I've had a sneaking suspicion for awhile that my use of a few pieces of digital technology are drastically influencing and reducing my creative output and overall happiness. I haven't been happy with my writing consistency for awhile now and I figured my sometimes questionable tech habits probably had something to do with it. Like my own personal climate change, the conditions that underlie everything have been shifting in such a way that what is imperceptible on the hourly or daily level is actually quite obvious when looked at from a further remove.
I used to write a lot more. I used to feel better about how I use my time. There are obviously many potential confounding variables (no longer being a student, having a full-time job, other responsibilities that come with age, etc.) but there's enough circumstantial evidence that my use of optional technologies is playing a major role in these negative feelings.
I decided to follow Cal Newport’s advice from his recent book, Digital Minimalism, and give a digital detox a try. The idea is simple: For 30 days abstain from optional technology while exploring more analog, and fulfilling, ways to spend your time. At the end of the 30 days, make deliberate decisions about which technology to reintroduce to your life. Simple enough, eh?
I just finished Week 1 so I thought I could dive into specifically what I did and what I've learned so far.
The following are completely off-limits (in theory): Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, CNN.com, Apple News, solo video games, podcasts, audiobooks, Medium, RSS. I don’t use Facebook or Snapchat, but if I did they would be on this list, too.
The following had some strict “operating procedures” baked into their usage: email (not on phone), Slack (not on phone), text messages (batched), video games with friends only, YouTube (professional use only), T.V. (with Emily or Red Wings games only), LinkedIn (messaging only).
I was trying to be as complete as possible with everything I consider an optional technology even if there is a massive spread in how problematic the various tools are (Twitter and Reddit are massive time consumers whereas I actually spend very little time texting).
Some Early Observations
This whole experiment is less about the raw amount of time these activities take and more about the removal of “escape hatches” my brain can take when it's frustrated, bored, anxious, etc.
I see why you need to do this for 30 days. You will inevitably spring “leaks” in your detox and you'll have to get rid of those things, too. My interesting leaks have included, checking for messages/mentions on Twitter and LinkedIn (“At least I'm not looking at the timeline/feed, right?”), becoming an avid reader of The Athletic (I'm torn as to whether this is actually a breach or just reading a magazine), email and Slack a bit, and, hilariously, asking my HomePod to tell me the news. I'm sure I'll find even more absurd breaches in weeks two and three.
I'm interested to see what happens when this moves beyond the novelty stage and just starts to become more normal.
I haven't explored much in the way of analog leisure other than maybe cooking a bit more than I had been. I've mostly been using my freed up time to read and write. I'm okay with this. I don't think I want any new hobbies. I'd much rather focus on strengthening my anchor habits.
It’s not a “purity” thing. Don't give up because you've failed. Plug the leak and keep going.
It's working. I feel calmer. I'm spending more time doing more valuable things. I can feel the grip of needing to be in the know and connected all the time loosening. I don't think this is necessarily my new status quo, but the idea of going back to how I was has very little appeal right now.