All tech and nothing else makes me a sad, sick girl
October 26, 2018 12:27 PM   Subscribe

My life has revolved around computers and technology since I was a very little girl. I used to love it. Now I am sick of being on a computer and my phone all day, every day. I no longer enjoy my job, I am tired of being chained to a smart phone, and I don't feel like indulging in any of my old hobbies anymore because they all involve me sitting at a computer in order to consume the exact same stuff I create at work. What now?

My mind and body feel toxic after dedicating 25 years of my life to tech. I want out but I don't know how to make it happen. Things that are blocking me:

1. Work: I make a lot of money, but relative to others in my field I am still underpaid. Even if I switched to another field, so many of my skills are tech related that I think I might have to go back to school in order to truly do something else. I don't even know what that could be.

2. Family: My parents and I rely on texting and emails to stay in touch, but texting other people and constantly checking to see if anyone has replied leaves me stressed and unhappy. I am worried that my friends won't keep in touch with me if I switch to a phone that only takes phone calls. I stopped using social media for personal stuff a year ago.

3. Fun: Almost all my hobbies are tech dependent. I'm OD'd on them, too. (Even MetaFilter!)

Have you been me? Are you me? Have you escaped? Could I post an anonymized version of my resume here to see what jobs I may be qualified for but am overlooking?

I am so tired, you guys.
posted by Hermione Granger to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Interim measure: take up a hobby that is computer-independent. It sounds like, ideally (given your situation), that would be something that involved exercise and being outdoors and your long-range vision. But anything that involves tactile manipulation and finished, concrete products might also help. Knitting is a popular choice. You don't need any tech at all to do that, if you choose to eschew it.

Hope you are feeling better soon.
posted by praemunire at 12:32 PM on October 26, 2018 [21 favorites]

Hi. I am you? I have been you?

Instead of switching to a dumb phone, I have taught myself to rely heavily on voice assistants for messaging. I garden and I live in the country and I have animals so I HAVE to go outside. These things have helped. Volunteering my tech skills for mentoring young women and other nonprofits has helped a lot. Ymmv.
posted by annathea at 12:35 PM on October 26, 2018 [9 favorites]

Hi am you.

I quit my job and opened a dog cafe. Not having to computer for my job has made all the difference. Using my phone for social media and my computers for MeFi and gaming is now 100% enjoyable. Changing my work life has had a knock-on effect of changing my personal life; my computing hobbies are hobbies I elect to do for pleasure and not something I do as just some sort of exhausted roll on from my work day. I am meeting new people and interested in new things as a result.

I should point out that I am also super broke and we're in danger of going bust at basically every moment but I don't actually care. I hadn't been happy in years and years and I'm happy almost every day now. Even the bad days don't make me want to kill myself so that's a real plus!

Anyway don't be afraid to do that thing you always wanted to do, especially if it's nothing like what you did before.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:40 PM on October 26, 2018 [31 favorites]

I am you. In fact I asked a similar question two four holy shit seven years ago.

I did a lot of soul searching and looking around and in the end I decided that this is really the only thing I can do without starting over from scratch, which wasn't really an option because I need a salary and health insurance. Luckily in the past year things changed a bit at work and while my job is mostly the same my work environment got much more pleasant, so I no longer dread coming into work.

When I'm home I still spend plenty of hours on the couch with a screen in front of me, though I never do anything technical on computers at home anymore. Anything I do at home is social networking or surfing. I used to like playing around with Linux or programming but now I don't do anything like that.

I keep sane by having a hobby that requires the use of my hands and that results in a physical THING that can be picked up and used. Something I can point to and say "I made that with my hands." A half hour working in my basement fills me with more pride than a year at my job. My job pays well and allows me to spend money on my hobby and the hobby may eventually pay for itself, and who knows, maybe one day it will turn into my job.

