Be honest. How much time do you spend mindlessly scrolling? Zoning out watching Youtube? Lurking social media? We all know by now that none of this is good for mental health. Studies on smartphone addiction have shown that increased time on social media can lead to envy and FOMO. Not to mention the fact that you could be doing so much with the time you’re spending mindlessly surfing!
“But…coronavirus! We’re social distancing! If I can’t use technology during the quarantine I’m going to be sad and bored.” Actually, you’re right. We need to be using our devices to connect with others and for many of us, go to work or school. I’m not asking you to become a luddite, because that would be social and career suicide.
This article will not teach you how to do a digital detox, because they’re not effective. What is effective is digital decluttering- changing your tech habits so they align with your values. In a detox, you avoid technology completely for something like 48 hours. When you return, nothing has changed. You resume your old habits, even more vigorously now that you’ve been away and missed a lot. There is merit in taking time away from technology, as it can help you feel better in the short term But if you want long lasting habit change, digital decluttering is the way to go.
Before I began my quest to improve my relationship with technology, I was spending around 10 hours a day on my smartphone. Getting that time back has been life changing. I read more, write more, and I do yoga. I feel motivated and optimistic for the first time in years.
“Much like decluttering your house,” Cal Newport describes in his book Digital Minimalism, “this lifestyle experiment provides a reset for your digital life by clearing away distracting tools and compulsive habits that may have accumulated haphazardly over time and replacing them with a much more intentional set of behaviors, optimized, in proper minimalist fashion, to support your values instead of subverting them.”
How Did We Get Here?
Most applications nowadays are designed to exploit human vulnerabilities. With constant notifications and glowing red dots, we get pulled in. Instagram has even been known to send you more alerts when it detects you’re getting bored and are about to close the app. The content is designed with human vulnerabilities in mind too. Political tweets that contain moral or emotional language are more likely to go viral. Fear gets clicks.
Our fear keeps us scrolling. Be it fear of missing out, fear of being alone, or fear of being unliked, we spend hours glued to our screens. We snub conversations with irl friends to attend to notifications. We watch Youtube on autoplay when we really have better things to do. But what if there was a better alternative?
Enter digital minimalism.
How to Digital Declutter
1.Figure out what tech is necessary for your existence
If you’re working online- continue. Keep the Zoom or Hangout apps on your phone for socializing. Keep email if you need it for work. I don’t feel I spend too much time texting so I kept my messages app.
2.Plan New Activities
If you’re used to spending your evenings binge watching Netflix, plan on doing something to fill that void. Dig out your art supplies, find a book to read, anything you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the time before now.
3.Block Everything You Don’t Need
For a computer, download the software Cold Turkey Blocker and block all time consuming sites. For phones, download the app Digital Detox and only whitelist the apps you need.
4.Spend 30 days in this strange new place called real life.
Checking Instagram and zoning out on Youtube is a huge comfort thing for me. Being without that was anxiety provoking. I felt bored for the first time in years! Embrace the discomfort. This is an adjustment period.
5. Figure out your values
Once you’ve lived largely without the internet and apps, you can add back in the ones that align with your values. If you value staying in touch with family, it may make sense for you to keep facebook. However, look out for other ways to obtain that value that might work better. Keeping in touch is a good reason to keep Facebook sure, but monthly calls with family members might be a better way of keeping up.
Starting this process now might come with additional challenges. Make sure you still have ample opportunities to chat with friends and make that essential. When you set up your blocks, make sure they’re not always on so you can tweak things if needed. Also, be gentle with yourself! You may slip up a few times and that’s okay.
Since completing my digital declutter, I can finally focus. I used to not be able to concentrate enough to read a book and now I read a few every month. I also have more time for hobbies in general. I am a well rounded person now. As someone who used to spend 75% of their waking time on the internet, I really didn’t think I could change. But I did, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.