series, as I’ve outlined the process day-by-day.
I’ll be sharing tips and tricks on how to make the best of a digital declutter.
And with no Instagram, Facebook or Netflix to entertain myself with, I guess I’ll be spending a lot more time here. So come and hang with me. I’ll crack open a bottle.
Here’s a chronological overview of how it all went. Pardon the complaining by the way – that’s just me on a social media comedown.
D-Day in Digital Detox Camp
So it begins. For the next thirty days, I’ll be limiting the use of my phone, and I’ll be quitting social media almost entirely. That means no more Instagram, Facebook (except for my business page), or compulsive viewing of news websites.
I’ll check Messenger and WhatsApp once or twice a day, but I’m entirely withdrawing from ‘instant’ messaging and any online conversations.
Face-to-face chats and phone calls are much more fun anyway.
Probably the hardest nut to crack will be my Netflix addiction, but I’ve also set up some pretty strict rules for myself around the use of streaming, too.
I guess I’ll be missing out on a couple of things this month, but I’ll have plenty more time to do many of the other things that make life so much better – like reading books, studying Indonesian, getting better at my writing craft, and socialising with friends in the real world.
In fairness, today was an easy one. I also probably started on a bit of a false note by announcing my detox via Instagram and Facebook. Here I’ve been, yet again, compulsively checking how the story was doing and how many people had liked it.
It’s gonna be a long month.
Most people use their phone as an alarm clock. Nothing wrong with that, but the first thing they see when they switch off the alarm is an endless stream of WhatsApp messages, news stories, and notifications.
Think about it this way. Your attention has already been hijacked by someone else’s agenda, and you haven’t even left your bed yet!
Instead of gently caressing the forehead of your loved one to the sounds of birds chirping and the beautiful morning spring, Linda from Accounts’ latest f*ck-up has already got you choking on your first Nescafe of the day.
That’s why I’ve started switching my phone to flight mode before I go to bed.
I don’t switch it off until at least one hour after I’ve woken up. It felt a little odd this morning, but I felt curiously excited about switching it off and eager to peep in my inbox.
Some of you may be worried about emergencies. I get it. Maybe you need to keep an ear out for your elderly relatives or your wayward children, but at the very least, switch your notifications off when you go to bed and switch on night mode. The latter will still allow specific callers to get through, in case those teenagers need a last-minute lift home.
Oh, and much as my Netflix addiction is playing up tonight, I’d probably never have gotten around to writing this if I’d been watching the Fab Five telling me to look after my baby skin.
Why Do We Suffer from Social Media Addiction?
Research shows that social media addiction happens for two reasons:
- Intermittent positive reinforcement
- A need for social approval
Rewards that are unpredictable somehow release more dopamine – a neurotransmitter that regulates our cravings – than when rewards are offered at a more regular interval. Therefore, the excitement of not knowing how a particular online interaction will be perceived by our tribe makes any positive engagement doubly awarding.
Meanwhile, our need for other people’s approval means we feel good when members of our tribe like our post, and we feel bad when not enough of them do.
And while the tech industry would love you to believe this psychological nectar is a purely incidental by-product of their wish to ‘bring the world closer together,’ the impact is the same. Our reptilian brain is simply powerless when it comes to needing to monitor for valuable cues to see whether our tribe is still with us.
So, if you’re suffering from addiction to social media, just like I did, it’s not because you are fundamentally flawed or weak-willed.
It’s because the likes of Facebook and Twitter have built extremely profitable businesses around technology that’s specifically designed to keep you engaged for the longest time possible.
Or to quote Bill Maher:
The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Philip Morris just wanted your lungs. The App Store wants your soul.
Join Me in My Grotto
I could have kicked myself this morning. It suddenly dawned on me that when announcing my digital retirement on Facebook and Instagram two days ago, I totally forgot to add that I was blogging about it, too.
So not only have I become a social media hermit, but I’ve now also blown my only chance of getting any visitors to visit my virtual cave here.
If you’ve made it here, thanks for keeping me company and grab yourself a crab sandwich.
On the plus side, I’ve had a super-focused day of sessions with life coaching clients in London, Amsterdam, Sydney, and Sacramento.
I’m certainly grateful for technology in that sense. Indeed, had it not been for the rollout of fast broadband pretty much anywhere in the world, there’d be no such thing as online life coaching. There’d be no such thing as porn addiction either, but that’s a different story altogether.
Unsolicited bit of advice for the day: Get into the habit of never having more than three browser windows open at any given time. Multitasking is a complete myth given that our human brains aren’t able to multi-focus.
Never one to say no to free food, I spent my lunchtime surrounded by millennial Instagrammers documenting the opening of a new Indian restaurant down the road.
I use the word ‘interesting’ loosely because if I ever needed a reminder of how mobile phones are ruining our social lives – as well as my enjoyment of a free meal – there it was.
Having left my phone at home – and with everyone else busy tagging, captioning and commenting – there was little else left for me to do than watch the China Open Snooker finals on one of the huge flat-screen TVs mounted on the wall.
A Bollywood movie might have been more appropriate given the setting, but at least the food was nice.
Speaking of – seems like the internet has invented a new term for the generation for aging hipsters like me who despise and idolise Millennials in equal measure.
Known as Xennials, we’re like their cool and trendy uncle or auntie. The kids love us, while the rest of the family just prays we turn up sober at an event for once.
We’re the tail end of a generation that remembers how nerve-wracking it was to call a buddy’s home for fear their parents might be picking up.
We’re weighed down by repressed memories of online hook-ups with people we met on MSN (before the internet allowed you to exchange pictures), and maybe I’m projecting here, but for many of us, the old-fashioned internet dial-in tone still acts as a huge turn-on for reasons I won’t go into. Like Pavlov’s dogs but different.
Oh, and if I sound a little cranky today, it’s probably because I am a little cranky. I’ve just been accused by my boyfriend of cheating on my principles. He caught me with his phone in hand scrolling down his Instagram feed.
I certainly try not to make a habit of hanging out on my loved one’s social media accounts. It was important for me to see whether and where I’d been tagged at this event. God forbid I’d have to wait another twenty-six days to un-tag myself from all those pictures stuffing myself with dal.
Perhaps my digital addiction really does run deeper than I thought.
Connection versus Conversation
Today I’ll be borrowing heavily from Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. This book has been the inspiration for me to take part in this month-long detox.
Newport talks about the distinction between connection – the low-bandwidth interactions that define our online social lives – and conversation – which refers to much more precious, high-bandwidth communication that determines real-world encounters between humans.
Citing research by Sherry Turkle, he highlights how social media has gradually replaced conversation with connection.
What’s the problem with that, I hear? Well, quite a big one as it turns out.
A number of studies show a significant decline in well-being once connection takes over from conversation.
This makes sense. The need for belonging and connection we all share has evolved from analog facial and voice cues – anything less, just won’t hack it.
The only effective way to maintain any kind of relationship, therefore, is to focus on conversation.
But let’s not banish connection altogether either.
Connection can still be useful when it comes to maintaining a bond, but only in as far as it supports setting up conversations or indeed exchanges practical information.
I’ll talk about this in more detail another time.
So, instead of congratulating your long-lost high school friend on having yet another baby, ask her when you can pop over with a home-made tiramisu instead. Or delete her from Facebook if baking isn’t your thing.
Unsolicited bit of advice for the day: Careful, this is a heavy one. Practise not clicking ‘like’ again. EVER! Remember what I said earlier about low-value connection. All that like-button does is give you the false impression you’re keeping the relationship intact. You’re only kidding yourself.
This is Part One of a two-part series. Find Part Two here.