So, there was no official conclusion to the recent “digital detox,” which is fitting; that is one of several conditions I wish I’d laid out beforehand.
What was first envisioned as a total “fast” ended up as more of a “holiday restriction.” Now that the new year is here, I’m able to process the results.
The Newsfeed Fast
The one key vow I maintained was to say off of my usual newsfeed. What a draining distraction that has been. I had one specific, narrow source in mind and told myself I wouldn’t access it until New Year’s Eve.
This goal was so clear that I kept it even when stumbling onto newsfeeds in other places.
Keeping entirely unplugged from the internet would’ve made this easier, of course.
Aside from that technical victory, I’m dismayed to report that I only partially succeeded otherwise. This is actually a positive, I’ve decided. Seeing firsthand how difficult it was to tackle (particularly during a stressful season) was the eye-opener I’d been looking for.
I took other notes as well.
- Other People’s Habits
What I first noticed was how often everyone around me pulled out a cellphone for whatever reason. I saw it in people’s homes, in restaurants, along the sidewalks, and even in many passing vehicles. It hasn’t always been this way. I got leverage on myself by writing down the challenge and posting it here, but in the real world there was temptation to give in because “everyone else is doing it.”
- Creativity Unleashed
The self-imposed exile from technology (however incomplete) did open up some creative thoughts, which was another expectation. Unfortunately many of them were self-defeating, though. I found novel ways to keep a finger on news just in case something earth-shattering happened in a way no one else could tip me off about. I also found myself stuck without paper once and decided it was reasonable to text myself a few ideas because I had blocked myself out of my word processors. I did have moments of insight and fresh ideas, but I can’t tell if they were more frequent—only that they were overshadowed by the rest of my attempts to undermine the experiment.
- Ending Streaks
Once a particular rule was broken, it was that much more difficult to recapture. Taking a moment to check the weather meant I had license to do that at any time. Starting to text for an acceptable reason left the door open to future infractions. As I’ve already learned from parenting, exception often leads to expectation.
- Brain Hijacking
Apparently my brain has been slowly wiring itself to reach for a screen in the middle of the night. Definitely the most disturbing discovery of the detox was finding myself waking up with stressful thoughts or some fading idea I needed to write down. This was designed to get me to find the device and its disruptive lights in one of my most vulnerable states. When I remembered I wasn’t supposed to go there, this only added new duress.
- The Time Machine
Without the knee-jerk connection to a cellphone, I eventually started to feel some of the benefits I’d been hoping for all along. Near the top of the list was a completely different experience of time itself. Any time one nears mindfulness, there is a sense of time dilation. That’s an illusion, however; time was always at a relative constant; it was the bottomless immersion into data consumption and preoccupation that made time seem faster by default.
Attempting a digital detox during the busiest time of the year was a little audacious, and a little confounding. By design, nothing is quite normal during the holidays. What I’m left wanting is a new detox with better defined rules. Even before another report came out on the dangers of unstructured browsing (particularly of social media feeds), I knew I need to designate very precise times and occasions for these activities.
I don’t want to become a Luddite. I just want to make sure the ridiculously powerful computer in my pocket is used as a tool for creation, not consumption.
I’m ready to tackle this again.