Earlier this month, I wrote about the subject of information overload and how it relates to my theme for the year, essential. Specifically, I shared about my difficulty in narrowing down the articles I want to read and my feeling overwhelmed by so much information. In today’s post, I delve deeper into my journey to get to a more peaceful place with technology and the Internet. I have taken further steps that may also be helpful to you if you struggle with similar issues.
An Update on the Articles
I will first give a bit of an update on how I’m doing with the articles. You may remember that my husband suggested that I create a new “articles to read” folder each month and only carry over ten articles to start off with. Doing this was difficult and took me over an hour, but I felt a good release after letting go of close to a hundred articles that I had been meaning to read “someday.” Over the course of this month, I have read some of the carried over articles and I’ve also saved additional articles to read. At the time of this writing, I have 23 articles in my February 2018 articles folder. I’ve decided that I’m not going to carry any of them forward into next month. Over the next three days, I will read the ones that most interest me and start with a clean slate in March.
A few readers suggested that I not maintain a “to read” folder at all and simply read articles when they come to my attention – or not. I think I’ll probably come around to such an approach in time, but what I’m doing now feels most comfortable for me. I can say, though, that I’m saving far fewer articles now that I know I will have a limited time frame in which to read them. That one shift is already bringing me peace and lightening my information load. I’m being a lot more selective and keeping my theme “essential” in mind when I consider the articles I’d like to read. To do so, I ask myself this key question from The Minimalists,
Will this add value to my life or bring me joy?
Some articles may fall more into the category of “fluff pieces” than lofty works, but if they make me laugh and add levity to my day, they’re worth reading. I love to learn new things, but I also like some of my reading to be just for fun. There’s a limit to how much new information I can absorb in a short period, anyway. As with pretty much everything else in life, it’s all about balance.
The Role of the Internet in Our Lives
This brings me to the main topic of this post: technology and the Internet. One of the articles I chose to read during February was “It’s Time to Put the Internet Back into a Box in the Basement,” from Raptitude. This article is well worth your taking time to read, but the gist of it is that the current practice of being online and connected virtually all the time is fragmenting our attention and reducing our peace of mind. The average American checks their phone 80 times per day – every twelve minutes – and there are a lot of adverse physical and mental effects of this behavior. The author isn’t suggesting that we all become Luddites, but he is recommending that we draw more limits around our online time. Everyone’s threshold is different, but many of us would be well-served by being more deliberate about how we engage with the Internet and social media.
I have already taken quite a few steps to reduce my phone and Internet addiction. I removed Facebook and Facebook Messenger from my phone last summer and also disabled all mobile notifications except those for voice and text messages. I reduced my social media time dramatically since I first started tracking it two years ago, when I learned that I was spending upwards of 20 hours per week on Facebook alone! I now mostly engage with people via email and phone (and sometimes in person, which is the best), and I only visit Facebook two or three times per week on average. My phone is not with me at all times and instead is usually hooked up to its charger in my living room.
Taking Steps toward Digital Detox
All this said, reading the above-mentioned article and listening to The Minimalists podcast episode on social media made me aware of the need to make further changes. In the comments section of the Raptitude article (reading fewer articles affords me more time to read comments, many of which are excellent), I learned of two additional resources:
- “Take Control of Your Phone” (Center for Humane Technology)
- “Zeromalist – Zero is More” (Verekia)
Both of these articles include many helpful suggestions for simplifying the way we use technology and reducing information overload. I’m sure I will implement more of these ideas moving forward, but I was inspired to make some powerful shifts right away after reading the authors’ recommendations.
Cleaning Up Displays
The first thing I did was clean up my phone and desktop displays. I removed all unnecessary and distracting apps and icons. This is now what those displays look like (gotta love screensaver images of cats and Lake Tahoe):
The phone apps that remain will mostly be accessed via the applications menu rather than the home screen, but I do have some frequently used but not distracting apps on a secondary screen.
I no longer have the Gmail icon in my phone’s menu bar, as it was all too easy to check my email in a reflexive manner almost every time I picked up my phone. With my current lifestyle, I could easily just check email once or twice a day, so I’m hoping that having to scroll to a secondary screen in order to do so will stop me from doing it automatically. If I continue to be an “email junkie” on my phone, I will remove the app altogether. I almost never reply to email on my phone anyway, so it definitely isn’t necessary to have access to my in-box at all times.
