Everybody has a phone they can’t live without. It’s the device helping people do a good number of things previously done offline, and therefore, becoming increasingly useful. Along the lines of usefulness, phones have led to some new behaviours – less useful at best, and yet, well-embraced by most.
For example, messaging apps were initially made to help us connect with one another: Sending a message and then picking up the phone whenever there was a response. Today, the gaps between sending a message and receiving a response have been filled with purposelessly scrolling through newsfeeds, and tapping on notifications. This has gotten out of control to the point that phones are often not picked up because of somebody’s reply to a message, but because of filler activities. In other words, the non-essential activities have become the main reason phones are being picked up.
While there is a well-defined closure of sending a message, there is none of scrolling through a newsfeed. Therefore, it’s not clear when a phone can be put down again. The result is a large time sink that seems worrying only when compounded in time – the very reason why it’s difficult to acknowledge on a day-to-day basis.
The existence of countless apps, and the fact that people have invested a sufficient amount of time using them, only improves the difficulty of reconsidering what is essential and what one can live without. The trickiest part is that many of the essential apps contain non-essential functionality, thus, making it easy to justify and keep the non-essential ones.
First, I needed to check on my phone after each sound or vibration. Then, I started checking it without a sign of either, filling the time when I had nothing to do. Soon, I never had nothing to do because checking my phone was all I did…
I spent all my time glued to an endless screen, reacting to others and thinking of ways to compel others react to me. The beauty of real moments – pushed away, replaced by artificial fulfilment received through false acknowledgement and sense of self.
Watching things I did not intend to watch. Reading things somebody else wanted me to read. Talking about trends and laughing at jokes only a person with a screen would understand… Scrolling, liking, commenting, tagging, posting, then scrolling again. Years of it. Now, not remembering a thing…
With my attention devoured, all that was important became shoved into the background. My values were no longer guiding me, my relationships were left on autopilot, my direction was unclear.
It was not one of those long-awaited sunny days that I realised a change was long overdue. It was more like a thought gradually maturing, pulling me away throughout this process of degradation. My values screaming for help, longing to be dug out and recovered from the reach of irrelevance and discontent.
During my recovery, I aimed at fewer and fewer sources of distraction, slowly regaining my focus, and reshaping the person I thought it’s worth to be. Remembering all that has helped me achieve it, I collected the following recipe…
The Digital Diet
Like any other diet, it starts with a reflection over what one does, how one feels, and whether there’s a necessity for a change. Then, the diet focuses on a handful of steps every individual can evaluate and consider. Some of the steps can require less effort, others can be difficult to start with. That being so, it’s subjective when it comes to deciding what to focus on, where to start, and whether to start at all.
The goal of this diet is not to make you give up your phone and computer. Its goal is to make you conscious about your time and attention. To make you question whether there are more important to you things to do instead, some of which could still be done online.
- Regaining focus
- Consciousness of attention
- Freeing up time for people and activities that matter
- Reflecting on one’s values and perception of things
Is it time for an intervention or just for a healthy evaluation of your digital behaviours? Before you answer, you should know that there’s always something we could do better than before…
Now, think of all the activities you are involved in that happen in front of a screen. Write them down on a piece of paper and categorise them as essential and non-essential. You could also monitor the time you spend in different apps by using Screen Time (iPhone) or any app with similar functionality. This will help you reflect by having a realistic view on what happens behind the screen and whether it’s something you wish to change.
1. Unfollow the non-essential
Of course, entirely getting rid of a social media account would make this step obsolete and things simpler. But sometimes, social media is used for variety of things that add value to one’s life. Filtering out all irrelevance by unfriending and unfollowing will help get rid of the noise others produce – we all want our Facebook friends to be happy, but we cannot keep wasting our time by tracking it daily.
In case you are way too oversubscribed to people and things, it may be easier to start from scratch and curate a newsfeed with fewer posts – a newsfeed you would definitely want to check out.
2. Limit notifications
A notification is a sound, a vibration, a sudden glow of a screen. It’s immediatelly drawing your attention and disrupting your focus. Regardless of what you are doing in the moment, curiosity steps in and the only way to satisfy it is to give in. Giving in normally leads to yet more curiosity as there are so many other things to tap on. It quickly becomes impossible to remember what was that first notification about.
