Did you miss me?
Probably not, because all your social feeds are filled with the angriest, funniest, most urgent things on the planet, every second of every day. You can’t miss someone when you don’t notice the empty space.
So on my birthday, I decided (ahem, declared!) that I was quitting my bad digital habits for a month. I was just sick of using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest as distractions and YouTube as my nightly entertainment ritual. I found myself watching and consuming all this content compulsively, for hours every day, without even enjoying it.
I was a bit sick of myself.
So I decided: No Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Reddit, online shopping, Netflix – hell, not even LinkedIn – for a month. Unless I needed to log on for work (yeah, I work in social media, cue millennial irony) I’d avoid all social. I also wouldn’t watch anything on TV, except for the hour or so when my partner and I would watch an episode of something with dinner. (I didn’t want to lose all my favourite things and make my guy sad all at once, okay?)
I binged the second season of The Crown right before my detox officially started, which makes perfect sense. Because I wanted to stop doing stuff like that. So yeah, here’s what happened:
Digital Detox: Week 1
The first week was tough. I was bored, and staring into The Void™ instead of my Instagram Stories really weirded me out. I didn’t know what to do first thing in the morning instead of checking my phone. Just lie there, I guess? I felt a huge pull to cheat just a little, and check if anyone had said something sassy under my “I’m quitting social for a while” status updates. I did yoga (some, not a lot.) I compulsively read the most random things, like the Wikipedia page about bone marrow donation, and the hundreds of comments under a Thai curry recipe. I ordered Thai food. I ate dinner without watching anything on TV for the first time in, I don’t know… maybe ever? (Not counting power cuts and such.)
I got my hair done without letting Instagram know. I found myself doing small bits of work and admin in queues and such, purely from a lack of other things to do. Started to want to go out into the world more. On the weekend, my partner and I went to the zoo, and it was the best day I’ve had in ages, because it was, you know, a real-life experience. Noticed I actually got excited when my phone buzzed, because I deleted all my apps and didn’t get junk notifications anymore, and a buzz meant WhatsApp – somebody actually wants to talk to me! Reminded me of the early Mxit days. I had more conversations with people.
Digital Detox: Week 2
I definitely started working more, for the simplest reason: a lack of other options. I found myself doing a bit of work while waiting for my partner to shower, before we went out for dinner. I never would’ve done that in pre-detox days, I would’ve just sat grinding my teeth and staring at my phone, swiping until something interesting happened. Without fighting the temptations of shiny digital entertainment, working, and especially starting to work, didn’t require as much willpower.
We went out to the movies, and it felt like a special event. Focusing on the moment felt easier – I guess I was slowly getting out of the habit of checking all the things on my phone every ten minutes.
The muscles in my left hand started feeling weirdly achey, like I’d been exercising them – I’m a leftie – and I realised it was because I wasn’t tensing my left thumb over a screen for like, 14 hours a day. So that muscle actually started to relax.
Started to come out of the fog and enjoy this quieter, simpler life a bit more. Started to replace habits that made life a little easier, like instead of YouTube binges as a ‘reward’ after grocery shopping or errands, I’d make a cup of coffee and sit in the garden. (I hope that doesn’t sound too smug and mindful. Promise I pulled out a wedgie and swore at my cats in the garden.) This was around the time I started dreading the end of the detox, becoming completely connected again.
Digital Detox: Week 3
Suddenly realised I hadn’t even thought about the majority of the content creators I’d keep up with on YouTube and Instagram. Even the ones I would obsessively keep up with, instantly clicking on new videos – nope, didn’t give a flying fuck. In a flash, I saw that since the detox started, I hadn’t worried about buying new clothes, new makeup, new decor – hell, the only thing I was actually buying these past few weeks was food. Goes to show that your genuine passions come to the surface during these cleansing experiences.
Of course, I’d been reading more. I finished the Dark Tower series (which I’d been chewing on for a year and a half) and oh, it got me so excited about writing. Yup, more than just journaling, I actually started writing fiction again.
I solidified my new after-dinner routine. My old routine would start with navigating to YouTube or Netflix, and half-watching something while staring at my phone until I passed out on the couch at midnight. The new one’s a bit more cosy and senior citizen-ish (welp, I am 30 now.) We’d finish dinner, half-heartedly clear up, then I’d go straight upstairs to bed. Yup, in bed, around 8.30, with either a book, or the killer combination of an audiobook and my 200-page sudoku puzzle book. It sounds lame but it’s actually the best. Since it’s winter in Joburg, getting all cosy in bed is way better than trudging around our icy downstairs lounge. Oh, and I literally leveled-up my sudoku skills in these few weeks, something I would never have done with access to more passive forms of entertainment. I used to dabble in the medium-difficulty puzzles, now I’m flying through the ones marked “BEWARE! Very Challenging!” So yeah, I’m like 70% more attractive to sudoku enthusiasts now.
Digital Detox: Week 4
Still finding random ways to fill my brain with useless facts. Read a few Wikipedia pages of old Hollywood actresses (Tallulah Bankhead was wild, y’all) and also made my way through the 2011 archives of a fairly mediocre American candy review blog.
I was expecting to do more yoga, writing, painting, and generally being more smug and mindful, but it became clear that those things are separate habits I have to cultivate. Just having the time to meditate doesn’t instantly transform you into a minimalist goddess. Though I did sort out my wardrobe, bake gluten-free vegan bread, and get my inbox to zero. Huh.
I also kept a note with all the tweet-able thoughts I had during the month. I got around 20 of them, including the notes “Do you think that omelettes are like the singularity for eggs?” and “Google News has decided to add ‘butter’ to my interests. Now I get a little Butter card updating me on all the latest Butter news. Bf suspects it’s a move from Big Butter (Big Butter = also my rap name.)” How did the internet even survive without that quality content?
On Being Done
So now I’ve successfully completed my digital detox, what’s next? I’m not sure. I certainly missed keeping up with people, and seeing what my friends share with the world. But I also loved having a simpler life. Today I logged back on and trudged through dozens of junk notifications (Facebook had 86 for me), saw wave after wave of updates, and watched an influencer talk about her new goldfish for twenty minutes (not a euphemism – pet youtubers are a real thing). None of it made me happy – in fact, a lot of what I saw straight up stressed me out.
I probably have another 1k+ word blog post in me about my what-now feelings, so let me know if you’d like to see that. For now, I’m just glad I gave myself a little time and space. I’m breathing easier now.