Diary of a digital detox!

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

According to Wikipedia, that line is a philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and knowledge of reality.

I spent the last seven-days offline, and my philosophical question would be more like, “If I went to London/saw Tove Lo in concert/finished editing Under Siege and didn’t post it on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, did it really happen?”

The answer is obviously yes it did, but I want to share my experience of being disconnected from what has become a huge part of our lives. I’m going to start with a question for you. Humor me… pause and really think about it.

How does the idea of spending 7-days offline/disconnected make you feel?

Did you really think about it? Did you pay attention to the way your body and mind responded to the idea?

If you are anything like me, it made you itch, maybe shudder a little. Which is why I decided to do it.

According to an article posted in January 2017 on socialmediatoday.com, at our current rate of consumption of social media, we will spend 5 years and 4 months looking at social media during our lifetime. I’m going to repeat that… we will spend over 5 years of our precious time alive on social media.

YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter will take up more minutes and hours over the course of our lives than we will spend eating, drinking, and socializing!

It’s easy to see how it happens. Mobile technology has meant we are never far away from the web as we are never without our phones and gadgets.

Personally, social media and being connected 24/7 was starting affect my ability to focus. Being a romance writer, the majority of my friends and readers are based in the US while I am in the UK. When I’d wake up every morning, I’d reach for my phone and find out what happened over night. It didn’t matter whether it was news or social media, I’d consume it before I’d even say good morning to my kids. During the day, it would be a constant dance of research, writing, and trawling. I’d flip to my browser to find a location for my characters to have dinner, and thirty minutes later, I’d return to my manuscript having gotten distracted by flashing tabs designed by tech people with a mission to keep us connected.

Author, Roni Loren, got me thinking about this when she recommended the book Deep Work by Cal Newport. The premise of the book is that we have become good at operating in a frantically disjointed way, but it is killing our ability to focus and do lengthy detailed work. I wanted to test that theory.

I decided to go cold turkey for seven days. I mentioned it to my awesomesauce author friend, Robin Covington, who being as wonderful as she is, said she’d do it with me, and believe me, it was so much easier to do this with a friend! I’ll let Robin share her own experience with you. Here is my diary for how it went.

Day One: I’m VERY agitated. I constantly keep reaching for my phone, and worry about all the things I “should” be doing. I have the urge to ‘check-in’ a lot. It becomes apparent very quickly that I do it WAY more than is necessary. I start to keep a tally chart of how many times I reach for my phone which isn’t there. When it gets to twenty-five some time before eleven in the morning, I stop. I’m convinced I won’t make it through the week.

Day Two: I’m less agitated because I remind myself that I got through yesterday, but I am still distracted. I go to London on the train and take a photograph of the view to share on Instagram… but I can’t and this frustrates me.

It dawns on me that my feelings about not being able to share the view have become more significant than the enjoyment I felt at seeing the view in the first place.

This is stupid, and I am mad that I have trained my brain to think that. So, I take a deep breath and enjoy the view for a little while longer. I plot on paper for part of the journey, which leaves me feeling very virtuous (although I take a photograph of the plot incase my bag gets stolen/rained on/set fire to! This is purely the paranoia of knowing there is no cloud back-up for my precious scribbles.)

Day Three: First full work day at home. I check email quickly and force myself to ignore them all. The world is still turning. No-one really needs me, which is liberating and slightly depressing.  I’ve never been so happy to live in a three-story home. I leave my gadgets on the ground floor, next to the internet off-switch. Then go to work on the third floor where I know general laziness will prevent an impromptu jog down all the stairs to check-in. On the odd occasion I habitually attempt to go to Facebook on my laptop, I get a reminder that there is no internet. I feel less anxious today, and according to RescueTime which I use to monitor my productivity, I see a 110% increase in average productivity at the end of the day. I get my calculator out and check, because that can’t be right. It is. I got twice as much done today because I wasn’t distracted. It also means I don’t have to work after dinner. This is a very good feeling!

Day Four: Weirdness sets in. I am a demon today. I nail every task, and each success makes me feel more positive. Today it really starts to dawn on Robin and me how much better we feel, and our minds start to turn to what it’s going to be like next week when we step back on line. I start to make notes of what I love and want to keep about social media (the friendships I’ve made, the positive group of planning peeps that I love)… and what I don’t. I start to make a list of things I am going to do when I get back online. I do all of this in pencil. I am an engineering major, and I’d forgotten how much I love writing with a mechanical pencil. I don’t work after dinner today either and go to see Tove Lo and Broods in concert instead. I contemplate taking a photograph to share with readers later, but decide against it.

Day Five: I finish my edits for Under Siege (my second Love Over Duty series story) without stepping onto any social media sites. I feel like a bad ass. In the quiet that comes from not having a constant barrage of social media connectedness, I realize some things about myself that drives my personal need to stay connected. I articulate them poorly to Robin who is a great cheer squad!

Day Six: Because I got everything that I needed to for the week completed by lunch, I allow myself some time to think about something that has been on my to-do list for ever. BRANDING! I am so excited. Brand, fonts, colors, logo. I’ve been in a holding pattern on so many things, like stands and swag for signings, because I knew I needed to do that first. I feel like a kid who ate their broccoli so gets a cupcake for dessert. This is fun, and I feel like I nailed this week as an author.

Day Seven: Final day. I enjoyed the plotting I did by hand on the way to London so much that I decide to continue it. Me and my trusty mechanical pencil plot out the first half of Nikan's story from the Preload series. Hubby asks me if I know what time it is, and I realize that I don’t know exactly where my phone is. This feels like progress. I finish early. Little minion is away on a school residential retreat, and big minion has been bugging me forever to be allowed to watch The Lord of The Rings. I decide today is the day, and snuggle up on the sofa with him to watch it. He’s getting older now so I know these days won’t last forever.

Day Eight: Yep. Day eight! You read that right. I wasn’t ready to come back yesterday. I sat down at my desk, saw the hundreds of notifications across my social media pages, and couldn’t face it. Instead, I decide to extend my detox to eight days. I go for a walk with big minion, and we watch the second Lord of The Rings movie instead.

So, I’m back today, and I have a new plan which I’ll share in a future blog post. But I have another question for you: Would you consider a digital detox? And what do you think would happen if you did?