Monday, 18 July 2016

Going phone-free

Digital detoxes are a complete cliché by now. We've all read the magazine feature or watched the Youtube video where the Internet addict goes cold turkey for a weekend, at home or in some far flung, zen-heavy type tropical location. But I've realised that for years (quite literally) and in all the time I've been reading and watching things about these experiments, I hadn't done one myself.

Lately I've felt my internet reliance becoming too much: I'd noticed Instagram was having a bad effect on my bank balance (too many tempting clothes!), my self esteem (too many beautiful people!) and my sense of self worth (far too much FOMO!). Twitter, meanwhile, was having a bad effect on my mood (Brexit happened, need I say more) and my self-confidence (too many writers achieving better things than me). Facebook on the other hand has started to feel like how I imagine I'd feel were I to revisit my university town – once, it was home, now, it's just a place populated by strange but vaguely recognisable faces and places, with weddings happening and babies being born that I have precisely zero part of and absolutely nothing to do with.

All of it wrapped up together was getting me down. My attention span these days is appalling – a post on this blog once preached just how easy it is to read a book a week, when lately I'd be happy to manage one a month. When I leave my phone in another room, my fingers itch for it, and I don't feel quite right 'til I know it's safely stored in my palm or pocket. If I post something online, it worries me to realise quite how much seeing the likes rack up pleases me. Is this what it's come to, setting my sense of achievement on bumping up past that 11 likes mark on Instagram?

This evening is what I believe has been the hottest of the year so far. On the clammy journey home from work, I felt my phone overheating in my hand, and I realised it wasn't just down to the 29 degree temperature (multiplied by god knows how much on a crowded commuter train). I'd been overusing it, constantly refreshing apps and getting unreasonably enraged when passing a spot without signal. So I did what I don't think I've done since said phone came into my possession, and turned it off. Not just airplane mood; I went all out 'Power off', two words that very few 20-somethings can be accustomed to hearing these days.

My own digital detox hasn't exactly lasted very long – all of a few hours, in fact. But I genuinely already feel better for it. I sat in the garden with a glass of prosecco (to complete the stereotypical millennial picture), inspired by the neighbours I could see eating al fresco with a glass of vino a few doors down, and powered through 50% of the book I'm reading on my Kindle. The same book I've been reading for a good two weeks, polished off in just over an hour. I can practically feel the brain cells regenerating. I realise the irony, rushing to write my thoughts online, but this is honestly the fastest and the smoothest words have come to me in months.

I'm not going to pretend it's now a phone-less life for me. I need rambling WhatsApp chats and silly memes to keep me going just as much as the next tragic 20-something. But I also need to wean myself off that compulsion to refresh every other minute. Even if you do miss what happens for a few hours, is that really so bad? The #KimExposedTaylorParty of today will be tomorrow's chip paper (or yesterday's Snapchat), after all.

Cliché or not, if tonight's anything to go by, the occasional digital detox is vital for retaining your 21st century sanity.