More Thoughts On: Digital Detoxing

Our tools are only as good (or bad) as the person using them. The Minimalists

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

If it’s grab your mobile phone to check your notifications and emails then you’re not alone. Over 70% of us reach for our phone within the first 30 minutes of waking up to check the influx of new demands that await us for the coming day.

The result? Well, unsurprisingly, it’s making us rather unwell.

With diagnosis’ of anxiety and stress at an all time high, and the rise of ‘career burnout’, many are pointing the finger of blame towards our addiction to technology and in particular our mobile phones.

Further research from Reuters has found that two thirds of managers believe that the cacophony of data they have access to (before they even reach the office) has not only made their jobs less satisfying, but has also had a detrimental impact on their personal relationships. A further one third believe it has damaged their health.

Language as ever is fondly manipulated to reflect the changing circumstances of human experience and interaction. A variety of terminology has risen with the revelations of how anxiety-inducing our relationships with our phones have become including data asphyxiation, information fatigue syndrome, and cognitive overload.

Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, once advised that every two days we produce the equivalent amount of data as we did from the dawn of civilisation to 2003. He said this back in 2010. Before Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and a whole host of other platforms had become the irrevocable data hunter-gatherer machines that they now are. Marketing has picked up on this. Data is big business and is regularly utilised by marketing teams to showcase how their product/brand/organisation is performing. Data is regularly gathered up and plated by these professionals. It’s all become a bit data for data’s sake. Although this article from The Guardian on how data is being used for social justice is pretty encouraging.

In our current society, quitting digital and social media altogether is clearly not the answer. After all, social media and our emails don’t ‘create’ the things that make us feel unhappy. They're just platforms. Our work emails aren’t going to stop because we’ve decided digital is no longer for us. It’s naive to think that going completely tech free will improve your life.

That little rectangle of ingenious technology was created to make your life better. So why are we seeing them as the enemy?

While taking a clean break for a short amount of time has many benefits, perhaps the answer here is more about how we build our own self-awareness and education of how we use digital spheres to add value to our lives, professional or otherwise.

I’m a big fan of a digital detox and have previously taken weeks and a month off from digital to help give me some clearer insights around my own addictions. After a recent month of travel, I decided it was time once more to invest some energy in exploring and developing my own awareness around my use of digital and social media, and how I can make it work for me.

Forming a battle plan

My MO this time around wasn’t to take a clean break altogether from all social media and digital as I have done before. Instead, I wanted to reassess how I use them and how I could make them better work for me, both professionally and personally. In a nutshell, here’s what I did:

A digital clean up

I’ve never been one for having a thousand and one apps on my mobile phone and never understood those who had four-five screens on their iPhone of random apps and never-used gizmos. Same with my Chromebook. But that doesn’t mean things hadn’t crept in. I decided to be a little ruthless and delete everything I didn’t need or hadn’t used in the last month, across all my digital spaces (work computer, laptop and mobile phones). I unsubscribed from all the email subscriptions that I no longer bothered to read, and had a good clean up of my mailboxes.

I then took this a step further.

I went through all of my followers, followed, friends and connections across all of my social media platforms. I cleaned up.

If there are individuals who I don’t especially want to have access to information about me I have no qualms in quietly removing them, or where necessary, blocking them. I get many a gasp or disapproval at this faux-pas of digital etiquette and I can honestly say I don’t care.

Psychologists have long prevailed that at any one time a single human being is only capable of nurturing 150 authentic, valuable connections. My social media is my social media. In a world of cognitive overload, I want the data presented to me on the platforms I engage with to be information I genuinely want access to. I want authentic connections, not meal updates from Stacey the temp receptionist I worked with for 2 weeks, 6 years ago.

Condensed social media

At the start of this new venture I asked myself the questions:

  • What is my social media for?

  • How does it add value?

  • How does it detract value?

I encourage you to do the same. What is your social media for? What does it mean to you? My Instagram gets many compliments for its aesthetics, but what - or more specifically who - was I doing it for? If the answer wasn’t ‘for me’ then a change was needed.

I use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter predominantly for professional connections, so I don’t actually need them outside of work hours, and I certainly don’t need the associated apps on my phone.

Instagram is a platform I’m still educating myself around and more work is needed, but having taken breaks from it previously, it felt easy and comfortable to do the same this time around. Which has reassured me that there’s been at least some personal growth in this area. One take-away from this month-long exploration is that I want to build better awareness around what I'm sharing. I want to ask myself the question - Does it need to be shared? It is one thing to be sharing a photo of that arty coffee, but when it comes to more personal life events and experiences, does it need to go on the platform? What validation am I seeking from this? Shouldn't the experience be savoured for those who matter most?

I love my Instagram as a little holiday photo album, so does it need to be more than that? I had a wonderful thing happen for me and my partner while I was taking this month off and felt compelled to post about it. Instead, I told myself to wait 24 hours. If I still wanted to share, then I would. If I decided I wanted to keep it private, I wouldn't.

I ended up keeping the thing private. And it feels so good.

Elevated awareness

I’ve previously sung the praises of the app ‘Moment’ and it really is the best application I’ve come across for building awareness around your mobile phone use, and an accomplice in driving down the addiction. I reinstated its role in my life and have had some immediate, wonderfully positive results (Less than 20 minutes on my phone at the weekend? Yes please!).

If you’re wanting to start exploring your own relationship with digital and your phone, an app like Moment is a great place to start. It will help you establish a starting point and guide you through how to get to a place that feels healthy for you.

Making friends with IA

That’s ‘intelligent assistant’ and we all have one. We carry them around with us all day, and most of the time, completely forget they are there. For many of you (more than 700 million active users worldwide), you’ll know your IA by the name Siri. Despite having been around for almost a decade, Siri has never really cut it as a tool for helping us lower our digital attachments. I think we're missing a trick here.

Many of us are still uncomfortable with the concept of IA in our homes and tech naysayers are seeing it as the end of times (we always were ones for drama when it comes to technological advancements). Perhaps we need to look at this another way.

I’ve been experimenting with Siri. Alongside using Moment as my accomplice, I’ve also enlisted Siri’s support. Nothing dramatic, just simple things like;


  • turn on ‘Do Not Disturb’

  • block out my calendar all day on Friday’

  • play my 2018 ‘Calm’ playlist

  • turn off email notifications/Put my phone on silent mode

You might read that and think ‘well, duh’ but I genuinely didn’t consider before now how I could use my phone to actively work with me to drive down digital attachments and distractions.

This is the reality we’re facing. We’re looking at all these devices designed to make our lives easier and we’re blaming them for how they ‘make’ us feel; anxious, stressed, sick.

Let’s not forget, your mobile phone is a completely benign tool. The only way it can make us feel anything is by how we use it.

You control your attachment to your devices and all things digital. Not vice versa.

Copyright © 2020 Elaine Mead | Coffee&Books

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