I remember as a child I could spend hours, even days, playing with my toys and creating adventures outside. I spent a lot of time with cousins and friends putting together Lego cities, race car tracks and doing all the normal stuff kids of my generation would do. I look back on long afternoons dreaming up new games and ways to entertain myself, often with the simplest of tools. In hindsight, it was pretty perfect; I had not a care in the world, aside from rustling together of change to go to the dairy and get some lollies.
What happened to those days? What changed along the way? Well, firstly I grew up, and now, like many, I find myself addicted to various devices and the many applications they contain. I religiously end my days in bed watching Netflix while compulsively browsing multiple social media platforms to catch up on the day’s happenings. I’m not looking at the news – I’m looking through the window into the lives of my friends and family. Sometimes, I’m even looking into the lives of people whom I hardly know, but seem to have connected with somewhere along the way. I voraciously consume and digest overwhelming amounts of content served up to me across Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat, so much so that I often feel I’m on the brink of overload. This ritual of pulling out my phone and swiping through newsfeeds is not only reserved for night time, but it also continues throughout the day and is often a source of unnecessary distraction. It’s a motivation killer and a hindrance to living in the moment – something I am putting much effort into learning to do.
It’s ironic that as I write this, I am suddenly aware of the tools I have to get away from this digital un-reality. I have a great business to run, a blog to manage, a gym membership, friends and loved ones to see (in real life). I have worked hard and have the whole world available to me, with everything it has to offer, yet I spend much of it staring at a screen. At times, I still come home, sit down and get lost in the never-ending social highlight reel. As the TV plays in the background, I am totally oblivious to what’s going on around me, and more often than not, if I look around I will suddenly realise I’m not alone in this game of disconnect from the present.
Am I really experiencing life? Is putting a phone between myself and the world causing me never to truly see and feel? By continuing this cycle of sharing and filtering my life am I looking at myself through a window, along with my social media followers, rather than actually experiencing it? These are questions I now find myself asking.
I would like to be clear about a few things. I adore technology, I always have. I have built a great career which relies on technology, the internet and yes, social media platforms. I spend the better part of my day at my workstation surrounded by screens and devices. I am at home there, it brings me wealth and allows me to indulge in my creative passions. Technology and social media keep me connected to everyone, including my clients and business associates. Without it, things would be a lot different and, I’d dare to say, a lot harder. I’m appreciative of these digital resources for connecting me with so many people professionally and personally, without them these people would have remained strangers. There is certainly a time and a place for social media. Now, I just question whether it needs to be such an intrusive and sizable aspect of my life.
Here in lies a challenge, to myself, for myself. I will quit all forms of social media for one week. My business will survive, and I believe my personal life will flourish. Goodbye Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Snapchat. Hello, freedom and the chance to reconnect with myself and my life. Who knows, maybe this experiment will last longer than one week…
Keep reading as I document this Digital Detox of sorts:
Sunday – Day One
I am already cheating a bit here, calling this day one. I have spent most of the day glued to my phone, sifting endless content, mostly on Instagram. It’s wet out, I have no work to do, so I indulge myself and feast on image after image, insight after insight. An hour has gone by, and I haven’t moved. This is a great start… not. It’s time to commit to this; it’s time to unplug.
Now, the apps are gone, I am logged out of everything on my computers, it’s quiet, and I’m bored. I regret this already…
Monday – Day Two
I woke up this morning and, as always, reached for my phone to check the time. Immediately after seeing I could afford another 10 minutes in bed, I instinctively swiped my thumb to my Facebook app for my morning dose of content – but today was different. It wasn’t there. The whole row of my social apps on my home screen was now an empty void which represented the four avenues into my social circles.
Feeling a little anxious and lost, I take a peek at my emails and start filtering out my to-do list for when I get to the office. Throughout the day I catch myself a number of times unlocking my phone ready to receive some notifications, Snapchats and messenger conversations, but there’s nothing – no beeps or buzzes or awaiting graphics which, at times, fill me with such joy.
I fight off some surprisingly powerful urges to log in to at least one of my apps in a web browser, just for a minute, to see what I’m missing. I don’t, and it feels great! The day passes and, as I take stock, I realise how much work I got done today: far more than usual with far more concentration and commitment. While I’m still pondering what I may be missing out on, I end the day by writing this entry. My phone is nowhere in sight, and I feel happy with my strong start to this experiment of sorts.
Tuesday – Day Three
This was the day I became brutally aware of my addiction to social media. Like yesterday, I woke up and found myself grasping at a very blank phone. I resorted to staring at my Google Analytics for this blog for almost 20 minutes. As visitors from around the world viewed my site, I felt a digital connection which gave me some peace. How F#*Ked is that?!
I got up, completed my morning routine, and headed to the office. I felt uneasy, anxious, and on edge. I was convinced I HAD to check my social channels. The urge was overwhelming, more so than when I quit smoking. I got through the day by keeping busy, I refrained from cheating on my experiment and went out for a nice dinner.
