The first week of a digital detox can be a lot of fun. I think it’s mostly a matter of novelty and the stark difference between your new reality and business-as-usual. For that reason, I kind of feel like a digital detox doesn’t really start until week two, at the earliest. That’s when it stops being all fun-and-games and your brain starts getting really good at giving you reasons to go back to the way things were. I’m very much in that headspace right now as I’ve just wrapped up my third week of my digital detox so I wanted to share some of the insights I’ve found interesting so far.
It’s surprising how little I miss podcasts right now.
If you asked me to predict which part of the digital detox was going to be the hardest I would have said not listening to podcasts. I’ve been listening to roughly the same slate of podcasts for years. In some ways the hosts feel like my friends. On the other hand, I’m fully aware of how easy it is for me to trick myself into thinking I’m being productive when I’m listening to something vaguely intellectual. Podcasts were the primary reason I had almost no silence in my life: Walking to work, walking home from work, driving around, cleaning the apartment, taking a shower... podcasts were always there. I never had space to think my own thoughts because I was always piping somebody else’s into my head.
Now, three weeks into this detox, I haven’t spent much time thinking about podcasts at all. I’m a little conflicted about how or if I’m going to reintroduce podcasts into my daily routine at the end of the detox. I assumed I would but now I’m questioning that assumption.
Social media’s hook into me is validation, not consumption
I used to spend a lot of time scrolling through Twitter but I’ve learned that social media is much more about validation for me. I use Twitter and LinkedIn to share when I’ve published a new article and the urge to check these services after having announced a new publication is intense. I really want to get to a place where I can publish something and not spend the next three hours wondering if anyone has responded to it. I noticed a similar feeling with Slack and email, too. I have the urge to check these things so much because I want someone to have responded positively to something I (or The Ready) have done. Give me pats on the head for the smart thing I shared in Slack! Tell me I did a good job! Maybe someone wants to hire us!
Can I get to a place where I can publish something or do something in public and not be consumed by a need for positive validation from strangers? God, I hope so, because that sounds pathetic when I see it in writing.
Turns out I don’t really have many analog hobbies
A key concept of the digital detox is to not just abstain from optional technologies, but to fill your newly available time with wholesome, ideally analog, activities. That has been tough. Almost everything I like to do requires the use of technology. I’ve done a bit more writing by hand than usual... but actually that has been with an Apple Pencil on my iPad in GoodNotes. I’ve done a lot of reading... almost entirely on a Kindle or iPad. I’d like to get into gardening, but I live in an apartment and Emily might kill me if I buy any more houseplants. I play hockey, but that’s one evening per week. I run, but not very far or very long.
I remembered that I used to take guitar lessons for a few months in high school — maybe I should do that again?
I need to be careful about replacing optional technologies with more work
Kind of tied to my previous point about not having many analog hobbies, I’ve realized that a lot of what I’ve been doing in my free time could be construed as just another flavor of work. I’ve been spending a lot of my time reading books (often related to what I do for a living), writing articles (like this one), and re-building my personal website. None of these things are really “leisure.” It has felt good to re-establish a writing routine and to work on my personal website, both things I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but I should probably be a little bit skeptical of whether I’m actually giving myself enough true leisure time nowadays.
Distractions always have a second level
I’m getting much better at asking myself, “What’s actually going on here?” when I’m feeling drawn to a distraction. There’s always something deeper going on than just, “Looking at Twitter would be nice right now.” One of the most common things going on is that I’m simply not admitting to myself I’m tired and need a break. Instead of just standing up, walking away from the computer, and doing something to rejuvenate myself, I’ll find myself getting drawn into a distraction loop. Somehow my fatigue-addled mind thinks flipping between Slack, email, and Twitter is work and that I’m being productive by doing that.
Another second level cause for seeking out distractions is not knowing what I need to do next and instead looking for some kind of stimulus to tell me what to do. This results from not taking the time and energy to actually figure out how to best use my time and vaguely hoping that I’ll stumble across something in my mindless internet wandering that will tell me what I should do. Maybe I’ll get a Slack message from a colleague asking me to do something? Or maybe an email will come in that needs responding to? Both of these things seem easier than actually pausing for a moment, taking stock of my situation (what’s on my to-do list, how much time is left in the day, how much energy I have left, etc.) and making a deliberate choice about what to do next.