When I was first challenged by my editor to get off the Internet for a grand total of 72 hours at a stretch, I was pretty skeptical about whether I would be able to go through with it.
As a blogger, I do spend much of my free time surfing the net, reading other blogs and articles, and preparing my own posts to go live. I also spend quite a chunk of time on Facebook and Instagram – and all this typically goes on when the boys are napping or have gone to bed for the night. So I did wonder, can I really do this?
Most of us know that too much screen time is bad for you with a capital B, but few of us take active steps to stem the tide, so to speak, of the online currents that wash over us every day. And so I decided, with some trepidation, to take on this challenge. I’m so glad I did.
How To Survive A Digital Detox
How I prepared for the challenge
The computer was easy enough. I shut it down with a final click before going to bed the night before my challenge began. Before that, I posted a status update to my Facebook page to let my friends know that I was going on this digital detox and would only be contactable by message or phone for the next three days. As for my phone, I closed all the active apps and switched off all push notifications.
How I managed during the challenge
During the day, I kept my phone in my bag, instead of its usual position in my back pocket. “Out of sight, out of mind” did ring true for the most part. However there were a few occasions when I almost instinctively reached for my phone, only to find that it was not there! It was quite amusing and sobering to realize for myself how easily I turn to social media whenever I have a free moment.
I also planned my time as much as I could, so that I didn’t have too many of those “free moments” to worry about. That said, I also know that one cannot depend on activity and distraction to kick the habit of screen addiction, but I would say that planning your time definitely does help.
How I felt when I failed
I cheated once! Oh, I felt terrible after that, but the deed had been done.
On one of the days, I brought my kids to watch the SEA Games competitions going on at the nearby reservoir with our friends, and while we were there, it suddenly decided to pour cats and dogs. Without an umbrella, we were stranded under our shelter for well over an hour – a possibility I had not accounted for – and very quickly, the kids were all getting restless and a bit out-of-control in the space.
I wish I could say that I managed to entertain them with my wit and humour, or a clever game or two, but at that moment, I was really at a loss what to do. They had eaten our snacks dry, and done all the colouring that I had brought. Now, my son was asking if he could watch his favourite dinosaur video.
“Please, mummy, please?”
And I caved. They watched their dinosaur video for the next 15 to 20 minutes, little backs hunched over the one phone. I watched them with a mixture of relief and guilt.
In retrospect, I could have tried some other ways of keeping them entertained, instead of agreeing to their idea of a viable distraction. I could have told them a story, or made up a game, or played “I spy with my little eye” but I didn’t. Next time, I hope I will remember to try.
How I spent my time instead
After the initial half day or so of trying to remember not to touch my phone unless it rang, I managed to get into the swing of things, more or less, and quite enjoyed the freedom from being online.
For one, I found that I could really focus on the things I was doing a lot more, instead of checking on my social media accounts in between tasks. I typically check my phone a lot when I am cooking, for example, while waiting for water to boil, or the rice to cook, or the chicken to bake. Without my phone to turn to during these moments, I watched my water boil – a task which was rather therapeutic actually – or washed up the dirty dishes that didn’t need to be used anymore.As a result, I finished cooking the meal in a shorter time than usual!
I enjoyed hours of reading, thinking and journaling. Most days, the boys nap for 1-2 hours in the afternoon, are in bed by 930pm. Those nap times and after-bed times have often been spent online, and so I “reclaimed” the time during these three days. I finally finished a book I’d been meaning to read, and managed to do some much-needed soul-searching and reflection as well. It was definitely a refreshing experience for me.
How I feel about the whole experience
Firstly, it really wasn’t as difficult as I had thought it would be! I would say that it is definitely a do-able challenge for anyone who feels so led.
Secondly, while I already knew that I spend too much time online, this detox helped me to really see where all those chunks of unnecessary time are spent. All the little moments add up to a large chunk of time wasted, if you and I are not careful and mindful about when and how we use the internet.
Lastly, being offline for these few days did allow me to be more engaged and present in the conversations with my family and friends – and perhaps, that is the biggest draw to such a challenge.
At the end of the day, I can truly say that I lost nothing by staying offline for this time, and gained so much! Making a digital detox a regular feature of my every-day life is something I now seek to do. I’d encourage you to give this a try too!
By Dorothea Chow
Had a digital detox experience? How did it go? Share your comments with us!