It was only after dinner I realised I hadn’t checked my phone once and I hadn’t photographed my food in an effort to show my followers what I was up to, or impress friends with my evening activities… Instead, I had great conversation, I engaged fully, and ended the day reading a new book. I had completed an evening more mindfully and present than ever before. While the day started with much anxiety, it has ended with some very encouraging realisations.
Wednesday & Thursday – Day Four & Five
I can confidently say that these two days were the hardest. I found myself with a little more free time waiting on clients and the urge to re-connect to my social world was stronger than ever. I doubted whether this was even a good idea. I felt flat and out of the loop. The overriding emotion was one of anxiety (of course), perhaps formed by moments of boredom and the absence of something familiar on my screen. I feared I’m missing out on something important.
In reality, if I were, my phone would ring, but that is my rationale for entering my details and logging into Facebook (which I didn’t). Today, I received a digest email from Instagram with all the happenings over the past few days. I spotted a familiar face had followed my TWIMC page, I smiled; without thinking I clicked on it and it loaded, sh#t! I found myself amidst my first slip-up of this experiment, staring directly at this person’s profile. After taking a second to realise what I’d done, I closed the window, but the urge to just throw in the towel was completely overwhelming. Perhaps it’s my anxious nature? I’d be interested to know if someone without these tendencies would struggle in a similar manner. Either way, my eyes were opening to the fact that we (I would say I, but I believe I’m not alone) have a real and passionately unhealthy addiction to these social media platforms.
I am still confident this time away will be of huge benefit to my future habits online and overall happiness in life, in fact, I am already planning how very differently I will use social media upon my return. One strikingly positive change I have noticed this week is my quality of sleep – it has been amazing. Deep, full, unbroken 8-hour sleeps have, for most of my life, been somewhat elusive. Perhaps it’s related, perhaps it’s not. I’m putting it down to little to no screen time in bed… I’ll take it either way and hope it continues.
Friday – Day Six
Fridays for me have always included a little more social communication than usual. Planning the weekend, planning my business posts for the following week, seeing how friends are, and checking to see what events are on over the next few days. Today included none of that. Instead, I’m sitting in my office working on a new website build. I have phoned two friends and actually discussed the weekend’s happenings – very unusual – but somewhat more productive than endless digital messages. In all honesty, I’m completely over this disconnect from the digital world. In reality, it’s only been a few days, but I realise two things: one, there is most definitely an unhealthy connection to it, and two, I need and want it in my life. Simple. But the way in which I use it has to change.
Saturday – Day Seven
And so, it ends. Today was spent training at the gun range, which luckily is completely out of digital reach. My phone stayed in the car, and I enjoyed six hours of focusing solely on something I love. It was great.
Later in the evening and I actually wrote the following closing comments before I fired up my social channels once again. I can’t even really call what I’ve done a ‘week off’, but it has opened my eyes to how social media really impacts my life, my happiness and my self-image. Upon logging back into Facebook and Instagram, I am immediately presented with a large number of unread messages, countless notifications and an aggressive stream of content filling up my newsfeeds. Where to start? Who to reply to first? Which posts need my attention? It’s overwhelming, and the old joy of feeling connected is now absent. Something has changed.
It’s clear to me now that I have some pretty unhealthy habits when it comes to the use of social media. I use it as a constant time waster, a way to feel connected (without any real connection) and I often compare my life to other people’s highlight reels. However, I am not going to quit social media completely. Instead, now I am going to use it more productively. I feel a sense of calm and freedom, which for me is the biggest takeaway.
I now realise that, as humans, we naturally want to be liked, we want to feel accepted and present our best selves to the world. Social media amplifies these needs tenfold. It’s not healthy and in this constant digital world, taking a break is so very necessary, whether we realise it or not. I will most definitely be taking more of these weeks away. In fact, I have a newfound interest in creating an event such as Dry July, for a month-long break from social media, to support the mental health sector in New Zealand (stay tuned).
My productivity and passion for the REAL things and people in my life have increased dramatically in the past week. I have broken some bad habits in a very short period, namely, the constant checking of notifications, refreshing newsfeeds, starting conversations with no real direction and relying on these platforms to make me feel whole. I no longer do any of this, I don’t even have the impulse to do so.
I believe everyone would benefit from trying this and I urge you to do it. It wasn’t easy for me, but now, as I close this article, it’s been a week since reconnecting, and I still feel the peace and quiet. I no longer jump for my phone with every beep, I no longer have it glued to my hand. I am more present, I work harder, and I feel a calmness which doesn’t come to me easily.
I challenge you to give it a try, and please send me your thoughts afterwards. I know in one way or another we all have an unwanted habit or two to break free from. Grab a friend, get outside and leave that phone behind.
Good luck to you in this challenge, should you choose to accept it!
Tim is the Founder and Creative Director at Fuel Media Limited, and the passionate lifestyle writer here at To Whom It May Concern. He resides on the beautiful North Shore in Auckland, New Zealand.