I’m almost halfway through my digital detox month, and it’s time to switch things up a bit. Abstaining from all browsing, social media, and casual smartphone use has been illuminating in several ways. Today I’ll highlight my big takeaways and outline a new set of internet habits I intend to adopt moving forward.
Lessons from the Detox
Overall, I’ve found that reducing the amount of “online stuff” I read on a daily basis has reduced my stress, made it easier for me to fall asleep quickly at bedtime, and increased the amount of time I spend doing more important things. My brain feels… somehow more serene when I’m not stuffing it full of tweets, Reddit posts, and random content. Without internet browsing as an option for those moments when I feel bored or fatigued, I find myself doing other activities instead. Over the last few weeks I’ve read more fiction, taken more walks, and generated more ideas than in the months previous. I’ve also increased my daily productivity as measured by the number of words written per day.
It’s difficult to overstate the positive difference I feel on an emotional/cognitive level now, as compared to the times when I’ve done a lot of casual internet reading. Free from the jagged emotional spikes that come with reading “viral” (read: controversial or upsetting) content, I no longer feel like I’m spinning an emotional roulette wheel when I reach for my phone. Instead of reading a headline followed by a hundred different reactions to that headline, I can process a bit of news, feel only my own reactions, and move forward accordingly.
Additionally, I’ve been surprised to discover that solitude is mostly a state of mind. Instead of blaming the proximity of other humans for my insatiable (and unmet) cravings to be alone, I should have been blaming the way I stuffed my brain full of other people’s thoughts all day! When I browse the internet in search of “something interesting to read” with no goal in mind, I’m turning my brain into a dumpster, accepting all comers, letting people toss their content into my head as I scroll by. But when I limit my internet use to specific purposes, my mind is no longer a dumpster. It’s an open field, with a fence around it, and a gate. Only I have the key, and only I get to decide what’s allowed inside.
This seemingly small difference is HUGE. My need for solitude is fully met without the need to run off into the woods and become a hermit. What a relief!
I could continue my digital detox through the end of the month as planned, but I feel I’ve gathered enough data to take the next step. That’s why I made a list of internet habits that I’ll be adopting moving forward.
My New Internet Habits
1) Wear a watch, and keep my phone put away in a pocket or purse when it’s not in use.
My smartphone is basically a Swiss Army Knife. It’s a handy tool, but there’s no reason to play with the blades while it’s not in use, right?
2) “I don’t browse.”
For me, internet browsing is a gateway to filling my head with thought-garbage. Also, I find the browsing process mildly addictive, the more I do it the more I want to do it, even to the detriment of more important activities. So no more browsing the web, the news, Reddit, Youtube, and so on. I can certainly search for something specific, but no more going hunting for “something interesting to read.”
3) Keep a book with me at all times.
When I’m feeling momentarily bored, and I’m looking for some distraction or entertainment, the internet is no longer my preferred option. Books are my backup plan, but mental solitude (being alone with my thoughts) is also an excellent use of my time.
4) Continue to use RSS to follow excellent blogs. Continue to use Pinboard to collect links related to hobbies/interests.
I enjoy reading curated blog posts over my lunch break, or in the late afternoon with a cup of tea. Half the blogs I follow are work-related, the other half are mostly micro.bloggers. It’s a pretty serene collection, and good for 30-40 minutes of light reading per day.
5) Continue to publish (blogs, photos, links, etc) whenever I want.
My blog is my playground! I’ll continue to enjoy it.
6) When it comes to social media, I have two rules. 1) Prioritize conversations. 2) Limit my overall exposure to feeds.
For places like Twitter and the Micro.Blog app, I plan to enjoy conversations as they arise. I can check my notifications, stay engaged, and certainly I’ll continue to follow people I admire. But I’ll limit the time I spend reading social feeds, because feeds have some of the same downsides as browsing, and I want to avoid slipping into bad habits. I figure I’ll schedule “social media time” on my calendar, keep it limited, but also enjoy the hell out of it.
By the way, I’m not assuming that what works for me will also work for you; it may be that what I find addictive/negative simply isn’t a problem for other people. Psychology is personal, right? But prior to my detox, I don’t think I recognized the extent to which my mindless web browsing was occupying my thoughts, interfering with my emotions, and distracting me from more important things in life. It seemed so harmless to browse Reddit while watching television, or to scan the newsfeeds while waiting on the bus, or to read a half-dozen articles off Twitter out of sheer boredom over the course of a week. But somehow all those moments added up, filled my head, stressed me out, and slightly decreased my quality of life.
I’m in a good place with my internet use right now. My smartphone is in my back pocket as I draft this post, and I’ve got no desire to look at it. And there’s a watch on my wrist in case I need to know the time. But best of all, my mind is like an open field, ready to be planted with whatever ideas I’d like to grow; the entrance locked tight with a key that only I possess. Time feels slightly expanded, and I no longer want to run away and become a hermit in the woods, because I’ve got the solitude I need right here. (points at head) All those things are contributing to my contentment and my happiness, so I believe the digital detox has been a good experiment.
Thanks for reading, internet friends! I’ll be back online (within my new limits) starting on the 15th of March. And at the end of the month I’ll do one more post to check-in.
Other Detox Logs
Day 1 & 2