Help with digital detox
August 27, 2019 11:33 AM   Subscribe

I want to try Cal Newport's suggestion of a 30-day digital detox (from the book Digital Minimalism). Has anyone done this?

I'm still trying to work out the details, and while he offers suggestions, it's clear that people need to figure out on their own what they really can't do without. I'm already not on Facebook, and obviously, I'll quit Twitter. But I'm not going to subscribe to a newspaper for a month, and I'd like to have some idea of what's going on in the world. I will continue to buy things I really need online - maybe no browsing? I would like to stick with my online cancer support group and possibly MetaFilter, but I want to limit those too. Also, I work a pretty tedious desk job, and I'd like an alternative to looking online when I need a quick break. I can't just take walks all day, and I'd like to cut down on eating at my desk (sadly, my other respite). I use the internet for my job, and I'll need to keep doing that too. Newport suggests cutting out or limiting streaming video as well.

If you've done this or otherwise severely limited your internet use, please share what you did and what long-term effect it had. And if you're just thinking about it, but have some ideas, share those too.
posted by FencingGal to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
See, e.g. Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain (and lots of other recent mainstream articles).

But see also The Disconnecionists, Fear of Screens and Busy, distracted, inattentive? Everybody has been since at least 1710 for more critial takes.
posted by caek at 11:44 AM on August 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

I cut out Twitter over a year ago. It took a few months, but I got my attention span back. (I could NOT read books while I was on Twitter. Later, I suddenly could!)

Sometimes at work I use apps like StayFocusd and LeechBlock to enforce not going to or spending too much time on certain sites. I think you can sync some of those across devices too.
posted by purple_bird at 11:48 AM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have cut back my online presence and internet use in a material way. Two things that come to mind. One, I listen to music instead of browsing the internet. Two, I have become a puzzler including crosswords, suduko and other games that require concentration and thinking.

I also make more phone calls to family and friends. My 20 something kids are starting to catch on and now call me rather than text.

I read books more now and even some magazines. Wandering the library is fun to me.

In terms of news, I don't. TV, over the air and cable suck. Newspapers are generally old news and biased but can serve to keep me up.

I think the best way to start is to start when you travel. Don't bring your charger. I have an old feature phone I can use if I am concerned about safety or not being reachable for some reason.
posted by AugustWest at 12:11 PM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

How do you feel about podcasts or the radio? You could listen to NPR’s daily briefing (up first, I think it’s called) or the BBC’s. I do this but also...I have found I don’t have to actively seek the news but the major stories still leak in somehow.
posted by CMcG at 12:14 PM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd like to have some idea of what's going on in the world
I watch the local TV news most nights. You might want to rotate between a national show and a local show and only watch one every few days. If you want just the top stories, the first ten minutes of the local broadcast should provide that to you.
posted by soelo at 12:43 PM on August 27, 2019

You can also a paper daily? You don't have to subscribe.
posted by praemunire at 1:12 PM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Listen to NPR or Democracy Now or another news program via the radio, not an app, if possible, to get news. Use your break to walk to the store and buy a newspaper or magazine you can keep at your desk for the down times.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:49 PM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Alternatively, buy a good, big Sunday newspaper (the Sunday New York Times is my favorite, but YMMV). It’ll take you a few days to get through it all, and you can keep some of it (like perhaps the magazine) at work.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:51 PM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have done this to various degrees over the years.

For social media, the only way is to unfollow, unfollow, unfollow. Uninstalling the app or whatever is not enough, even though it should be. If I go to Facebook, of course I still have friends and groups on there, but I'm met with a completely a blank feed. I did the same for Feedly and a few other sites. I trust that if a site or individual is truly important to me, I will remember to go visit them of my own volition and that has been 100% true. If you're scared you'll forget about all your feeds, write them down and save it in an email draft or Word doc or whatever before nuking them. Whenever I revisit these lists, I'm impressed to find that I haven't even THOUGHT about 99.9% of them.

News, I just...don't seek it out in any form. The top stories will always find you. If I had to do this, I'd listen to the news on the radio during my commute and that would absolutely be it. I also like the suggestion to walk to buy a daily paper.

For sites that I still want to visit, I log out of everything, clear my cache, etc. Being hit with the login screen whenever my fingers automatically type in the URL reminds me of my larger goal.

Did you follow Cal's instructions to make a plan for how you're going to fill up that time rather than just strategizing how to cut stuff out? For workday breaks, that would be writing long-form emails to friends and journaling more (I use the website Penzu).
posted by anderjen at 3:13 PM on August 27, 2019

I figured I would get most news eventually through Metafilter, and I scheduled times that I would look at Metafilter during work breaks.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:30 PM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Newspapers are good because you can read it and then you’re finished for the day, unlike a news website which is designed to keep you finding new stuff to read forever. But if you don’t fancy a daily paper then maybe something that’s weekly, or less, like The Economist or similar? There’s not much news you need to know daily.

For other online things, like MeFi, I’d set myself a specific time (or times) of the day to read them so it becomes a regular thing, so you’re less tempted to dip into it whenever your mind wanders... which sounds like exactly the kind of thing a digital detox should be getting you away from.
posted by fabius at 3:32 AM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I digital detox pretty frequently. I do it by going somewhere my phone doesn't work. Say a 3-day backpacking trip or a week on a river. When you get back in range you'll look at your phone like "what did I think was so important on here?"
posted by trbrts at 6:36 AM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was Extremely Online on twitter for several years and quit early last year. My capacity to read books absolutely returned. And also, I am way less mean and snarky. It helped that I wrote this big manifesto/declaration on my blog about why I was leaving, and now I feel like I can't really go back without egg on my face.

I still struggle with looking at Instagram too much, but it's nowhere near as bad for my attention or commitment to earnestness as Twitter was.
posted by mostly vowels at 5:29 PM on August 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

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