Unplugging: A digital detox experiment

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Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

This post is a way overdue follow up to the National Unplugging Day article I wrote, and my experience unplugging. 

According to a study by the World Economic Forum, digital media users often spend more hours online than they sleep, yet only half believe it improves their quality of life. Not only is increased in screen time found to not improve our quality of life significantly, but it is also found to be tightly correlated with stress, vulnerability to addictive behaviors, and a decline in physical activity.

You can read more statistics on digital use and mental wellness from the Happiness Hack book (highly recommended).

These stats, however, are no longer shocking. It is evident our addiction to our screens and technology is costing us our physiological and psychological health. As a response to the invasive and costly nature of digital addiction, various movements have sprung across the globe to motivate us to build a positive relationship with our digital lives. 

The National Day of Unplugging is such a movement dedicated to a 24-hour long digital sabbatical to unplug, unwind, relax and do things other than using today’s technology, electronics, and social media.

On Friday, March 1st at 7:00pm, I unplugged for the first time in a very very long time by putting away all my electronic devices* for a 24-hour period.

The experience was refreshing and inspiring.

.  .  .

Friday night was fairly simple since I have been in the habit of practicing a relatively tech-free bedtime routine for some time now. I unplugged, ate dinner, and showered before heading to bed around 8pm with a book and a notepad. I wrote down ideas, made lists, and read until I fell asleep about 3-hours later.

Not much was different.

However, waking up the next morning without an alarm, which is literally the best freaking feeling ever, and without my phone or laptop to scroll through messages, email, and online forums was significantly different.

It felt strange to not be connected and scrolling as soon as my brain regained consciousness.  

Without exaggeration, I couldn’t remember the last time I woke up and did not check my phone within the next hour or so. Since the first time I got a smartphone back in 2010, my phone and I have been inseparable, an extension of my life barely leaving my sight, touch, or senses. If I did not have my phone for whatever reason, I would have my laptop to plug myself into.

I’m almost always connected to a digital device.

The first thing I noticed was the ticks, the feeling that something was missing that there was something I should be doing, but couldn’t figure out what it was. Yet, it still felt empowering to not succumb to feeling antsy and bored. To fight off the boredom, I read. I read A LOT.

Still, the best part of unplugging was the nostalgia disconnecting brought.

*Around noon, I decided to cheat and dug out my old iPod shuffle, my very old yet cherished device, that I haven’t used in a really long time. I hooked it to a portable speaker and songs I downloaded in high school, back when I first got my shuffle, started playing, taking me back in time. I re-discovered songs I have completely forgotten about, songs that were illegally downloaded from LimeWire, an ancient method of getting music on your device.

While jamming out to high school nostalgia, and pretending to hit all the notes to Juciest by Alicia Keys, I decided to clear out the paper files I have been meaning to get to.

I was that bored.

In the mass of it, I found a copy of the Art of Living by Epictetus I printed a while back, read a few pages, and put away intending to return to it shortly. In the midst of unlimited online scrolls, I have forgotten about it. I began reading, highlighting, and jotting down notes until I finished the whole thing. Then, I promised myself if I’m ever stranded in a deserted island and can only bring one book to keep me alive, let it be Epictetus’s the Art of Living.

First, say to yourself what you would be;
then do what you have to do.— Epictetus

.   .   .

Still looking for things to do, I decided to dig out my souvenir box and go through all the notes, cards, pictures, and other miscellaneous items I have been hoarding for the past 8 years or so. There was a lot of tears, laughter, and shrieking with delight (or embarrassment) reliving moments long forgotten, and relishing in the changes and growth that have taken place in that time period.

Once I was done the nostalgic time travels, I decided to leave the house to pick up some stuff. No phone.

It was finally 4pm when I got back.

I had 3 more hours to go entirely unplugged from the world.

I dug out another gem.

In the early stages of our relationship, my boyfriend had given me a copy of our text messages starting from our very first text exchange, about 300 pages. I read about 172 pages of that, getting lost in the many wonderful moments and memories of our honeymoon phase.

When I looked at the time, it was finally 6:30pm. With half an hour to go, I began to feel antsy. Keeping up with the theme of the day, I decided to pass the remaining half an hour of the day reading.

At exactly 6:55pm, I took out my laptop and phone to plug back into the world.

.  .  .

I did ZERO productive work that day.

There is this inherent association with digital minimalism and productivity, and that is indeed a big part of managing our relationship with our devices.

However, this challenge reminded of something just as important that we have been increasingly becoming disconnected with as we remain plugged to our devices: the ability to simply recall moments of the past.

The more I stay off mindless digital consumption, the more I find myself recalling tiny moments from my life that don’t necessarily have any special or specific significance. Like, this one time I was taking the train in Toronto and feeling completely in awe of just being alive, a random day with no other context for the feeling I experienced. Remembering these tiny moments, despite their insignificance, is nature’s anti-depressant, a little dose of joy from the past.

One explanation can be that when we constantly overwhelm our brain with information overload, we don’t it the time and space needed to just wander and sift through our memory bank. Our brain is so busy processing new memories, it has no time to be slow down and bored.  In other words, continuously bombarding ourselves with information is preventing us from indulging in the already available repertoire of great moments from our past.

At least that was my experiences during my digital detox.

The best lesson that came from a day of unplugging is that when you go offline, you will find things to do that are almost always more rewarding than the usual go-to mindless scrolling. By unplugging, we allow ourselves to just be without our digital devices and platforms cluttering our mind.

Who are you without all the noise?

“As concerns the art of living, the material is your own life.
No great thing is created suddenly. There must be time.
Give your best and always be kind.” —  Epictetus

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