It's not really an answer to your question, I know, but it really helps me. Find something that has nothing to do with your job. Find the opposite of your job and do that for fun.
posted by bondcliff at 12:43 PM on October 26, 2018 [13 favorites]

Seconding to find a hobby that does not involve a computer. It could be literally anything that you've had even a mild interest in but never followed through on. I joined a local sailing club, for an example, but for you it could be hiking or bicycling or whatever. Or just take whatever random non-computer class at a local adult education center looks appealing to you.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:56 PM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I am you. I don't have any answers for you, just want you to know you're not alone.
posted by ragtag at 1:02 PM on October 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

+1 physically active hobby

If you feel tethered to the phone because of family/friends, can you redraw those boundaries? Can you respond to texts at set times during the day, leave your phone in another room when you're at home, or leave it at home when you go for a walk? Sometimes I'll text friends and we'll have a little conversation, sometimes it moves more slowly because one or both of us are doing other things, both are okay.
posted by momus_window at 1:03 PM on October 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Can you go camping every so often? Even at a place with developed campsites, you can opt not to bring any electronics with you and just set up your tent, cook food and stare at the campfire. It's a great feeling, at least for me, when your sleep is dictated by the actual sunset and sunrise. Your focus is completely on making things comfortable around the site, prepping your meal and building your fire, and getting cozy in the tent when it's time to sleep. It does wonders for me, especially because I work in a fast-paced environment that involves technology (both at my desk and in the lab).

Not being around the rush of work, and actually focusing on simple tasks in the outdoors is soothing and gives me the rest that my brain needs. There is too much stimulation from electronics, and getting away from it helps me a lot with fatigue.
posted by extramundane at 1:06 PM on October 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

I have been you. a) you're not alone, and b) there are whole bunch of things that you can do to solve the situation.

I had two major epiphanies in no particular order:

1) Tech at work is whatever. If it weren't staring at a screen it would be staring at a sheet of paper, and you're going to be doing a lot of either if you want to work in a professional industry that isn't medicine or production-adjacent engineering (and even then, it's plenty of that). Work computers aren't the problem, it's feeling like I am doing work that either doesn't matter or doesn't require significant critical thinking.

2) Boredom is the greatest gift you can give yourself and the ultimate form of self-care if you're feeling stuck in a rut. It is what motivates planning that cool bicycle trip that you've always wanted to do, completing the woodworking project, getting people together for a dinner party, planting a garden, or deciding that you really need to learn taekwondo and signing up for classes.

For me, the key ingredient is getting out and socializing with people that share interests with me that aren't tech-related. Making friends outside the tech industry has probably been the biggest single helpful factor in escaping the toxic nonsense that is most of the internet.
posted by cirgue at 1:11 PM on October 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

find some good hiking trails where you don't get cell service.

now you've got a tech-free hobby, and while you're doing it you can think about what other tech-free activities you might like to get into.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:15 PM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I started taking modern dance in the senior year of my cs degree; it's pretty good for the neck and wrists.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:32 PM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm kind of you! I'm really struggling with this, so I don't have perfect answers but here's what's helped so far:

- My partner and I depend on tech to communicate all day long. Lately I've been saving up things I'd normally tell him via messages and telling him when we go out to brunch, which is ~weekly. Things like, I'm going to lunch with my sister next weekend, or a funny thing that happened when I went out today. I've found those things are way more enjoyable to share face-to-face and they make our brunches more fun. Maybe you could try seeing friends and family in person more, and saving some things to tell them then?

- I got a puppy. I wouldn't recommend it because it's SO HARD and exhausting. However, it did become our main focus for the first few months and it was nice to think about something important (it's alive and we need to keep it that way) and non-tech related.

- Apart from the raising of a puppy, now that he's older I walk him and play with him every morning, and this has helped me get more exercise and go outside more. I wanted to do those things to get away from tech but didn't find an outdoor hobby I liked. Having a dog has given me one. If that's not your thing, maybe you could do some dog walking for a friend or as a side gig? Or try an outdoor fitness class or an activity like volunteering to pick up rubbish or hiking?