To further simplify the way I use email, I have removed myself from most of the mailing lists I was on. I want to minimize the number of email messages I receive each day in order to free up more time to communicate with people one on one and increase my overall productivity. I also deleted a number of old messages I’d been planning to read someday (see a pattern here?). Yes, there was some FOMO that hit me when I did that, but it was soon replaced by relief and the peaceful feeling of seeing a more streamlined in-box.
I had to disable Instagram because, although I don’t post there often, I’ve found myself searching and scrolling quite a bit recently, particularly for photography, recipes, and beauty tips. The time on Instagram (and social media in general) can go by very quickly when you’re working with a never-ending feed! I wish it was easier to use Instagram on my desktop, where I’ll be far more deliberate with it, but I’ll just have to do the best I can because I really want and need to reduce distractions. I may bring it back in the future and set some parameters around its use, but for now I’m taking a break from having Instagram on my phone.
Programs and Tabs
Another change I made was that I now only have programs and browser tabs open on my computer for things I’m working on at any given time. So right now, I just have Microsoft Word open, as that’s what I use to type up my blog posts. I’ve had to look up a few things online while writing this essay, so I have accessed my Chrome browser several times, but not having the Gmail tab open has mostly eliminated my compulsion to check email. Just the one step of having to open my in-box has been an impediment to my “twitch” behavior.
Conclusion and Your Thoughts
I’m hoping these changes will help to increase my focus and productivity, as well as decrease my anxiety and sense of overwhelm. The Internet and our smart phones are powerful tools, but we should be the master of them rather than their slave. I’m feeling much better about my interaction with technology since I’ve made the aforementioned changes. I’m sure I will continue to evolve in this regard and I’ll keep sharing what I learn with you here.
Now I’d love to hear from you. Here are a few questions to spark your thoughts, but feel free to share anything you’d like about this post.
- Have you struggled with Internet and smart phone addiction? In what ways has it adversely affected your life?
- What steps have you taken to regain control of your time and your attention?
- What do you see as the role of technology in your life moving forward?
- What tips do you have for those who feel their screen time is out of control?
As I mentioned previously, the comments sections of blogs often contain a wealth of useful insights and information – and this blog is no different. I always love to hear from you and I learn a lot from what you share with me and each other.
12 thoughts on “Essential Information Part Two: Digital Detox”
I am looking forward to reading this at my leisure later, Debbie….your message is always so insightful and applies to many areas of my life! Thank You!!!
Thank you, Claudette! You have always been so supportive and encouraging toward me and I really appreciate it. I hope you enjoyed this article (as you know, I often wait and read things later, too…).
one thing I did that has helped me a lot, is to disable my smartphone from the internet. I decided that I only wanted to use my phone as a phone and possibly as an emergency camera, but that was all. I didnt want to scroll through all my apps daily and add to my info overload. So I disabled the internet component of it and the apps and now I only use it as a phone, there are no distracting notifications or the tempatation to keep checking it whenever I had a spare moment. If I need to use a phone I have it with me, the rest can wait!
This is an excellent suggestion, Krissie! I have never tried this, but I’m glad to be aware of this option if I start to fall into smart phone addiction once again. It’s interesting that these things are still called “phones” when so many people hardly ever use the telephone function of them anymore!
I like all that you’ve done, Debbie. I’ve never had FB on my phone and could probably get rid of some apps. I primarily use my phone for phone calls, texting, camera, GPS, weather, and Find My Friends. I’m still on my laptop frequently though.
Facebook on the phone can be dangerous, Kim. Some people are either good at moderating its use or don’t have a problem with using it a lot, but I felt a lot better after I got rid of it and only use FB on the computer now. I’m intrigued by Find My Friends, as I have never used that app before… I’m on my computer a lot, too, and I’m mostly okay with that, but it’s helped me a lot to stay off of it in the evenings. There’s plenty of time to be online during the day.
This sounds like great progress Debbie! So glad you’ve found some things that are helping. I’ve never had a smart phone. I use my little “dumb” phone to call/text and as a clock/alarm. I would use it indefinitely, except that in the past I’ve been forced to upgrade to the next dumb phone when they stop broadcasting service on my current model. I still miss my very first phone, a Nokia. My last phone I used for 9 years before I had to replace it. Then I had to get a flip phone!
During my last bout of immobilization I was in tremendous pain and broke down and let my husband buy me a little lightweight tablet to help manage things. My laptop is over 7 years old, clunky and heavy. The guy at the Best Buy tried to get him to buy a “better” model and he said, “No way, my wife would kill me if I came home with that!” Smart man, he gets me. 🙂
My mom didn’t have a smart phone for many years, either, but my brother convinced her to get one. She should have kept the “dumb phone,” as she doesn’t use most of the features anyway. I think people like you and my mom may be the smartest ones, Claire. It’s scary to me to be out in public and see most peoples’ faces gazing down at a phone, even when there is a human being (or several) with them. I think that since I spend so much time alone, I relish and celebrate the face-to-face time that I do get.
