After the umpteenth time of mindlessly tapping into Instagram and resuming the routine scroll, I felt really fed up with myself. I had never contemplated the idea that I was addicted to digital media, but the unsettling feeling that occurred after every social media binge pointed to an unhealthy and unchecked habit.
But it wasn't just social media. It was the 15+ podcasts I subscribe too, the countless newsletters that arrive in my inbox, the marketing blogs I read, and the breaking news notifications on my phone. Without me physically removing myself from technology or setting boundaries, there was always something to have my eyes on or my ears open too.
The signs were so clear. I was too plugged in, distracted, and overstimulated. Sound familiar?
On the one hand, I can't deny the benefits and advantages of digital media. I can thank the internet for several friendships, work opportunities, the ability to keep in touch with family, and the option to work remotely. On the other hand, I also can't deny that I waste a lot of time on it, and it often leads to feeling of comparison and inadequacy. In an effort to understand the way digital media is changing our lifestyle and to discern my own behavior with it, I started looking into research.
Not surprisingly, I found arguments for and against the use of digital media, in addition to positive and negative effects it has on our relationships, careers, children and society.
The pros of digital media - the ability to connect with people all over the world (and quickly), real time news and information discovery, social learning and knowledge sharing, a sense of belonging and the ability to meet new people/reconnect with old friends.
The cons of digital media - privacy issues, harassment and cyber-bullying, information overwhelm (aka too much noise), distractions and procrastination, sleep disruption and a decline in face-to-face interaction.
This is a shallow sweep of some increasingly serious issues. According to BBC, "Early studies suggest that, as well as making us more connected than ever before and giving us exhilarating hits of dopamine, social media usage is associated with symptoms of depression, anxiety and loneliness in some people." Even Facebook executives admitted that the platform may pose a risk to users’ emotional well-being.
*The research done so far isn't conclusive and rely heavily on self-reporting which can often be flawed. But the mental health community has become progressively concerned about the ramifications of digital technology on our lives.
My Digital Detox Experience
At the end of the day, I think it's our responsibility to be cognizant in how we use, and how often we're connected to digital media. I've taken a few days away from the screen this year, the best being a 3-day unplugged retreat called Lodged Out, and more recently a 3-day backpacking trip last month.
The backpacking trip truly came at the perfect time. Nature forced me off the internet and I felt no desire to check in or share anything via social media while I was on the trail. What I did feel was present and relieved. Relieved not to be "on", relieved to not feel the impulse to be on technology, and relieved to focus on one thing, and one thing only.
As we drove back into the city, I switched my phone on and heard the familiar ding of messages and vibrations noting new e-mails and texts. I quickly spiraled down the list of apps....
and I began to feel restless. The feelings of FOMO returned.
That night I decided I should continue with the digital detox for my own sanity and spiritual health. I couldn't go completely rouge (and I never will be able to unless I change professions), but I could stay off social for a few days. And it was easier than I thought. The time away gave me space to examine my relationship with it, and how and why I use it.
With it, and when used with intention, I'm so grateful for the benefits it offers. And without it, or used with purpose, I find I feel more creative, more productive, and more in tune my feelings. It was also kind of amazing to see how I used my time when I restricted my digital media use! Here's what I did instead....
- My Damn Work: I got through double the work in half the time because I was in the flow and without the distraction of social media. Time opened up in front of me as I focused on one task at a time and moved through my to-do list without disturbance. This point alone is motivation to get my phone on airplane mode fora majority of the day!
- I Devoured Print: It's no secret I'm a book nerd, but instead of pinning food recipes or watching uh-mazing dance choreography videos on youtube (so guilty), I went to the library and checked out more books. Here are a few titles I've gone through in the last month.
3. I Took More Walks: Do you know what Beethoven, Dickens, Darwin and Steve Jobs have in common? They all had a daily ritual of getting outside for a long walk. This time away from their work allowed ideas to percolate in a relaxed and organic way. I'm also a fan of walks, but would usually take my phone with me and listen to a podcast or call someone. I was proud to be multi-tasking but have realized that a walk sans technology gives my ideas energy to grow and gives me time to check in with myself.
4. I Found a Passion Project: While flipping through The New Bohemians book by Justina Blakeley, I read about collecting herbs and making smudge sticks. Less than an hour later I was searching for lavender plants and cutting rosemary from our garden. I've turned a corner of our basement into a home for my herbs and love to lose track of time working with shrubs and flowers.
5. I Organized & Simplified: One morning I got the urge to go through my s$1T and really clean house. And I mean throughly clean like take things out of the freezer and organize cupboards and scrub the toilet type clean. I went through my closets and parted with items I no longer used or needed. I packed up 8+ bags for donation and finished feeling light and accomplished. I'm far from being the minimalist I would like to be, but it's definitely a start. Plus, the less time I spend on social media, the less I find myself wanting new things.
At the end of the day, one of my main takeaways was this - my relationship with digital media can be as healthy or as unhealthy as I make it. The world continues to turn without me (or anyone) posting comments or snapshots or liking photos or retweeting 25 things a day. Mind-blowing I know.
Recognizing this re-energized my "why," my motivation to share content that's relevant, useful, positive and light-hearted.
What about you? What's your relationship to digital and social media? Share how it's helped you or challenged you in the comments below.