Think Tank: Internet Detoxing

In case you were wondering, I completed my Internet Detox and lived to tell the tale. As a refresher, here were the rules:

1. Because so much of life in 2015 is dependent on the Internet, I detoxed just for the week: Monday morning (actually, I unofficially started on Sunday night after dinner) when I woke up to Friday at noon.

2. No browsing, researching or posting was allowed…

3. …but I checked my emails once a day at noon just to make sure nothing super important came through. This was the only rule I continually broke throughout the week out of necessity, and now I see that once a day was the most unrealistic when I still had to communicate with people.

4. I was still available via text.

To make it more interesting and see how good my willpower was, I didn’t delete any of the social media or messaging apps on my phone or block my Internet browser. However, I did turn off push notifications.

It wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be, but I definitely learned more about my Internet consumption and social media in general. I didn’t realize it, but about five days, which amounts to 120 hours, was the perfect amount of time to gain some insight.

Unwittingly, I picked a great time to do it.

Like I said in the explainer post, I had been feeling particularly uninspired and thought getting off the grid would help. Luckily, this week became a lot busier than I had anticipated it to be: planning and decorating for my mom’s birthday party, helping my sister get ready to go back to school, working on creative projects and hanging out with friends. I did play a lot of 1010! in my downtime, which was a pretty good brain workout. I thought I was going to read more, but I just read and finished one book. I took the time to take evening walks, where I noticed a lot of things about my neighborhood that I missed when I was ultra-busy in work and school. Being out and about or otherwise focused didn’t leave that much time to check anything, which really helped me stay on track.

Some parts of the detox were easier than others.

The easiest parts? I didn’t touch Facebook or Twitter for the entire time. I also never opened my Feedly, which houses all of the feeds for my favorite websites and blogs. When I came back to that on Friday, I had over 2,000 articles to sift through — but more on that later. Turning off push notifications was maybe cheating, but I think that would have been even harder to get through the detox seeing all of this stuff come across my screen and resist temptation.

The hardest parts? The email thing, like I said earlier. And especially on Monday and Tuesday, I found myself absentmindedly opening both Instagram and Snapchat, realizing quickly that I wasn’t supposed to be on it and closing out the apps before anything could load. That probably happened about 15 times. I’m thinking this happened because Instagram is much more visually stimulating than status updates or long reads and therefore I’m drawn more to checking it, and Snapchat is so ephemeral that if I don’t see someone’s story it’s gone the next day and I’ll never see it again.

I was also hoping to not use the Internet at all for the week, and that was nearly impossible just because of how much information is hosted online. I had to research where to find clear latex balloons, what time “The Gift” was playing on Thursday, and when the city’s new parks and rec classes registration opened. I also applied for a job, which required an online application. You don’t really realize just how much of life has become digital until you’re forced or you force yourself to disconnect.

It forced me to be more resourceful.

I spend a significant amount of my time on the Internet looking for new things, whether that’s new art, music, television, film or ideas. I get a lot of that from how I’ve curated my social media and content feeds, but also through falling down rabbit holes and finding new outlets. For the week, I couldn’t do any of that. I also couldn’t browse Pinterest for ideas on my mom’s birthday party, and turning off that spigot was good too because it forced me to trust my own taste. Finally, I didn’t buy anything online for the week, and I count that as an achievement in itself. Having to read a book from my own stockpile instead of researching/buying a new one or listening to what’s in my iTunes library made me more appreciative of what I already have, and enjoy what I’ve already culled for myself.

Facebook was the most interesting to come back to — and it wasn’t what people were posting.

I’ve never spent enough time away from Facebook to know this, but Facebook does some really interesting things while you’re away from it for periods of time. When I opened it up and saw that I had nine notifications, I expected them to be things directly related to me. For the most part, they weren’t. Facebook told me that someone I’m friends with changed her profile photo on Thursday. Another one was someone’s benign status update on Friday morning. There were even notifications that multiple friends were attending a event near me (the Bernie Sanders rally), and if I knew someone I have a lot of mutual friends with and wanted to friend request her. With regular usage, none of this stuff pops up. In addition, Facebook consolidated a lot of information for me when I scrolled through my newsfeed. For example, it would say “So-and-so posted four updates” and would show me, all together, four status updates from throughout the week. This made it easy to see everything that had been posted since Sunday night.

The return to Facebook was one of the most interesting aspects of the detox for me, because with so much of what Facebook is trying to do in terms of getting to know its users better for supposedly better service (but really better advertising), it completely missed the mark. None of it was important to me, and it didn’t even pick people that I interact with on a regular basis. I would love to know what the algorithms are, what the cutoff was (Is it two days? Four?) for all of it to start popping up and why Facebook would think that I would want all of that consolidation and want to know everything that had happened. I hope that eventually social media becomes a more interesting site of research, because I think there are a lot of mechanisms that we don’t notice that affect how we consume it.

It felt like I hadn’t taken a break from the Internet at all.

When I came back on Friday, nothing seemed to have really changed in the general media landscape. I didn’t really miss anything so big or catastrophic that was a shock five days later. I didn’t expect for any of that to change, but to come back and not feel like I missed anything in a week was scary. It’s insane to me that the 24-hour news cycle desensitizes everything, and for the most part everyone is just doing the same things and making the same decisions. Same shit, different day.

As an aside, I noticed during a trip through my RSS feeds yesterday that at least three different publications wrote about Jimmy Fallon’s contract extension. If I had read any of them the day of publication, I probably would have thought the item was interesting and maybe looked to see if anyone had written about what that meant for the future of late night television. Reading it days after made me initially wonder why that was important enough for everyone to report on it.

And at the end, I wasn’t all that excited to come back to it. 

At noon on Friday, I was in the middle of dropping my dad off at the optometrist’s and didn’t even realize what time it was. I wasn’t counting down the minutes, and I wasn’t full of anticipation. Shortly after coming home, I did open everything up one by one to see what my closest friends had posted. But throughout the afternoon, I looked through all of the feeds just to see what had happened. But I didn’t open anything later out of boredom, and as I’m writing this I have no desire to check my Twitter feed or scroll aimlessly through Pinterest. I’m hoping it lasts for awhile, and that I won’t revert.

Would I do this experiment again? Absolutely. In some strange way, I feel reinvigorated and more aware. It was weird to feel disconnected, but it was worth it to step back and gain the insight. As you can tell if you’ve been reading for awhile (if you have, thank you) I’m fascinated with the Internet and how it affects culture around the world. Now I’m even more intrigued.

Have questions? Ask me anything about my Internet detox in the comments.



2 thoughts on “Think Tank: Internet Detoxing

  1. It might be much more challenging to arrange (considering how busy life can be) but going off the grid entirely might be an interesting experiment. By this I mean travelling to a place where there is no cell phone reception at all or ability to get online through a land line. Going camping might work nicely, or some such thing where there is little to no modern tech available. Again this is hard to do with schedules as they are these days but it I think it would make the mundane online news seem even more mundane when you get back to civilization.

    I think the realization that a lot of the news and content we consume online really isn’t all that important after detox was the most intriguing part of your experiment. I look forward to reading about other such experiments in the future.

    1. There’s actually a show (I can’t remember the network) where whole families go and do that. I guess I wouldn’t mind going off the grid for a short period of time, but I get a little nervous thinking about no phone reception just because of emergencies. But I do think you’re right about how the mundane would become even more mundane than what I did. I didn’t really expect to come to the realization about online media, but I’m sort of glad I did.

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