How to take a digital detox

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How to take a digital detox

I've never paid much attention to detoxes. The idea of cutting out toxins or things that are supposedly unhealthy for a short period of time only to take them back up again doesn't make sense to me. I'd rather just attempt to drink and eat healthy all the time and avoid the need to detox in the first place. Recently, however, I've become increasingly aware, that at 32, it is perhaps time for my first detox. The toxin that I need a break from, the digital world.

Having been born in the early 80's, I consider myself very fortunate to have spent over 50% of my life in a non digital world. I have fond memories of when the closest I had to receiving a text was to get hit in the head by a note thrown by a friend when the teacher wasn't looking, pictures needed to be developed and were shared by hand, and having lots of followers probably wouldn't have been a good thing. I remember arranging to meet people and then having to be actually be there on time, to getting on a bus or train and not having something in my pocket to entertain me, so instead, simply looking out of the window, and living a life with far less distractions and far more time spent outside.

I feel a bit sorry for kids nowadays. They have been raised in a digital world their whole lives. While there are clearly advantages to this, such as the ability to have instant access to information and inspiration, and to prove your friends wrong in the pub immediately, there are also disadvantages that come from it. We are surrounded 24 hours a day 365 days a year by distractions. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Texts, News, TV, Spotify, Netflix, TV on demand, the list is endless and it is all instantly available, all we have to do is reach into our pockets and your distraction of choice is there for the taking. I miss those hours of frustration spent racking your brain for the answer to pointless questions. Now the answer is given almost before the question has finished being asked, usually by a smug looking me, face lit up by my LED encyclopedia. If you look around, more and more of us are choosing the distractions over real life. So often when we are presented with a free minute or two we choose to be distracted, in a restaurant when our friend goes to the toilet, on the toilet, waiting for a bus, on the bus, whatever the situation, if we are given time, there is that instinctive reaction to go for our pockets, to be entertained.

I need a cleanse from this.

I realised that whenever I was presented with this free time I was often repeating a cycle with my phone or laptop.

Facebook, hmmm seen that funny cat video twice already...

Instagram... still no likes....

Let's see if the news headlines have changed....nope...

Better check the weather again...

I know how ridiculous this is. It's a massive waste of my time yet I still do it, we all do. If you were a channel flicker as a child then the internet and social media is a dream come true for twisting until you find entertainment. It scares me to think how much time I have wasted on this.

With any bad habit, the first step to resolving it is to realise there is a problem in the first place. I know there is a level of hypocrisy in me saying all this seeing as you are reading my blog online and there's a chance you found out I'd posted a new one via a social media link I sent out. It's probably not great for my ratings or whatever you call it on blogs? to encourage you to spend less time online but I think you should at least ask yourself if you do spend too much time online? Some people have a great balance for this already. If you are one of those people you can probably stop reading and head on back to the real world. I however, need a detox from this. I am not suggesting a blanket ban. But I have devised some steps I have taken and will be taking, that I thought I would share, to help take a step back from it all and spend a little more time smelling the roses.

  1. Disconnect your TV. I haven't had a connected TV for the last three years and wish I had done it sooner. I still have a TV and watch the occasional movie or TV show through my laptop on it, but gone is the habit of coming home and having the TV on in the background or channel flicking in search of some entertainment. If this seems a bit drastic try going a week without turning the TV on at all, listen to some music, read a book, talk to your partner/friends more, play a game or just enjoy some silence.
  2. Turn off all notifications from your phone. The phone is like a little devil on our shoulder. "Check me! Check me!" At times we forget it's there but then... BEEEEEP!  Our attention is taken from the real world and is instead drawn to the phone. The more notifications I turn off, the less time spent on my phone. That instagram/facebook post was still there when I looked later on. I really wasn't missing anything.
  3. Remove as many apps as possible from your phone. In my deepest digital obsession I had pages and pages of apps on my phone. Social media, news feeds, weather apps, message services, games, all sorts of random crap. Each app needed attention. Any free moment was elongated as I checked each app to make sure I wasn't missing anything...I wasn't...but I needed to double check. I now only have a few that I have decided actually add value to my life, I have kept instagram (I'll come to that later) but all other social media have gone from my phone, anything I haven't used in the last month gets deleted. Less apps = less time on the phone.
  4. Unfollow everyone on social media. Ok maybe not everyone, but get ruthless. That friend on facebook you haven't spoken to in person or on even on facebook for the last 10 years... do you really need to see that they liked a meme about rabbits? Cut em. The less new information you have on your social media feeds the less time you will spend scrolling on them. This is a good thing. If you feel a bit harsh fully "defriending" someone on facebook there is a magic little option to stop seeing their posts, use it. If you use twitter and instagram try limiting the amount of people you follow. I dont really use twitter, but I have set a limit to only follow a max of 100 people on instagram. Less new pics = less time spent.
  5. Unsubscribe to all newsletters. It's amazing the random emails lists we end up subscribed to. I spent so long simply deleting them thinking that one day I would get round to reading one of the newsletters, I liked the company but didn't have time to read their email this time....this would go on for months, or even years. Every month they would take up a fraction of my time. I have now subscribed from all but about 3 newsletters that I actually enjoy reading each month. If you haven't opened a newsletter in the last 3 emails, unsubscribe (that goes for mine too!).
  6. Take real photos. I used to really enjoy taking proper pictures with an actual camera. But my phone and instagram made me lazy and the filters made me think I was a better photographer. I have started taking my camera around with me again and taking time to take a proper picture. It is still digitial but it shows how far we have come that even a digital camera seems a slower, more mindful way of doing things.
  7. Listen to real music. When I was a kid the excitement of going to a record store to pick up a recently released album was immense. You would read the sleeve back to back, and there was a definite ritual and mindfulness to putting the CD on for the very first time and sitting down/dancing around while you actually listened to the music. I miss this.  I've gotten used to the online music world of instant access to everything and the excitement and intention has gone. I am on the look out for a turntable to bring this back. While this will take up more of my time I think it is a trade I am happy to make.
  8. At least a day a week offline. When was the last time you didn't check something online? Probably when camping, or on an adventure of some kind. Now that wifi and 3G is everywhere it is hard to properly disconnect from the online world. I am trying to introduce at least a day a week where I will have no contact with the internet. I definitely use the internet less on the weekends but still have some connection to it. I am aiming to have a full break once a week. If that seems difficult because of your job, you could try an evening a week, after 5pm for example, instead.

If you want to reduce your reliance on the digital world you don't need to do all of these things at once. If you do one thing today, you will be less reliant than you were the day before and that is progress. I'll still be posting blogs and the odd instagram post but will be doing it with a lot more intention. If I have something to say I will say it, if not I will try not to waste all of our time.

If you have any other suggestions for how to disconnect please let me now in the comments or better yet tell me in the real world.

Josh