Last Thursday at 4pm I began a week-long internet and screen detox which aimed to remove all 21st Century technology from my life. This included but was not limited to: my phone, tablet, iPod, laptop, and any device which used the internet (so smart TV’s, etc).
I’ll start off by saying this was just an experiment. I’m did not do this to make a statement, or indeed to prove anything to anyone. I did not do this to ‘show off’…even though I would like to ‘show off’ my findings.
I also do not want to sound pretentious, so please – feel free to stop reading.
My aim in this was to just have a break from technology. There were more than a few times in the last couple of months where I began to get extremely bored with the way I was feeling – lethargic, irritable, depressed – and although there were many other factors which may have contributed to those feelings, I began to think that technology and my over-use of it (upwards of at least 8 hours a day at university) was a slightly larger contributing factor.
So, I decided to do something about it. The perfect time would be our family Norfolk holiday, I said to myself. Our Norfolk cottage is miles from the nearest point of civilisation and even though it is daringly close to two decades into the 21st Century we have not yet installed broadband internet into it. You’d also be hard pressed to find a clear phone signal, let alone a 3G one.
In order to retain my sanity I continued to watch TV, and listen to the radio.
I know that many will say ‘so what’ to this whole thing, particularly those who do not use the internet a lot. It wasn’t a basic necessity I was giving up but in today’s world where almost everything runs online, and in which I spend a vast amount of my life using technology, it was a big ask to leave it alone.
My university friends decided to make fun of it, and I think it sums up what many people might be thinking:
Day 1 – Thursday 2nd April
At 4pm I turned off my phone: the beginning of the journey to Norfolk. No immediate ‘withdrawals’ occurred, aside from the fact that obviously I was now without entertainment for the entire four-hour journey from Hampshire. I made do with reading Game of Thrones and listening to the big party leader’s debate on the radio – which passed some time. About half an hour into the debate I was disappointed I couldn’t join in with the discussion on social media, especially since I would be live blogging polling day in May. However, a lengthy discussion with the family ensued and even in the early hours of this experiment I found that I was making more assertive opinions about the politics – something which I usually sit on the bench about when observing discussions online.
When we eventually got to Norfolk I began to get ‘withdrawal’ symptoms: feeling like I was disconnected from friends, and weirdly, disconnected from information. I wasn’t, ‘in the loop,’ as it were. Since my watch was broken I needed to ask for the time a lot – not that it mattered; I was enjoying the debate on TV far too much and was engrossed in the reaction on TV afterwards. The BBC were impartial with their responses, but I felt like I needed a wider breadth of opinion which can only be seen online.
I noted that even in these first few hours, just before getting to bed, my mind seemed a little clearer – not being bombarded with information, as is usually the case while reading my phone in bed, definitely helped my sleep that night.
Day 2 – Friday 3rd April
On Friday I had growing pains and urges to check my phone, but at the same time felt I could do a lot more with my time and think about what could be done in the day. I noted that I was able to concentrate far more on the smallest things – looking through the bookshelf, going to the newsagents to buy a paper.
I was craving information. I read the first 10 pages of articles thoroughly before growing tired, then skim read the rest.
On holiday I usually get homesick for my friends and work – I am a self-confessed workaholic and it takes a while for me to get fully relaxed. But thinking about Bournemouth and my life there, I thought to myself that I could really try this detox there.
As the day progressed, I enjoyed the conversations my family and I were having in the pubs we were visiting, and scarcely noticed the time going by.
The evening was comprised of more talking and more Game of Thrones.
Day 3 – Saturday 4th April
The third day into my detox and I was already seeing the positive effects. I was feeling my mind being cleared of all the ‘shrapnel’ of social media, the tweets, the listicles and the pedantic arguments in the comment sections of various threads. I was also finding myself more and more disinterested with what was going on back home and around the world. I was still reading the newspaper and watching the news on TV but I did not mind that I was not being informed of my friend’s lives and what they were doing. In other words, I was sure they were fine. I didn’t need second-by-second updates.
I also felt perfectly normal; I didn’t feel like I needed to do anything online, although obviously it would have helped in certain situations where for example, I didn’t know the name of a celebrity or wanted to look at a map on one of the many bike rides around the countryside.
My mind was being cleared and my life seemed so much simpler. The detox was morphing from an experiment, into a break which I had long desired and aimed for.
I was still getting pangs to use the internet, though. The ‘withdrawals’ were still there in the forms of urges to read up on certain things, and research certain topics. This may have just been my inner workaholic. Towards the evening the ‘withdrawals’ took the form of an inner desire to experience something new. The amount of time I had now, without the distractions of the internet, meant I could fill it with something. Again, a reason to do this sort of thing when I’m back in my work life. But in my ‘holiday-mode’ it just meant I could have a little more time to kill, playing pool and drinking at the local pub. Which I didn’t complain about, obviously.
