I used this wrinkly, unfiltered selfie to announce my digital detox which started on the 1st of April.
After realising my anxieties in the last couple of months have been directly correlated with my time spent online, I decided it was time to press the reset button on my relationship with technology.
Online life coach goes analogue
I am indeed aware of the irony of an online life coach taking part in a digital detox.
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 assess which apps and activities I can safely reintroduce without being a total slave to them.
You can follow my journey here daily. 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.
My most recent posts are at the top by the way.
Let’s just be friends – but not yet
Yesterday marked the last day of my digital detox.
Thirty days of clean, 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’ home-made 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 learnt 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.
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 21 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 needs to be a sufficient time to allow the relationship to be reset, and thirty days isn’t long enough for me and Netflix to be friends.
So… nothing changes, and the digital 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.
What makes social media so addictive?
Research shows that social media is addictive for two reasons: intermittent positive reinforcement, and our 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 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 an unhealthy relationship with social media just like I did, it’s more than likely 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 have to stop 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.’
*Drops the mic*
Zuckerberg’s no longer cute
No blog post yesterday. In my defence, I’d spend 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.
Auto-correcting myself and humanity
’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 Netflix and social media, 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 analogue 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. 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.
I’m a curtain twitcher. Yep – one hundred per cent.
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 23 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 uninvited 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 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.
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.
Gosh, this gif is distracting!
Anyway, 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 analogue 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.
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 which, seems like the internet has invented a new term for the generation for ageing 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 wrecking it was to call a buddy’s home for fear their parents might be pick 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 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 26 days to un-tag myself from all those pictures stuffing myself with dal.
Perhaps my digital addiction really does run deeper than I thought.
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, 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 roll out 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.
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 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 fuck-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 on. The latter will still allow specific callers to get through, in case those teenagers need a last-minute lift home.
Oh and much as I’m missing Netflix tonight, I’d probably never have gotten round to writing this blog post if I’d been watching the Fab Five telling me to look after my baby skin.
D-Day in digital detox camp
So it begins. For the next thirty days, I’ll be limiting the use of my phone and social media strictly to what is absolutely necessary for the running of my business. 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 Netflix, 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.