And why you might want to try it too.
In my first post, Digital essentialism: Or why this blog even exists, I hinted at some of the immediate effects I noticed after I started my 30 day digital/dopamine detox, where I deleted the Twitter and Instagram apps from my phone. If you’re digital-sober-curious, I hope this helps nudge you to at least give it a try for yourself. The idea is to fully commit to the 30 days, but it’s up to you to decide what and how much you want to bring back into your life after that trial period. I’d love to hear about your experience if you do end up trying it out.
1. Control over my time
This first effect might be too obvious, but it simply gave me more control over my time. We have some unknown but finite amount of time on this planet, and it feels good to have control over how and how much to fill this time, even if it means “doing nothing” at times. For me, that has meant more reading (including articles from previously untouched issues of The New Yorker that arrived and made me feel guilty on a weekly basis), thinking (and writing!) about what I’ve read, more consistent running in the morning, practicing languages, and generally having more headspace to be intentional about what I’m doing or not doing with the rest of my time.
2. Focus on the present
It was hard for me to truly live in the present when my brain would be in the habit of composing tweets and Instagram story sequences in my head to perfectly capture whatever interesting moment I was experiencing (or not actually experiencing). The first few of days were extra difficult because my brain would still be thinking about these opportunities to share on social media and still doing the work to compose the content, but after a week or so, it realized that it didn’t have to do that anymore. It’s hard to explain how liberating it feels to be able to do things without worrying about capturing that moment. I can go to the lake without my phone, go for a swim, and think just about how nice the cold water feels.
I have a suspicion that the most fulfilling lives are the ones that we never hear about. While that makes me a bit sad to think about, it uplifts me to think about the endless possibilities that brings to conversation and in getting to know people, which leads me to my next observation.
3. Interesting in-person discussions
Because I don’t look at or share on Instagram where people post about their adventures and major life events, when I actually catch up with people, there’s a lot to ask and talk about. It’s nice not having to wonder whether someone already knows about everything you’ve been up to, or if they think that you already know what they’ve been up to. We can just catch up on everything with no assumptions. I also find that these “easy” dialogues around basic catch-up help build up the momentum to get into deeper, more interesting topics later on in the conversation.
4. Mindful consumption of physical goods
Although I did not commit to not checking email during my digital detox, I did take some time to unsubscribe from tantalizing marketing emails from my favorite brands. It’s the job of marketing people to make you feel like you’ll become a better you if you just buy that product. My weaknesses are tea, ceramics, and running/cycling gear, so I really made sure none of those brands can reach me to tell me that I can become some photogenic, tea-sipping, and carefree runner / cyclist / person if only I had that thing. Without brands and influencers telling me what I should want, I found myself appreciating the things I already owned more. This is good for reducing clutter in both my closet and my mind, better for the environment, and friendlier to my wallet — all of which further contribute to my overall well-being.
5. A moment of clarity
Lastly, if you think that drugs can give you enlightenment or some moment of complete clarity, try getting off social media and see what that does for you. This one is hard to explain (perhaps in the same way that explanations of drug-induced “visions” seem to not make sense to someone outside of that experience), but now when I see glimpses or Instagram feeds or TikTok videos, I wonder why anyone (including my past self) would subjugate themselves to this kind of environment. I feel like I’m an alien observing the modern human civilization. That’s partially why I feel so compelled to share my experience and see if anyone else feels something similar.
I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below or feel free to reach out to me.
Thank you for reading, and until next time!
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3 responses to “The effects of my 30 day digital detox”
Your suspicion that the most fulfilling lives are likely the ones we never hear about resonates. It brings to mind the distinction between being rich and being wealthy I’ve heard relayed by Shane Parrish—and that true wealth tends to prefer to fly under the radar. Other people have certainly articulated the same thing. The way Parrish has distilled it on a number of occasions just happens to have stuck with me better.
Focusing on composing a life fit for posting on Instagram certainly detracts from living in the moment, in a way that can surreptitiously rob the present of the joys that make life worth living. Multiplying the effect, is just how hard I find it can be not to succumb to comparing myself to the lives that others have composed for social media when scrolling a feed, which inevitably serves to prove the old adage that comparison is the death of joy.
I found Shane’s tweet “Rich people have money. Wealthy people have time.” (https://twitter.com/ShaneAParrish/status/1467652061454086144) which I think summarizes that idea really nicely. I’ll have to find where he delves deeper into the topic (maybe his podcast?).
Regarding comparison being the death of joy, I very much agree. The most difficult part for me is navigating the line between comparison and inspiration, though I’ve also had cases where being over-inspired can be negative. I’ve heard it explained as how you can live _any_ life you want, but not _every_ life you want — i.e. you can’t do everything.
You mention robbing the present of the joys that make life worth living, and that reminds me of another thing I’ve been struggling with, which is to not focus _too_ much on being in the present. I think it was Four Thousand Weeks that touches on this subject a bit, but being too focused on trying to be in the present can ironically take us out of the present. (Maybe similar to not being able to fall asleep when you’re trying to falling asleep.) I sometimes find it hard to remove myself from this meta-awareness of the present, and to actually be in the present.
That is definitely the most succinctly I’ve seen Shane put it. Nice sleuthing 🔎 A similar posit from one of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s books, along the lines of “you are rich if the money you refuse tastes better than the money you accept,” is another that has stuck with me.
Oddly enough, not focusing too much on being in the present did not happen to be one of the aspects of Four Thousand Weeks that stuck out to me when I read it. My biggest overarching takeaway from reading Burkeman’s book was to come to peace with tempering my expectations about what I can realistically accomplish on any given day—which is probably a testament to where I was at emotionally around the time I was reading it. I like the framing of you can live any life you want, but not every life you want that you’ve relayed. I can’t do everything, none of us can, and that’s okay.