- I tried some new hobbies on the weekend and had computer- free weekends for a while. I tried baking, learning to draw with, journalling, and reading. Baking is one that stuck because it's physical, I create something useful, and while I mostly stick to easy wins, sometimes I try something that seems too hard and get it mostly right, and that's a great feeling.

Good luck!
posted by bellebethcooper at 1:40 PM on October 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Keep the job, first start walking. Walk everywhere possible, briskly. That may be enough to find a balance but once that reaches normal look at more moving, biking, rowing, any of that stuff. Visit hardware meetups/maker groups, even a silly blinky thing you build yourself feels better in a way than the coolest software hack.
posted by sammyo at 1:49 PM on October 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Can you manually turn on a Do Not Disturb feature on your phone for large chunks of the day, editing the notification to let people know what times of the day you're available? On an iPhone, at least, I think they can still get through by texting "urgent." TBH my actual recommendation would be to just turn it off or put it in another room in the evening or whatever until your concerns about being less accessible prove to really bother you, but this seems like a plausible middle ground.
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:52 PM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Find a creative hobby that doesn't use tech. Something where you make something with your hands. It can be as simple as gardening or as complicated as learning an instrument or taking up painting. If you don't have a pet & are pet inclined I would suggest a dog is a great way to get offline. They need feeding when they need feeding & walking & don't understand why you are sitting looking at that screen when there are balls to be thrown. If you can't have one go volunteer doing something physical. Be it walking dogs or go work for your local community garden. Join a board game group & get out & meet people. Seriously just sitting and chatting to people face to face is a lovely way to decomputer it reminds you just how lacking texting etc is as a means of communication.
posted by wwax at 2:00 PM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Nthing the hobby suggestions but also just work on adding something "real" to every day. Short walk in the park, yoga class, looking at the clouds, cooking something great for dinner, volunteering ...

It sounds like you have some larger decisions ahead of you, but in the meantime spending more time in nature and with humans who love you, doing physical things, will likely help you feel more grounded and connected.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 2:14 PM on October 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

I did something like this a while back. I loafed around for some years, traveled, became single, and kind of fell into a trade when a social acquaintance as looking for an apprentice. Around that time was when I realized that the reason I wasn't applying for jobs in my previous field was because I was just burnt out on the whole thing and had lots of underlying feelings of ... futility, coupled with feelings of under-appreciation and the general ephemeral nature of my output..So when I was offered a chance to do something that had a long lasting, functional, physically touchable outcome, I jumped at it. I guess what I did right was to just be open to other possibilities outside of the pigeon-hole I had always thought of myself existing within, career-wise.

If you had asked me back when I was still working in the "tech" field, I'd have laughed at the suggestion I'd be doing what I do now, years later. I also shun technology now that I don't have to work with it, and also because of my knowledge from my past career. No social media outside MeFi, no computer games much really... I had a computer die on me a month ago and I would have been all into trying to figure out what wen wrong back in the day -- now I just said "meh" and switched my hard drive to another computer, and life goes on.

Do I miss it? I kinda miss the moeny but to be honest, it was never enough anyways, so learning to make do with less kind of feels the same at the end of the day. Plus I don't have to worry about the ethics of helping this or that megacorporation, government, or military do unethical things (like existing).

YMMV. More of a "cool story bro" than actual advice, but I hope that maybe it helps to hear from someone who, belatedly, realized they were in your shoes once.
posted by some loser at 2:20 PM on October 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

Did you know there are digital detox retreats? My friend went to one this summer, I think it was Camp Grounded, and had a great time.
posted by ananci at 2:27 PM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am sort of you. And this is one of the reasons I am no longer a mod at MetaFilter. Not that it wasn't a great job, but for a place that was both work and play, I felt it never sort of left me alone. And then when I started working at the Internet Archive, similar deal. And part of this was that the people I was working for had terrible boundaries and expected me to be the same. And that's a pain.

