I have always said that I would never do a digital detox.
For years, most of them spent with my iPhone glued to my hand, I have been against the very concept of a digital detox. I could not see the point – my usual reaction to anyone who claimed to have been reborn by waving goodbye to social media was a loud and somewhat patronising sneer. So how did I get converted, and convinced to hit “log out”?
Ever since the concept of “digital detox” got coined by someone who was apparently fed up with our collective smartphone obsession, I have been voicing my opposition vocally on every social medium (duh) that I could find: “It’s not social media’s fault that you neglect your relationship, get distracted at work and don’t care about your kids! It’s YOUR fault!” And I still largely think so: people tend to avoid taking personal responsibility for whatever is wrong with their lives – that’s just how most of us are wired. But it was something entirely different that caused me to switch off.
One day, in one of my endless scrolling sessions (more on those later), I flicked through the list of people I follow on Instagram. I saw a friend whose photos I hadn’t seen in ages, and thought, wow, she never updates anymore. So I clicked on to her profile…and her latest update was 22 hours ago. I was just not seeing it because the new Instagram algorithm keeps you from seeing your friends’ posts in a chronological timeline, instead pushing accounts that Instagram thinks you will like, “based on things you have liked before”. This is a mechanism suited to work for advertisers, and the data of what we like and follow is an active tool that the network uses to constantly push us sponsored stuff.
I scrolled more deeply into my feed, surprised to spot people and profiles that I wasn’t even following. Sponsored, “suggested for you”…what I had actively chosen to follow was the last thing that appeared to matter. And most of the accounts suggested for me were mainstream fashion accounts, laden with leather and fur. Mark Z, you don’t know me at all!
Then I clicked onto Facebook. The sidebar was full of ads for guitar pedals, since my husband has browsed some of those a few minutes before. The posts on my timeline were littered with “sign up NOW!” invites and videos of tanned, blonde ladies telling me I was just one click away from “leaving the grind and living your dream life!”…if I only handed over £398 for their amazing once-in-a-lifetime-offer of I am not sure what, exactly.
It hit me: I don’t want to be constantly advertised to.
I could simply no longer put up with constant encouragement to buy stuff – from advertisers, from social media, from influencers, from writers I followed. It hurt my soul to know that pretty much everyone I shared the digital space with was out to sell something to someone. Most musicians I follow keep banging on about buying their albums, all the Facebook groups for writers are full of promotion for the members’ self-published work, everyone and their grandma is crowdfunding for something, and I can’t pick up my phone without an avalanche of DMs asking me to join Instagram groups “to help each other grow” by liking and commenting on each other’s posts. What happened to liking something because you…like it? I felt like if I heard the words “growth”, “reach”, or “engagement” one more time, I was going to throw my charger into the sea (well, not really, that wouldn’t be very eco-friendly of me). I had reached a point where I was seriously considering making my own clothes and makeup in order to never buy anything ever again. Just to spite this dynamic.
Instead, I took a deep breath.
And I logged out. For five whole days.
No social media. AT ALL.
WhatsApp does not count as social media – the point of this was not to isolate myself from the world, but to take a break from the constant influx of consumerism, which my friends and family are not part of.
No emails of any kind.
No work (gulp). This was my first break from Vilda in 4.5 years!
This was the day that my husband and I were flying to Milan for five days (full disclosure: I would never attempt a digital detox while at home and working). I only used my phone to listen to music, check my bank account and chat with friends and family. The day ended on a 49% full battery – absolutely unheard of in my world.
I felt lighter, calmer and didn’t feel the need to log in at all. But, I told myself, maybe a few days of this will have me feeling differently.
A gloriously sunny day in gorgeous Milan – lots of photos were taken, but not posted anywhere. A strange, yet liberating feeling.
In the evening, over dinner, a friend made a comment: “It’s so strange to see you eat without taking a photo of your food, Sascha!” she exclaimed as I tucked into my pizza. I froze a bit – she was right. I had become the one among my friends who was known for always taking pictures of their food before eating. Did I want to be that person? Other occasions when I had imposed photo-taking on my friends popped up into my mind, like that time I tried to get a group of friends to pose for an Instagram shot at a café, despite them all making it clear that they didn’t want to, or the time I insisted on taking a photo of my friend with her dog even after she expressly said, “I hate taking my picture”. The evening of day two, I had a Marinara with a side of reassessing my habits.
