I mentioned it in posts last year, but my holiday break wasn’t any old break. I took the three and half days at my parents’ house to disconnect from all social media and news and do literally anything else.
To be honest, the digital detox was the best part of my 11-day holiday break.
I’ve mentioned this before, but over the past few years I’ve had a problem with constantly checking in for new content online, always looking for the newest dopamine fix. That fix never lasts long, which means the hunt continues for the next big fix. There’s always another thing to be found. And another. And another.
I was doing this even in my supposed relaxing time. Even when I was having fun in my interactions, there was always an inner fear of missing something new, not being the first to find out something. FOMO, but for everything digital. It became a nightmare and the exact opposite of relaxing. It’s strange how zoning out can have the opposite effect.
Any attempts to improve my relationship with the internet and being the first to know everything required a hard reset, so I used the holiday break at my parents’ house in the middle of nowhere to perform that hard reset. The rules: no Twitter, no Discord, no news, no other social media. I removed Twitter and Discord from my home screen and replaced them with more productive pursuits (Duolingo, the weather). I didn’t go hardcore and uninstall the apps altogether so I would have a nuclear option if needed.
The purists might say that this wasn’t a pure digital detox since I still let myself use my phone and other electronics, but something strange happened.
It was actually a break. I’m not sure when the last time I actually disconnected from the internet for more than a day at a time, the last time I didn’t have my laptop sitting out in front of me or nearby when at home or wherever I have my station set up. Forget being glued to phones, being glued to my computer is the real struggle.
Even though I didn’t disallow laptop use during my digital detox, my laptop never left my backpack. The temptation would have been too strong, even if I used the laptop to write.
Instead of constantly checking Twitter or Discord for the latest updates (or more accurately, the latest non-updates during the holidays), I found myself doing so many other things. I wrote pages upon pages in my journal. I made plans. I read a book, continuing my tradition of reading Dresden Files books over the holidays. I played more Pokemon Violet and finally got a shiny in a mass outbreak. (Sableye, that beautiful gold gremlin.) I petted my parents’ dog. I put together a few more pieces in the jigsaw puzzle Mom has been working on for months. If the temperature weren’t in the single digits on Christmas Eve, I might have gone outside.
Let’s be real, I played a lot of Pokemon. Games not only turn my brain away from checking social feeds constantly, but games that require my full focus makes it hard to check these things. When I’m writing on my computer or even using my computer for music, it’s too easy to flip to another tab and see what’s on Twitter or Discord. It’s why I don’t use coffeeshop wifi on my computer when I’m out. I paid for this fancy drink and I’m not going to ruin my productivity by giving myself internet access, damnit.
My brother noticed when I wasn’t replying to his texts instantly, asking when we were eating or whether I had pulled any leftovers out. This is why I didn’t block phone use altogether. “So that’s why you don’t have your computer out,” he said.
For the first time in a long time, I returned home from my parents’ house relaxed, rested, and ready to enjoy the rest of my break. Unfortunately I didn’t continue these healthy habits back at home. I told myself I’d retire Twitter and Discord from my default pinned tabs, only opening them when I wanted to check them.
That didn’t last long. The tabs stayed open. I knew they were open so I’d go back and view them again, repeated ad nauseum. I’m still doing this now, and I’m searching for good solutions.
Twitter and Discord never returned to my phone’s homescreen, so that’s a small victory.
“What’s happening?” the Compose Tweet box asks. Why does my brain feel an obsessive need to know what’s happening?
It’s a haunting question with an even more haunting answer. What’s happening is the rewiring of our brains to always need to know what’s happening. To feel the need to be aware of everything all at once. But our brains aren’t wired to take in this much information.
What’s happening as 2023 starts is I still need to get the last of groceries before surgery and I need to go over my teammate’s battles and the House couldn’t elect a speaker and how the hell do they expect to govern and I read this one thinkpiece about how Republicans are good at opposing things but not good at holding power while Democrats are good at uniting under opposition but not good at having power and oh I forgot to solve yesterday’s Redactle and should solve today’s when I get home and I need to figure out when to have my yay I’m sterile party but that’s going to be in March but I need a date for March Community Day first and I need to clean the house before surgery and I need to put about five reminders on my calendar to catch up with people I ran into during Nano but said after Nano but then the holidays and surgery happened so I may not get to them until March and there are all these thinkpieces I still haven’t read and I have several novels to edit or at least figure out outlines or sequels for and I’m going to die one day, what’ll that be like and I need to be a better friend and reach out to the ones I somehow still do have and
Right now, too damn much.
I did well enough after the digital detox after the new year, but after my birthday and my sterilization and recovery, I started backsliding, a term I haven’t used in any seriousness since my Christian days. It’s a habit that’s hard to get out of once you’re in. It’s like addiction–no, it is addiction.
I started blocking sites, but it was just as easy to unblock them if I really needed to know something immediately.
Even though Twitter and Discord are no longer on my phone’s home screen, they’re still the first suggested apps when I open the All Apps screen.
The new Silph PVP season has started so I need to pay some attention to Discord to communicate with my opponents.
Twitter stayed unpinned for awhile, and I took even more time scrolling across all my open tabs to Tweetdeck. I finally re-pinned it and saved myself the time.
The internet relies on feeding the dopamine machine. I experience a little hit every time I see that new notification. I have to leave the important ones unread so I don’t forget them.
The change of scenery and time of year helped, I think. I’ve never been able to do this at home.
There’s an entire productivity app industry aiming to help you block apps and websites and reclaim your time, but none of these address my biggest question: What if these apps are where your friends are? What if these apps are a primary method of communication, even (especially) for messages like “On my way over” or “Wanna grab lunch?”
I still don’t have a good answer to this. To hearken back to the days of AIM, I’ve started marking myself as permanently idle so no one sees when I’m active in Discord. To be honest, this doesn’t change much except when I open Discord on my phone and people can see that I’m active on my phone.
The folks I talk to in person most often have my number in case we miss a time-sensitive message.
But screw everyone else?
That’s not the message I want to deliver when I’m craving deep human connection.
I started playing more Pokemon Violet after my surgery; even though that wasn’t a “productive” activity, it was one that required me to focus on the one thing in front of me without switching from one tab to the other on my computer.
It’s more fun than switching from Twitter to Discord to Twitter to Discord to whatever I find when I enter a random letter in New Tab and back to Discord.
I’ve read only seven books this year, putting me far behind my goal of 50 books for the year, especially after taking my lack of reading in October and November into account. (No time to read when I’m writing at a double NaNo pace, after all.) I want to read all those series that keep getting recommended to me, but my brain has almost no room to concentrate on extended reading.
I never did read April’s book club selection. Fortunately it was a book I had already read. But I chose May’s selection from my to-read list so I need to get back in the reading groove by then.
I’ve checked out several graphic novels from my local library, hoping that something shorter will get me back in the groove of reading. Remember when I talked about momentum from my Pokemon Go post? I need momentum to get back into reading and productivity too. There’s a lesson to be learned here, and I’m still trying to learn it to the fullest.
In the interest of full disclosure, some Discord DMs did slide through my notifications because I didn’t edit Discord’s mobile notification options and I receive only DMs as notifications to start with. I replied to a couple that truly couldn’t wait until returning from my break.
And yes, I returned from the digital detox to see Greta Thunberg thoroughly own Andrew Tate on Twitter. That was an eternity ago.