From its inception, technology was meant to improve—to bring more efficiency, connection, and productivity to our everyday routine. But time and time again, we see quite the opposite—we have become so attached to technology that it almost seems like a natural extension of us, and without it we feel empty. From the moment we wake up, social media consumes us, and whatever our vice—whether Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.—we keep coming back for more. Checking our phone has become habitual, reflexive even, so much so that we are often unaware of how much it can dominate our lives. This ease of access becomes detrimental when we need to bring selective focus to our work as students or professionals. Yet we have been conditioned to the instant gratification of “text messages” or “likes” that we welcome these distractions above else.
But as we know, the issue with technology extends beyond just time management; it can also influence our reality, perspective, and in some cases, even our identity. The ultimate medium for connection can also foster feelings of inadequacy when scrolling though pages of what seem like perfect experiences, perfect friendships, and perfect lives. At a time where perfect packaging gets mistaken for happiness, we are left to compare and recognize how we fall short of the rest.
Social media has been a part of my life since 2007, from the moment I made my first Facebook account in grade 7 and lied about my age to do so. It started slow, as a way to share my life with others, and as a way to stay connected with friends after I changed high schools. Over the years, however, social media also became a tool by which I built community, advocated for causes I believed in, and participated in charity efforts. As a graduate student, working long hours in the lab, I found myself being pulled more and more into it. While juggling multiple academic, extracurricular, and personal responsibilities, my phone became my work sidekick, my escape, and enemy all in one. I put pressure on myself to be everywhere at once, to respond to emails right away, to deal with issues immediately, and be there for everyone but myself. To say this was exhausting is an understatement. So now, thirteen years since my first taste of social media, I have decided to take a closer look at the way in which technology is integrated in my daily life. For one week, I embarked on a personal experiment, one that admittedly seems impossible in today’s society. I decided to do a phone detox and document the entire process. Here is how it went:
First I began by analyzing my daily cellphone use. I am embarrassed to admit that on average my screen time was around 7 hours most days. Social networking comprised about 2 hours of that total, with the biggest culprit at 3 hours being Youtube and Spotify. Another hour was spent on Safari and the last hour was spent looking at miscellaneous apps, things like news, books, and Outlook. Once I had my baseline, I decided to cut my average daily screen time in half by setting app limits on my phone. At the start of the week, I felt myself rationing my screen time throughout the day. Knowing it was limited, I thought twice about whether I really needed to check my phone that very minute. By the end of the week, I grew more comfortable with my allotted time and for the most part, successfully managed to cut my screen time in half. The exception was Spotify which I typically use during my daily workouts.
I also found that I waste a lot of time mindlessly checking my phone first thing in the morning, when bored or just waiting for the bus. So I took my experiment a step further—I decided to welcome these moments of stagnation as opportunities for reflection. This was super uncomfortable at first because truthfully, most of my days are set in motion, and on some level I feel this motion, whether productive or not, is synonymous with progress. So instead of checking all my social networks and email first thing in the morning, I began my day by journaling. I set my intentions for the day, outlined what I hoped to accomplish and what I am grateful for in that moment. A couple days into this practice I found it to be really grounding and freeing in a way. It allowed me to distance myself from my phone, the news, and any updates until I could mentally prepare myself for them. When waiting for the bus, I took time to take in my surroundings and notice those around me—something that I admittedly don’t typically do. Having this “downtime” was refreshing and once again created a space to disconnect.
In summary, this week was a challenge of restraint, but also a challenge of awareness. By being so distracted by my phone, I didn’t realize how many precious moments were spent mindlessly scrolling each day. I was spending close to a full workday on my device, and truthfully I could have used that time in ways that are more conducive to my health and happiness. My biggest take away from this experience is that our relationship with technology is habitual, not fundamental. I anticipated it would be harder to take part in this experiment, but honestly I quite enjoyed it. As I write this article now, I recognize that my experience may not resonate with you and that’s okay. You may be much more disciplined than me and be appalled by my daily use. Or you may read this and think that you couldn’t possibly take part in this experience. Regardless of your opinion, I think it’s imperative that with whatever we do, we take time to reflect and assess from time to time, how our rituals either support or deter us from our goals. Social media and technology are the ritual of the 21st century; they are what we turn to in times of need, in times of joy, and in times of fear. Yet we don’t stop to think how our rituals shape us, how they define our thinking, and how they can create perceptions and feelings. So with whatever your ritual is, take note, step back and assess. I challenge you to challenge yourself and take part in your own technology detox, in whichever form that works for you. This is not about demonizing technology or failing to appreciate its benefits, this is about bringing awareness to the self and how our habits influence us. Happy detoxing!
Edited by Emily Deibert & Jeffrey Lynham