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Do you need a digital detox?

by Leo Wiles
03 August 2018

Yesterday, I saw an ad on Facebook with an image of a remote log cabin. It posed the question: Could you stay there for a month, all food, drink and necessities provided, but without internet of any kind? If you managed it, you’d get $100,000 at the end. Obviously, the idea would appeal hugely to anyone who spends most of their life online and has fleeting thoughts that they need a digital detox… or something… before they’re distracted by yet another funny cat video or the need to post a birthday message on the wall of a far-flung friend.

And while this is a problem for most people (research shows we spend around 5 hours and 34 minutes on the internet daily, with about 30 percent of that time devoted to social media), journalists and creative people who have to be on there for work have it tougher than most. The key is figuring out if your habits just aren’t healthy.

Recently, I realised I needed time away from social after catching myself spending [coughs] … okay, losing, a considerable amount of time pinning. And if that wasn’t enough I found myself bookending my day with my smartphone, and finding it harder to meet deadlines, while also wondering why I suddenly had so little time to get stuff done. 

I finally woke up to the fact that something needed to change when I posted a new album of my  kids’ weekend sports teams. For hours after, I was glued unblinking to the screen in some narcissistic pool of desire to be recognised for my labours.

Suddenly, I realised if I wanted more time, I needed to get offline. 

What’s your virtual weight index?

In his book The Digital Diet, Daniel Sieberg talks about it in terms of measuring your Virtual Weight Index. “This is loosely based on the Body Mass Index. It’s about examining the weight you can’t see – whether it’s lugging around too many devices or having too many services or just becoming lost in the wires. I encourage people to try it and gauge whether they feel there may be a problem,” he says.

The good news is, unlike the body mass index, it’s easy to whittle away at your Virtual Weight Index. While it’s only been a few days, I’ve already stopped automatically reaching for my phone or retreating into the virtual world constantly in the way I did before. Here’s how I did it.

I set boundaries

Some experts might advocate switching off completely, but like any good addict, I couldn’t just go cold turkey. YouTube is just way too useful to understand neurophysiology and I admit that I have a massive nerd Crash Course crush on Hank Green.  In this day and age, social media seems to be the preferred mode of communication for most people. So life without a once-daily check in isn’t really possible without deleting your accounts and apps.

I quit the notifications

You know those bajillion alerts that come up on your screen, distracting you when you’re at coffee with a friend or trying to file copy by 3pm? Turn them off. Just go into your device and cancel notifications for the apps that alert you over and over. Do you really need to know that your friend from France has just liked your Instagram post? Trust me, the relief is immense and you immediately have a lot more time and focus.

I try to have one social free day per week

I think this is doable for most of us, unless you’re a social media manager or following a hot investigation lead. Saturdays are a good day to set aside as a social media free zone (for me anyway). After all, what’s the worst thing that could happen?  People actually call or drop by to see if you’re still living? 

The results

Although it’s only been a few days, I find myself less anxiously awaiting a reply or comment than before and have made more calls rather than text through Messenger. This is saving time, as it means I’m receiving immediate feedback. 

On average, I think the small changes I’ve made have helped me claw back as much as 40 minutes a day (a whopping 1 hour less than the average person spends on social media per day, but it’s something). More importantly, I’m also more chilled out and less tied to my phone – and that’s priceless.

Do you need a digital detox? What are your strategies for staying off social media?

Leo Wiles

Leo Wiles has worked as an editor, journalist and PR for over 20 years before recently retraining as a photographer. These days, she spends her time behind a lens, juggling her own clients with her work at Rachel's List, and her three gorgeous but lively kids.

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