So I don't know specifically what your job is and how it interrelates with your life (esp if better boundaries would help at all) but I will tell you a few things that helped me. I still have a tendency to sometimes binge online stuff when I am being avoidant in my life, but a lot less often and I don't hate myself for it. Some of this stuff is therapist-suggested, some is my own thing.

- offline time in the morning -- part of my issue was anxiety and now when I wake up I set a timer for 45 minutes and I do NOTHING ON SCREEN (except run my meditation app) until that alarm goes off. Huge difference. I do things in my house, I fill bird feeders, I read the paper, I drink coffee without there being a caffeine/internet link, it's nice
- offline hobbies -- this varies from person to person but for me I like sending and receiving mail and I also like to read and I read either on an ancient Kindle or actual paper books. I also go to the gym (aspirationally lately) or walk a lot, often with friends. I think that is part of it. Hobbies with friends (even something simple like "trivia on Tuesdays") can be good, Many people struggle with this, sometimes having a regular group outing helps a lot of people.
- bedtime offline time (same as morning except it's more loosey goosey but I try to read not-on-screen for a half hour before bed and not do phone-in-bed stuff.)
- once I turn off the lights, I turn off the phone. I don't even have Do Not Disturb, I literally turn the sound off (if you're super concerned you can set up people who can "ring through") and turn it back on in the morning
- NO NOTIFICATIONS - I have my texts and calls make a noise and nothing else is even allowed to notify me on my phone. I let people know this so they know how to contact me if they need to. No background updating, nothing, fuck it

My friends are mostly still friends with me though some complain that I don't like to text all the time or am unavailable at 11 pm or 8 am. And thanks to me, MetaFilter jobs have shifts now not just "everyone who is around sort of half works all the time" which builds in accountability but also acknowledges that this sort of work IS work. Best wishes, there are absolutely workplaces where tech skills are valued at the same time as they don't expect everyone to be married to their phones.
posted by jessamyn at 3:33 PM on October 26, 2018 [22 favorites]

Before you commit to buying a dumb phone, try setting your phone to airplane mode. It's better than Do Not Disturb for two reasons:

-In DND, you can still see the notification badges telling you you have unread messages.
-You are still able to check your email, browse the Web, and use other internet-connected apps in DND.

Airplane mode is the true "I don't want to spend any time on my phone" setting.

I'm still trying to figure most of this out myself, so I don't know what else to tell you. But it definitely sounds like you ought to go for a hike this weekend.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:42 PM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I entirely agree with everybody who's telling you to do something non-tech, but more, I think you need to do something physical, like ballroom dancing. Nearly all studios have parties so students can practice and have fun at the same time and it gives the students social time. Swimming is also a good physical thing to do, especially if you have any joint issues. Try out a YWCA and you'll get to meet a bunch of interesting women. Good luck.
posted by MovableBookLady at 5:58 PM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would find non-screen hobbies so work feels separate from your down time. I have friends who play in futsal leagues and softball leagues. At my previous house, I built a garden. I have an adult friend who likes building stuff out of a legos and doing puzzles. I play guitar - not well and it's entirely self-taught, but it's still fun. My sister started piano lessons about a year ago and she's pretty good now! You could knit or make pottery. Even playing video games wasn't relaxing because I played them on the same PC I worked from - I've since gotten a Nintendo Switch so I can play it anywhere. Exercising doesn't sound fun, but it's good for mind and mood - maybe rock climbing walls would be of interest to you? Where I live, hiking trails are popular. There are a lot of things you can do.

But, you know, I worked with a guy who just said "fuck it" and he quit his office job and now he works on a farm that that preaches about inner peace on its website. He was seriously burnt out and disenchanted with his career - I haven't spoken to him since he went to this hippy-sounding farm but I am so curious about how he feels about his decision. He's been there for a few years now, so I'm guessing he likes it.