I’m an introvert. Most of my ‘social interaction’ is online, in group chats and private groups. My recent experiences around deadline-time before Easter were mostly academic, and didn’t get much more exciting than an occasional trip to the pub. So now I was craving real-life social interaction and real-life experiences.
It was an exciting new outlook on life.
Day 4 – Sunday 5th April
As it was Easter Sunday, naturally…I wanted to wish my friends a happy Easter. I realised how much I rely on Facebook for communication and connecting to my friends and family. However, in the least selfish way possible, I did not care. I was enjoying time with my family and time to myself – the ‘simple’ life and break I’d been craving was in full swing.
Another thing – up until this point I had been dreaming almost every night. I never dream!
Day 5 – Monday 6th April
A common theme over the last few days, and indeed the whole week was that I was getting to sleep very quickly. Worst case scenario at university I might be awake for an hour or more before nodding off. My sleep was definitely benefiting from not using my phone or tablet before bed, and I usually spend around two hours doing that. I was getting into bed around 11pm and within 15 minutes I’d read a chapter of Game of Thrones and be out like a light.
The ‘withdrawals’ had truly gone by this point. I like to call this experiment a ‘easy-by-three experiment where, after the third day, you don’t notice you’re doing the challenge and it just becomes part of life. A great example of this is in Supersize Me, where Morgan Spurlock eats nothing but McDonalds for a month; Spurlock compares his challenge to giving up smoking, claiming that if you can make it past the ‘three-day hump’ without smoking, you’re fine. Same with this.
It was only a small annoyance that I did not have the internet or my phone, rather than a pain.
Day 6 – Tuesday 7th April
Today was the first day in a very long time that I genuinely felt at peace with a lot of things i.e. work, goals and my social life. They were all behind me at this point. Put it this way – I was truly relaxed and in full ‘holiday mode’ which I presume most people would be, six days into their holiday. But I think this feeling was enhanced by lack of technology which would have otherwise connected me to work and home.
Another thing which became common was a ‘lazy’ slump around mid-afternoon. This was relieved by actually getting up earlier in the day, as I had taken full advantage of the lie-ins these past few days and would not surface until 10am. Getting up at 8, I felt fresh. I didn’t feel tired at all until 8pm. The perfect 12-hour day.
Day 7 – Wednesday 8th April
At the penultimate day in my experiment, I realised I missed the internet as a tool (as that’s what it’s designed for), like just being able to have the convenience to look up facts, pictures and read news articles on-the-go. I did not however, miss the Facebook news feed, Snapchat or Instagram. I felt they were hindrances to my break away and that my life was much simpler without them. Continuing with the work theme, I realised how much of a workaholic I was and was itching to start working again, especially around lunchtime. But I was glad I took the week off of everything.
Day 8 – Thursday 9th April
As a week without technology came to an end, I was excited to be able to communicate with 21st Century speed and convenience, as there was a number of times in the week I missed my friends and wanted to make plans with them for the coming week. I also looked forward to getting back to work at the end of the week.
In the afternoon we had a four-hour bike ride along the North Norfolk coast into the early evening, which made Thursday one of the most beautiful days of the year so far.
Arriving home after another meal out at one of our favourite pubs, The Gin Trap, I turned on my phone and connected to the weak BT Wi-Fi hotspot. I’d like to say something spectacular happened but I was indifferent to the endless notifications, from emails to Facebook notifications (I had 23), to Snapchats. I said to myself I’d sit down properly the next day and go through them all.
Then my inner workaholic jumped out. I spent around an hour skim-reading my emails, replying to messages on Facebook and taking a look at all of the comments and likes on various posts I’d been involved in. I was fully absorbed. I’d like to admit nothing special came out of this activity but I did find myself being relieved of all the withdrawals I had over the past week. I can totally see why some people can be addicted to technology.
I also found a migraine creeping up on me with a pulling, temple headache. There was too much information to take in at once and I had to stop at certain points as my mind was racing. I was also deeply uninterested by what my friends were doing. Not in a selfish way, but just because I knew I had enjoyed my break and that I was sure I would catch up with them, in person, later on.
Saying that – I did send some messages to close friends asking how they were doing and letting them know I hadn’t died.
If there’s one thing I got out of this week it would be that I’m more focused on myself and more confident in myself. I’m sure this is only a positive thing. I realised how much we judge ourselves based on what we admire about others, or what we admire about what other people are doing. It goes to show how much the internet plays a part in voyeurism and envy; an internet detox would be fantastic for people with anxiety, depression, confidence issues, self-image issues, work problems, or even just people who need a break. Obviously I’m not assuming this is a permanent solution to those problems, but it’s a satisfactory stopgap.
I’m contemplating doing this again in the summer, but for now…here’s one of my main inspirations for the experiment, with the wise words of Prince Ea.