For one week in September, Team Ridiculously Efficient went on a partial digital detox. Every night at 8pm local time, we set out on a mission to put our phones away, stay away from social media and stop checking emails.
I couldn’t wait for this productivity experiment to begin. I’ve been messing around with my morning and evening routines a lot lately, mostly focusing on the morning, and this gave me a perfect excuse to pay attention to the end of the day.
Here are my big takeaways from the experience.
It Takes a Village
Going into this, I thought that it would be easiest to stay offline on the evenings when I had plans with friends. After all, we’d be too busy talking and interacting in person to check our phones… right?
Wrong. At least within my social graph, mobile use is ubiquitous, whether we’re in the backyard or at a bar. Even if we’re not checking email, our phones are always out and active. I find that in many of my natural conversations with people, I’m always referencing apps I use, sending links to stories I’ve read or illustrating a story with photos. And for the rest of us, fact-checking or looking something up via Google is part of regular interactions.
The easiest times to unplug were the nights where I was home. That said…
Everybody is Connected
When I unplugged, I had plenty of time to notice just how connected everyone else in my life is. Most of the activities I did were fairly quiet: reading, drawing, exercising, writing. In the silence of my own activities, the noise of others’ leisure became deafening.
Take TV shows, for example. I never noticed how much screaming and yelling happens in commercials, sitcoms and viral videos. Maybe it was the shows Mike was watching (Reno 911, Workaholics), but it seemed like every other frame was screaming. Such a jarring way to wind down before bed -- and before this experiment, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash.
I became increasingly sensitive to noise at night. Once, I snapped at Mike because while I was reading in bed, without headphones or music on, I could clearly hear his Facebook videos playing through his headphones. Supercar engines relax him, but not me.
I noticed just how much time we all spend on our phones, and how disconnecting it can be for in-person interactions.
I Take Great Care of Myself When I Unplug
The most important takeaway, perhaps, is that I take fantastic care of myself when my evening isn’t spent in front of a screen. My nails are done, my hair has had a deep conditioning treatment, and my face has had a masque. I go to sleep earlier, and sleep better. I exercise more, read more, write more, think more. I believe I’m a more creative, more positive and more productive human being.
With all those benefits, why don’t I unplug more?
I think it’s a mild addiction, or at least an addictive habit. We compulsively check our notifications, swipe down to see our social media feeds refresh, catch up on inane gossip and stupid news.
But it isn’t all bad. We also research, learn, connect and share. A home renovation story becomes much richer when you can show before-and-after photos. Vacation stories come to life with short videos and photos. Minor squabbles are squashed with a quick verification via Google or Shazam.
Where Do We Go From Here?
People like us -- who love technology and make our living using it, but also know the importance of shutting off and recharging our spirits without screens -- have an interesting trade-off to negotiate.
On the one side, we unplug, knowing that it may isolate us from our fellow tech-addicted friends, family and the 24/7 work cycle.
On the other, we stay connected, knowing that we’re missing an opportunity to give our bodies what they need -- time to regenerate, rejuvenate and just think.
For me, it certainly won’t be an even balance of the two sides.
A more realistic approach for me may be a partial detox, wherein the phone, laptop and tablet go away all night and then I taper down my TV-watching. I could also envision allocating specific days for screen-free evenings, and making that a ritual with my husband and friends.
Regardless of the solution, one thing’s for sure: the results -- all the benefits to mind, soul and spirit -- are worth working toward.