You can always quit your job and mark a hard turn on your career path, but I'd probably start with the easier stuff, which is using your non-work time differently.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:16 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

One thing that worked for me was turning off ALL text notifications. I would physically have to go into the Messages app to see if I had any texts. Combined with leaving my phone in a spot and not having it within arms reach, this worked very well.
posted by Automocar at 7:18 PM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Not sure what to do about your job, but for your private tech life I would investigate one of the many many nanny programs that let you set usage restrictions for apps on your phone and/or pc. Restrict yourself to a couple of half hour windows during the day to return email or texts. Your friends stay happy, you stay sane.

Definitely use a nanny program rather than relying on yourself to keep track. Technically you can disable a nanny but the process of doing so is usually enough of a hurdle to keep yourself on the straight and narrow.

As for what to do with your new found time, personally I enjoy making something physical so I have something to touch. I’ve discovered that I am fantastically incompetent with a wide array of techniques and materials but it really doesn’t matter. It is very satisfying to be doing something real no matter how it comes out.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:48 PM on October 26, 2018

posted by los pantalones del muerte at 8:37 PM on October 26, 2018

If you have an iPhone, I can vouch for Screen Time. It's in the settings on the new iOS. I have some intense restrictions on my phone now, and I love it. I've whitelisted a few key apps and given myself 30 minutes a day on all others (total, not individually). It feels like having a pre-smartphone again, but I can still look at maps and read email and stuff if I need to. It's kind of the best of both worlds.

If you have an Android, I'd really recommend seeing if there's a similar program or setting.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:10 AM on October 27, 2018

Indoors: Read books (paper or e-reader). Play board games. Craft, if that's your thing (I personally don't want more stuff in the house, even if I made it, so while I find crafting appealing as an idea, the reality of it doesn't work for me). Bake (it's like crafting, in that you do a lot of repetitive stuff with your hands, but at the end you eat the results instead of having to find a place to put them. I like baking.). Limit your screen time, make ample use of Do Not Disturb, and don't let your emails, texts or group texts boss you around. I know whenever I miss a late night group text because I'm already offline for the night, my friends always respond that they should also be offline more. Nobody ever expresses any upset at all that I wasn't participating in the moment.

Outdoors: be outdoors more. Go for walks. Get a smart watch or activity tracker and let it nudge you into more consistent activity. I got laid off a year ago, and because I'd been through a couple layoffs before I knew I didn't want to fall into moping and refreshing the internet all day, so I made myself start going for walks every day. Before long I was really going every single day (current streak: 156 days), I now reliably walk a sub-14-minute mile, and I've lost 25 pounds and at least one clothing size. I'm now the same weight I was my senior year in high school. That's just from daily walks. If you have access to woods where you can get away from city noise and cell phone signal, so much the better. Walking is great because you don't need equipment and it's not stressful on your joints. You could also bike, or climb, or play tennis, or get into Crossfit, but whatever it is try to get a streak going and then you'll find you're motivated to extend it. All the time you're exercising is time you're offline. It's great.

Travel. Go places your phone won't work. Go overseas and don't get a local SIM. Go to one of the big national parks, where there's no signal inside the park. Hell, in DC I can walk to Rock Creek Park and find places with no signal just a couple miles from my house. It's great.

I think the big thing is to have an intention to do something that's not on a screen, and then to carry through with that intention. Hobbies, crafts, reading, exercise, whatever, just set aside time that you know you're not going to pull out your phone every couple minutes. I really like my walks, I like my bagels, and I like being able to check out an e-book from my local library, send it to my Kindle with a couple clicks, and then focus on that without reflexively reloading Twitter or the NYT or however many tech news sites. (Or Metafilter, he typed on Metafilter).
posted by fedward at 8:52 AM on October 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I grew up on tech in a very tech family - I think I had to make friends in college with people who weren't in tech to learn how to enjoy my time. I didn't have a clue that some of my depression might have been from getting into a habit of too much screen time and not enough physical, hanging out time.

