How to Begin a Digital Detox

I was on vacation and in wifi withdrawal...and, boy, was it bad.

Cranky, whiny and focused, I spent 45 minutes searching for the Starbucks in Nassau, in the Bahamas.  With a sigh of relief, my husband pointed out the familiar green mermaid sign a block away. Our footsteps quickened, and we cleared the distance in record time, bobbing and weaving amongst the tourists. At the front of the line, I ordered my drink and asked about the free wifi.

“We have wi-fi, but it’s not free. It’s $5.00 for an hour."

I paid the money gladly, then found the only seat: a high, rickety bar stool in the corner, and logged into the internet. After the hour was up, I reached for my cup to throw it in the trash. I hadn’t even taken a sip of my drink because I was so excited about wifi. That’s when I knew I had a problem.

The alley we passed in Nassau. On the hunt for Starbucks

The alley we passed in Nassau. On the hunt for Starbucks

Instead of exploring the city, we took the easy way out by plugging into the virtual world.

Since then, I’ve begun to create a small section of my life without technology. Please understand, I don’t think technology is horrible, you’re reading this on the internet, after all. But it’s the life we live offscreen is the life we’ll remember...not the life in front of the screen.

A different Starbucks, when I actually wanted coffee. Not wifi.

A different Starbucks, when I actually wanted coffee. Not wifi.

1. Be Present

Begin with the most obvious things, turn off the phone, close the laptop, turn off the TV, walk away from the video games. And of course, that means taking a sabbatical from social media, mindless internet use, TV and radio as background noise and instant messaging.

The idea is to jumpstart your digital detox.

There are two ways to do this: All at once (the rip the Band-Aid method), or a little at a time (the stepping down method).

If you decide to go the all at once method, you are going to take a nice, deep breath, count to three, and cut yourself off from the majority of technology at the same time, for a set period of time.

Or if you choose the stepping down method, you will limit the amount of time with technology per day, or to simply stop using one particular technology for a while. 

Do what works with your lifestyle and personality.

2. Make Plans & Set Goals

Luck favors the prepared, as the old saying goes. Decide what you will detox from and how, and you’ll avoid most issues. Are you able turn off your phone in the evening? Will your lifestyle allow you to stop checking email at, say 5? If you turn off the television at 6 p.m., what will you do, instead? Read? Write? Exercise? Unless you’re extremely focused and aware, you’ll find technology creeping into your life.

The Plan

The Plan. Figure out when and where you find your pitfalls. I know my weak spot is Facebook first thing in the morning. I check in while sipping my coffee. I’m a member of about a dozen Facebook groups; and if I’m not vigilant, my morning is lost. My new rule is when the coffee's done, I’m done. Where are your weak spots? What is a time suck for you? What are the activities, that when you do them, have you blinking at the clock in disbelief? 

The Goals. What next? What will you do without technology? What will be your new focus? Work? Family? Hobbies? Exercise? My morning productivity soared once I set hard limits on social media. What have you been wanting to do that you just don’t seem to have the time or energy to accomplish? Can you start working on them in your free time? Be as protective of this new free time as a grizzly bear; the more you use your free time to make your life wisely, the less you’ll want to use technology.


3. Be Happy

Social media brings people together, but can also cause real isolation. How many times have you thought: social media makes me feel jealous? social media makes me feel lonely? social media makes me feel ugly? social media makes me feel inadequate? social media makes me feel bad?

Repeat after me: the grass is always greener in someone else’s Instagram feed. 

Delete every single feed which makes you feel like something is missing in your life. Life's too short to feel awful and jealous. But know this: hardly anyone posts updates about feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Or, if they do, it’s wrapped up as a humble-brag. If you look away from your screen, look at your life and feel “less-than”’s time to detox.

Makeover Your Real Life

There’s a galaxy of difference between feeling inspired and feeling “less-than”. The feeds which inspire you to live bigger, better or smarter, are the feeds you keep. But guess what?

You'll now have the time to make your life better. The best way to do that is to eliminate the feeds which make you feel awful and keep the ones which make you inspired to do more in real life. And then do it. Real life always, always, always trumps digital life. It’s better to fumble your way through real life than to live vicariously digitally.

You could use your free time to go get donuts.

You could use your free time to go get donuts.

4. Plan for Digital Detox Withdrawal

It’s not always easy to do the right thing. Orange Is The New Black, is coming out soon. There will always be an Orange is the New Black. The question is: what are you going to do about it? How are you going to feel when people are talking about it? Pop culture is a big part of the conversation. Are you going to go cold turkey? Keep track a little at a time?

If you can predict your weak spots, your digital detox will work wonders. Of course, there will come a moment when rationality will go out the window. Your technology addiction will pop up when you least expect it. And for that, we have the briefcase:

The Briefcase

It’s a metaphor, honey. The Briefcase is a last resort. An extreme measure to keep your technology away from you so that you can’t use them. Maybe your Briefcase is leaving your cell phone in your car. Or your friend’s house. Or letting your nephew borrow your Playstation for a week. You’d be forced to live tech-free life during that period of time. Maybe your Briefcase it to travel to a place where you can’t possibly use your current technology.

5. Be in Charge of Technology, Not the Other Way Around

Just because new technology exists, doesn’t mean you have to use it right away. I’m not advocating reverting to the 1800’s, instead thoughtfully using technology as a tool. Not as a way of life. There will always be a new gadget. There will always be a new video game console. A wonderful new show. Always. And you will always have the choice: consume or not consume.

And. You have the choice about which, how much and how often.

It is getting harder for us to live even one day without our phones, laptops, tablets and the internet. A digital detox is a bit like putting the genie back into the bottle. But it can be done.

A couple of years ago, the High Museum of Art had a Picasso exhibit on display. We drove to town, and the museum was packed. And in the middle of the modern art gallery, a group of people huddled on the ottomans, chairs, and benches. Their faces reflected the glow of their screens as they huddled over them. Less than 10 feet away was a Jackson Pollock masterpiece AND a friendly docent was stationed next to the painting, eagerly answering any questions about the work. I don't criticize because I’ve been that person. I was that person. I’m trying very hard not to be that person anymore. And it all begins with looking up. Turning off. And walking away. Sometimes.

Not all the time. But more than I used to.