I Quit Social Media for a Week—Here's What Happened

Victoria Hoff
PHOTO:

Getty/Georgie Wileman

Once upon a time, I knew how to be bored.

As a child, my imagination alone could occupy me for hours on end. My parents largely saw TV (and later the computer) as a time-suck and even corruptive to my siblings’ and my developing minds, and our screentime was thus strictly limited to just an hour or so a week (aside from educational use, of course). And while I may have wailed about the unfairness of it all at the time, in retrospect, l know that learning to entertain myself helped foster the creative thinking that drives my life and career now. I look back at the long afternoons I spent outside with my siblings and our neighbours, dreaming up games and universes until we were called inside for dinner. It was practically idyllic.

And now? Now, I’m just like most members of my tech-minded generation: addicted to every one of my devices and shouldering all the crap that comes with that. I fall asleep to Netflix; I compulsively record my life for Snapchat. It’s not unusual for me to be browsing the internet while watching TV and scrolling through my Instagram feed. If I’m stopped for just a moment at a red light, I feel the itch to check my phone. I voraciously consume the news and the media commentary surrounding it on a minute-by-minute basis—so much that I often feel as though my mind is on the brink of a cartoonish information overload, not unlike that hilarious “Technology Loop” sketch in the pilot episode of Portlandia. (Another symptom of the disease is I often speak in topical cultural references or memes.)

The irony of all this is that I have all the tools to properly disconnect. I love yoga; I know the benefits of meditation and have experienced them in practice. I’ve had a fierce, undying connection with nature since birth. I live for music and travel and enjoy art and creating things with my own two hands. And I spent my formative years embracing boredom, away from electronics.

Yet still, I often come home from work and immediately turn on my TV. Vegging out is something I do very well. On the occasional weekend afternoon that I don’t have plans, I revel in the silence for just a moment, thinking of all the things I could do with my free time. I could paint! Go for a walk! Cook something new! Dive into the stack of books I’ve been meaning to read! Work on writing that book I’ve always talked about! But then my gaze lands on my laptop, and the moment passes. I rarely even just listen to music anymore, unless I’m doing something else at the same time. When I’m with my friends, my phone is always in my death grip, as if it’s another appendage. When I’m travelling or if I happen upon something beautiful, I instinctively swipe open my camera to document it and move on. And because of this, I feel as though I’m never completely present. I never really see things. By perpetually putting a screen between myself and the world, I’m surveilling my life from the same vantage point as my social media followers, rather than actually experiencing it.

To be clear, I think technology is a wonderful thing—I’ve built my career in the digital space, after all. I love that even though I spend most of the year on the opposite coast from my family and many of my friends, I still feel connected to them on a daily basis. I think it’s amazing that in some ways, we can travel around the world just by going online; I love interacting with and learning from people who would otherwise be strangers (like you, Byrdie readers!). And whatever, I’ll say it: Snapchat is one of my favourite things ever.

However, because my job is already so digitally focused, I’ve found it increasingly harder to really feel off-duty when I’m online for leisure—it’s like part of my brain immediately clicks into work mode whenever I open up my laptop or log onto Instagram, even from the comfort of my own bed. Yet I can’t stop logging on, to the point where I’m seeing my addiction manifest in physical ways. My ability to sleep well has always been precarious, and at this point, I haven’t felt well rested in months. I’m not as active as I know I could be, and I can see that impact on my body. The compulsion to stay on top of the latest headlines leaves me feeling anxious most days (and the latest headlines themselves only exacerbate that anxiety). Above all else, I’m so nostalgic for those childhood days when I could revel in the silence and make something out of the nothingness—a far cry from the perpetual noise I surround myself with now, which I know is stifling so much untapped creativity, productivity, and real-life connection with others and myself. Can’t I exist alongside this virtual chaos without being plugged into it all the time?

And that’s the thing—it can’t be one or the other. There are retreats and even “adult summer camps” devoted to the art of unplugging; cell phones, Wi-Fi, and all forms of connectivity are typically banned. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider going cold turkey, either via one of these getaways or through a little staycation of my own. It only makes sense to remove the temptation altogether, right? But on the other hand, given that my job requires me to be online for most of the day, completely cutting myself off from technology would basically be the equivalent of a juice cleanse: unsustainable and impractical. If my ultimate goal was to find balance, I would need to learn how to learn how to practice moderation.

Thus, my challenge was cut out for me: For one week, I would quit all forms of technology that weren’t necessary for my job. No Snapchat, no mindless social media, no Netflix. Who knows? Maybe I would, like, read a book or something.

Keep reading to see how the challenge panned out.

Have you ever tried a digital detox? What are your favourite ways to unplug? Sound off in the comments below!

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