I now play and design tabletop games, paper craft cutting, draw, garden, and make one or two new recipes a week. I also have done blues fusion dancing, swing dancing, and lots of walking. I'm interested in learning how to blow glass or woodwork next, and I have a lot of books to read. I am a fan of the Internet because I feel I learn a lot, but having a hobbies that teach me skills that engage me in different senses and in a very deep way is way more fun, especially when I have to ask my friends to get together to test a game with me, or cook and eat a meal together I've made. The social connections are very important to me, since I love sharing and getting to know others and sharing my interests with people I care about.

What do your senses and desires appeal to you to do? Just follow and go down that train and ask your friends for help in doing non-tech things, I guarantee a lot of them would be super happy to take you along and do fun things.
posted by yueliang at 11:50 AM on October 27, 2018

Been you? Maybe... too old to guess what Tech means in your lexicon. :) What eventually kept me in a lower than average pay (but still pretty good by me) for ~17 years was that I was working in Education. Whatever it was that I was doing at the time was probably for Students or Staff or Security or Physical Plant or Researchers or at the forefront of Tech that eventually reaches the real world. Maybe doing the same Tech type stuff for somewhere/someone that leaves you a sense of accomplishment of good karma might be more enjoyable than whatever Job it is that you're doing now.

Variety... do Tech for fun, for something you enjoy, for something that could actually use your help. I got a bit grar at Job one and started spending my free time being sysadmin/hacker/moderator for a Japanese language learning site. (Because their site was janky and I could fix it. Owner just gave me keys to the kingdom and offered to pay. I mostly took books instead. Thus my 2 linear meters of Japanese reference books.) Having wildly different things on the plate every new semester kept things from getting too burn-outy.

Phones came too late to the game to be a thing for me, I'm a bit of a smart phone luddite, you're lucky if I even look at it today. But the computer-y stuff (even just the logical / mathy CS stuff) pretty much never went away and sneaks back into almost everything.

Burned out on Tech, maybe many times over the years. Gone away and come back a few times now. Pretty much in the same boat ATM of trying to decide whether to find another full-time tech-ish job that's satisfying or doing something else for the next couple of decades.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:30 PM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

People ask me why I have a dumb phone. This is exactly why.

It's not anything like impossible, a couple of the people closest to me barely use mobile phones at all, I mean a few times a month. Ironically both have smart phones, so I guess for some it's not the device that matters.

Seconding do physical stuff outdoors to remember what the real world is about. Don't get an app to "help".
posted by bongo_x at 10:55 PM on October 27, 2018

One hobby no one's mentioned, that I've found helpful, is acting. Some people would run a mile, which is fair enough, but I've found doing acting classes - different kinds at different places - fun, challenging and interesting. Not only is it physical - use your whole body, not just your brain and fingers! - but it's difficult in a very different way to tech stuff. Also, the other people have, in my experience, been lovely and supportive and very different to tech people. A different world. I haven't done much acting aside from classes, and I'm not sure I'm any good, but that's fine.

I've also been intrigued by sewing/tailoring as a non-screen activity, although it's still sitting down. Physical results and lots of very geeky details to get into and attempt to master.
posted by fabius at 2:55 AM on October 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I only recently got a phone, and only because I needed it for a specific event. Living without one is occasionally annoying but for me, the benefits outweigh the costs. Do you need to have a phone? Or, if you do, can you only check it on specific intervals?

I used to have one day a week where I didn't use tech at all. Sundays were a day for getting stuff done in the real world and reading books. Something enforced like this might help you connect with other things you enjoy.

I would keep a tech job if I were you (save that money for super early retirement!) but if you're in a job that demands excessive hours, find one that doesn't. You may also find something that has somewhat less screen time. For example,the database team at my office spends most of its time coding, but also spends a lot of time working with researchers and clients to determine the most effective way to develop databases for their needed purposes, and those who are willing also do tech support. Most of them hate these tasks but if you'd rather spend time working with people, there could be roles like that in a lot of places.
posted by metasarah at 6:13 AM on October 28, 2018

I worked in television for many years, and spent a lot of time in studio control rooms, in front of a wall of televisions. For those same years, television (which i'd loved and wanted to do some I was a kid) became a thing I couldn't stand in my personal life; no tv at home, never watched it, wouldn't eat at restaurants with televisions on.