I smiled at the story about your husband and your tablet. Sounds like you have a “keeper” 🙂 I love my tablet, too, and find it less addicting than the computer because I can’t really type on it. I have to be careful with my time there, too, and have limited the number of apps I have on it for that reason.
I spend lots of time on my laptop, but almost never use my smartphone for anything beyond taking a picture or the very random text. It’s an older model bought off eBay anyway that I picked for its small size to go running with.
Recently we have been having internet issues at our house that is forcing me to limit my laptop time and I’ll admit I don’t like it! Our PSVue that we use for (limited) streaming TV does not play well when my laptop is on, so it’s often a choice of one or the other. I usually don’t do much more online than window shop for clothes, play Words with Friends, and check a certain Facebook group. But I can while away HOURS doing these limited things. It’s amazing, really, and not in a good way.
My laptop will be turning 8 years old in a couple of months so I am looking into a convertible laptop/tablet to replace it soon. I do have a Kindle, but not having a dedicated keyboard to type on is a deal breaker for me. Otherwise I just might try and make do with the Kindle alone. Also I miss not having a ‘real’ browser like Chrome when using it.
I know that I should internet less and go out in the world more, and am conscious of it. BF and I are going to more live music so that’s been awesome. As with many things, it’s a work in progress.
I think it’s great that you’re not glued to your phone, Mo. I feel so much better since I broke that addiction and the constant “twitch” to pick up my phone all day long. I know what you mean about how easy it is to while away hours and hours on the computer. One thing that has helped me is using a tracking app to actually record how much time I spend on various apps/programs. The one I use is called “My Hours” and it’s not the best but does the trick. Another good one is RescueTime, which is available for both computer and phone. Seeing how many hours I spent on things like Facebook was a wake-up call because I always felt “behind the 8-ball” (still do, but I’m working on it…) and I was better able to see why.
Computers, phones, apps, Facebook, etc., aren’t BAD. They all can be beneficial in various ways, but it’s a question of moderation. I’ve learned to tune into the feeling I start to get when I’ve spent too long on Facebook or something similar. The time that has elapsed varies, but I feel better about myself and my life when I honor my feelings. Getting outside every day helps me a great deal as well, but I understand that it’s harder when it’s cold and snowy where you live. I’m glad you are going to move live music shows and are enjoying it. Little shifts like that can help a lot!
This topic really struck a chord with me. I just recently went on a bit of a Facebook fast because I was beginning to actually have anxiety regarding the amount of time I spent scrolling through my feed and my seeming inability to break the pattern. It has been refreshing to say the least. For my work, I belong to a private FB group but typically posts are only related to questions regarding teaching aspects in my job, etc.. The FOMO is a big thing – there is so much good info out there and I tend to be focused on a lot of health related people/posts. I just end up feeling overwhelmed especially when I come across a topic and two really educated and reputable doctors have differing viewpoints on it. I am not on Twitter, don’t use LinkedIn that much, have Instagram but only follow family members – don’t check it daily, maybe once or twice a week. Facebook is really the one that is a major time hog in my life.
I have struggled a lot with Facebook, too, Susan, as I wrote about quite a bit on “Recovering Shopaholic.” I still very much have a love/hate relationship with it. In fact, I probably would leave that site altogether if it weren’t for one group that I value and a handful of people with whom I enjoy connecting there. It was really difficult for me to cut back on my Facebook time, as I would feel guilty for not going on there every day to check my notifications and respond to threads and messages. I had to “white-knuckle” it for quite some time and build up a level of comfort with going on there less often and spending less time there. Good for you for going on a Facebook fast. I hope it helped to relieve some of your anxiety. I know it has been helpful to me to spend less time there, although I do miss interacting with some people.
The designers of Facebook and other social media tools build them to be extremely addictive in nature. Not using social media on my phone has helped a lot, but before I took that step, I disabled notifications so I could be more deliberate about the time I spent there. I usually use a timer to track my social media participation, too, and decide in advance how much time I will dedicate to it. It’s not always easy to stop, but I pay attention to how I feel, too. When the anxiety kicks in, I leave. The FOMO is real, but I realize that I will NEVER get caught up and I have to accept that. I wish you all the best with forging a more positive relationship with Facebook!
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