Every app and every phone has an opt-out feature for notifications. Keeping notifications such as a message from a friend, an email, or a phone call are essentials since we would normally want to respond to them the first chance we get. Notifications, such as somebody following us on Twitter, somebody sending a friend request, news etc – those are all non-essentials since they can always wait.
Everybody’s inbox gets spammed one way or another. It’s difficult to keep it healthy when it’s already full of miscellaneous emails, some of which coming from questionable sources. Or let’s say that at some point it made sense to subscribe to a newsletter thought to be about interesting content worth reading, except that it remained unread for too long and it’s now part of the big pile of mail.
Maintaining a good relationship with your inbox is fundamental since every new email is yet another notification which is yet another focus disruption. Additionally, the chance of missing out on an important email in a healthy inbox is slim to none.
Do unsubscribe. Each notification better be worth it!
4. Silence on
A step further would be to disable the sound, and further yet – to disable the vibration. This would provide you with more control over your attention and the decision where and when to give it away as there would no longer be random interruptions. It will also help you be present – talking with the people around you, and finish whatever you’ve started without intrusions.
Today, we can be accessed at any time and chances are we can reach out to anybody and get an instant reply. In truth, we are not supposed to reply immediately to others, just like we are not entitled to get a reply from others right away.
5. Put an end to social media in bed
Just like a dream is rarely remembered, so is staring at social media in bed. Yet, everybody does it. Since it could be the only time one can check on everything completely undisturbed, it normally leads to a mindless scrolling that deducts a significant portion of the sleep one needs. It’s also a time that disappears forever, never to be remembered, neither restored.
6. Reconsider digital habits
Ever since we came online, we’ve developed a variety of different digital behaviours. More and more people are reacting to content which is just what the internet is all about today. Most of us would thumbs up anything even slightly amusing (read Buttons of Disconnect), some would create unnecessary lists or manually organise photos, others would list movies as ‘watched’ after every movie they see… These behaviours are known to instill a fradulent fulfilment as well as a fake sense of acomplishement. Not to mention the assortment of apps residing on most devices that make fingers itch, arosing random curiosity, and stealing time away from significant people and activities.
Bringing an end to such habits and deleting non-essential apps could open room for new and better digital behaviours – such that you would actually benefit from. For example: make lists if they activate you (read To-Do Momentum), monitor your activities to make sure you do more of the things you want to do, journal the sweet moments of life if you have difficulties remembering or appreciating them enough (read The Good Month).
7. Delete social media apps from the phone
This is one of the more drastic but highly effective steps that will purge your phone’s ability to satisfy any cravings you may have for not missing out. Eventually, you may completely lose interest in specific platforms since you’ll spend enough time without them to realise their true worth.
Following this step will force you to open a laptop to check on your newsfeeds which will require a little more effort, and in time, reduce the desire to do so.
You’ll find yourself looking for your phone when you actually need it: to answer a message, review your schedule, answer a call, check your bank account, take a photo… You’ll be in situations where hours will pass without you even thinking about the damn phone, and that’s when you’ll know you’ve won.
8. Get rid of social media accounts
Keeping what makes sense and getting rid of the rest. The most extreme but powerful step that could potentially generate the desired momentum needed for the ruthless act of letting go.
So, which platforms are worth keeping?
It’s simple: The ones that connect us with the people we love. The ones that inform us about the activities we wish to be part of. The ones teaching us about the skills we would like to learn.
And then it’s not that simple… as we can easily justify using any social media without taking into account the abundance of noise coming along with it. So be careful in your judgement and if whether you can’t replace it entirely with an app like iMessage that contains the most essential features to connect with friends and family. Or with a Google search that can also provide you with a list of events or articles. There’s something about actively searching for information, actively connecting with people. And not always counting on a stupid feed.
Sometimes, no matter how appropriate an advice is, we may not be ready for it, and if we don’t start understanding the situation we are in, we may never be. That’s why reflection is the way to stay sober to reality, and unaffected by the influences attempting to distort it.