Now I work in tech, and after a few decades tv has become a thing I enjoy in my personal life again. Meanwhile, my incessant hobby of building computers and working with Linux had become something I don't think I'll ever do again.

It's good and healthy to listen to that desire, and have hobbies that do not resemble your work. Lots of great advice in earlier comments, I'm just here to say there's nothing wrong or unusual with your feelings on this.
posted by davejay at 9:31 AM on October 28, 2018

Definitely know how you feel. I've kept working in tech as pays well for a job that is intellectually stimulating and not too demanding. To compensate I try to minimise screen time outside work - keep busy with running, hiking, climbing, woodwork/diy and relaxing passive things like gig, theatre and standup. Anything but staring / scrolling on a device!
posted by JonB at 11:59 AM on October 28, 2018

Been there / am currently there.

My issue is the amount of anxiety I have about how much time I spend online. I work at a computer all day and have no intention or interest in changing careers. But the amount of time I’m online outside of work hours is the real problem. And so I started to slowly unwind my online life, first with small steps and then graduating to bigger ones. This started with how I viewed my phone, that is to say that I stopped seeing it as a tool for specific tasks (making calls, google maps, uber) that are done on a one-off basis and started seeing it as the conduit through which I have been living a lot of my waking hours. It’s not healthy. And so to reclaim that mental space and quiet my mind and return to the brain I had pre-iPhone/pre-internet, I did the following:

1) Turn off notifications. No one needs to be made aware of every development in the Mueller investigation or every new comment in every WhatsApp conversation.

2) Delete apps you don’t need. This includes games and news apps. These are just time sucks that add nothing to your life.

3) Delete your email app. If you want to check your email, use your browser.

4) Delete social media apps.

5) Stop listening to podcasts. This was hard for me. I realized that I was spending an unhealthy amount of time with my headphones in. Walking to work, walking the dog, doing chores, whatever. I was always listening to podcasts because of some weird notion I’d developed that I had to be plugged in at all times to every conversation. This isn’t a revelatory thing to say, but there’s obviously a lot of FOMO involved in our online lives and not just as a result of facebook and Instagram.

6)Read more physical books and magazines.

7) Put your phone away when you’re at home. Give it a special place of its own where it can be plugged in but not on your person. It’s the having it on you at all times that’s really pernicious. That reflex to take it out of your pocket the moment there’s a lull. Out for dinner and your SO goes to the washroom? Try just spending those few minutes looking around the room, letting your mind wander.

8) Find some sort of analog hobby or activity. For me it’s been woodworking. I took the intro class at the local college last winter and I’m taking the next class now. It’s only three hours a week and it’s not like I’m necessarily going to become a master cabinet-maker, but it gives me something to do that does not involve screens or headphones or anything other than my own hands and concentration. Last night I spent a couple hours printing photos and putting them in physical albums. Doing anything tactile like that always leaves me feeling fulfilled.

9) Delete your social media. When I deleted my facebook account, I wanted to make sure that I could keep in touch with those friends who were genuinely important to me. So I went through my friends list and wrote down the names of all those whose email addresses I wanted. In the end there were only about 25-30 friends. The rest I could let go. My metric was whether I would want to get in touch with someone for a beer if I were in town for a night. That guy I knew from my first year of university, would I see if he wanted to get together if I found myself in Toronto for a night or two? No. And if I wouldn’t even do that, why was I maintaining contact? So I wrote to those 25-30 people, asked for their email addresses, archived my profile, and deleted. Haven’t missed it for a second. Twitter was far easier to get rid of.

10) I bought a dumbphone online and it should arrive soon, after which I will ditch my iphone and tell my family and close friends that if they want to get in touch with me urgently, text or call. There are few true emergencies in this world, and if one does happen people can call you.

Obviously, this is all just my own personal approach to resolving feelings that seem similar to yours. Some sort of de-digitization may help you somewhat.
posted by fso at 9:24 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

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