I woke up to 27 Facebook notifications and not even the slightest interest in checking them. This day, I hung out with one of my best friends, who’s one of the most social media-averse people I know. He barely knows what “to tweet” means. While we’re having lunch, he talked about his lack of understanding of the concept of “telling people where you are all the time. It would be like me going outside now and yelling, “here I am! In Milan!” People don’t care, and why should they?”. I told him about yesterday’s pizza incident. “That’s different,” he countered, “You tell people about vegan lifestyle. You inform people. It’s not like Jack telling his friend Joe that he had a burger for lunch today. Nobody cares about what you ate today!”.
I thought about this need to broadcast everything we do – and how quickly and willingly I’ve let myself be sucked in. I often feel regret at leaving a cute café or a nice viewpoint if I didn’t take a picture of it that turned out good enough to be shared. I have always thought that my motivation for it was to have a gallery of experiences to look back at. But does that cappuccino, artfully arranged next to my sunglasses on a coffeehouse table, count as having an experience? Or am I just trying to convey a certain sense of my life?
As rainy clouds descended over Milan, I enjoyed a lazy and relaxed Sunday, barely even touching my phone and sometimes forgetting where it is. I start the day on 100% battery and end with 70%! Truly legendary.
My thoughts drifted back to day one of the detox – I still didn’t miss social media at all. If anything, I was dreading going back on it. My approach to social media had changed over the past few days, and my future personal use of it would definitely not be the same once I logged back in. Prior to the detox, I often found myself scrambling to find a decent photo to post on Instagram – it had literally never occurred to me that I could simply not post anything on those days. It made me remember days when I had a diary back in middle school. I recalled wanting to write in it only when something of note had happened – not every day. I’m thinking that might be the approach to take when it comes to Instagram, too. Select the things you want to remember. The experiences of note, not the random shoes and coffees.
Also, I decided to use my social media more for activism than anything else. The beauty of social media is that it gives everyone a voice – we should use it in a way that helps the world, rather than pushes for consumption.
Last day of the detox and we were heading back home.
I caught myself reflecting on all the mindless scrolling I used to do, and how much of my time would be eaten up by that. How much more present in myself and my life I felt during the detox. The thought of diving back in the following day was enough to cause slight, but ever-present discomfort: will I get hooked again?
Three weeks later:
I am using social media much more mindfully. I never go on Instagram first thing in the morning or last thing at night anymore, and never log in to any social network unless I intend to post something. And speaking of posting – I have stopped posting for the sake of it. I wait until I have something meaningful to say or show. I won’t say that I’m completely free from the stress of being advertised to – I still hate that – but I can distance myself more from it now. My life hasn’t changed with my digital detox, but my approach to social media has.
Seven things I learned from my digital detox:
- You will not lose followers. I had the exact same follower count when I logged back in after my detox.
- You can start your day with a 100% battery and end it with a 70% battery!
- You won’t suddenly “smell the flowers” or “see the blue of the sky”, like some digital detoxers are quick to proclaim. Your life will not change. Social media is STILL not the root of your problems #sorry
- There is no greater feeling of freedom than clicking on “disable notifications”. Notifications are the work of the devil. I still haven’t re-enabled them.
- You will cherish the memory of a night out even if it’s not all over your Instastories.
- You will have craploads of notifications and not care one tiny bit about any of them. Really, you can live without knowing that some girl you went to school with years ago has a new profile photo.
- We all know the hallmark of addiction is withdrawal – but you will not miss social media one bit. So…is our addiction all in our heads? Do we choose to be addicted?
If only it were that simple. Internet addiction is real – and it can even lead to structural and functional brain abnormalities. Social media has quickly become an integral part of our society, so much that I struggle to remember daily life and work when it wasn’t around. But as we all get more and more addicted, all of us – the social media industry included – seem to have lost grasp of what it was created for. Throughout my digital detox, I never stopped interacting with friends and family, which is why I have a phone int the first place – and that is the bit that’s crucial to my phone and internet use. Maybe in order to connect, what we all need to do is…disconnect.
This month I am reading…The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carole J Adams. Can’t believe I haven’t read it before!
This month I am watching….Breaking Bad. Yes, I know, you’re no longer even hungover from the party that I am so late to.
This month I am listening to…Spotify’s Best of John Lennon playlist. Power to the People is the perfect Fashion Revolution soundtrack.
This month I am planning…a trip to Sweden to do some work and hang out with my family.
Header photo by Igor Miske via Unsplash. Second photo by David Camilli