Why I’m going on a digital detox


Breaking: Elon Musk has just reinstated Donald Trump’s Twitter account.

— No Lie with Brian Tyler Cohen (@NoLieWithBTC) November 20, 2022

I’m reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism right now. What a perfect time to do this, just as Twitter is on the Musk train to hell.

The book is making me notice how little I really get out of my media consumption habits. Screen Time shows that I spend four to five hours a day on my phone (edit: I have mislead myself here by looking at weeks where I was on vacation. Though, my point still stands with spending 2 hours per day on a screen, too). That’s a part time job amount of time — so, what am I getting out of it? Newport is helping me understand the answer is not much. I’m mostly addicted to social apps that I probably use to escape emotions instead of process them. While I may get some utility from these platforms, they mostly exploit my attention for profit. This provides a high opportunity cost: what if I spent this second job worth of free time on “high quality leisure” instead?

I’m taking the same approach in reading this book as I did when I quite smoking. To quit cigarettes, I read Allen Carr’s The Easy Way, where I didn’t have to stop lighting up until I finished reading the book. This book actually worked. After finishing it, I never had a cigarette again.

I’m reading Digital Minimalism and am using social media at the same time. I find myself asking why I even like it in the first place. The East Way goes on and on about how you don’t actually like smoking. Smoking make you feel anxious and big tobacco has brainwashed you into thinking that a cigarette will make this go away (you are temporarily free from withdrawal pain that cigarettes cause). I feel the same effect with my phone: media makes me feel anxious, from FOMO or boredom or emotional processing debt, and it offers me the ability to kick the can down the road once more. Cal Newport is less hypnotizing than Carr, but he is effective nevertheless.

I'm only here because I want to find out how Twitter gracefully degrades.

— Jaana Dogan ヤナ ドガン (@rakyll) November 18, 2022

The algorithms can see my disappointment, or the universe is trying to send me a message, because these are the posts I’ve seen recently about the state of social media:

A Technical Blog Post by a Big Name Expert | Parody Hacker News

Hackernews has been the same for 10 years. What’s there to miss out on?

incredible indictment that everyone is desperately looking for somewhere to meet and talk to people, and no one has even mentioned Zuckerberg's $70bn metaverse

— Luke Bailey (@imbadatlife) November 18, 2022

And, my personal favorite:

Given all this, I’m taking a digital detox come December.

What’s a digital detox?

Newport calls this a digital declutter, which is a more accurate description. The idea is to learn to live without most digital technology for a while so that you know what small bit of it is worth keeping.

I’ve not really done the book justice with my summary of it here. For a better overview, I recommend my friend Alexander’s post.

Digital Minimalism

How did I get here?

I don’t think it’s always been this bad. As recently as 2019, I felt pretty at peace with my digital media consumption. I probably still spent too much time online, but I didn’t really mind. My wife and I were putting our phones to sleep well before our own bedtime. I consumed a lot of news and social media, but it didn’t feel so all-consuming. Around that time, I had successfully tamped down my intake of charged political posts.

The pandemic made a huge difference in my habits. Stuck inside and cut off from most human connections, I gave myself permission to do whatever I needed to get by. With little else to do I spent way more time online. In the middle of the pandemic, I started using TikTok, a much more potent content aggregator than I’ve ever used before.

What can I hope for next?

Instead of connecting more with others online, I’m more looking forward for the opportunity to connect more with myself. I’d like to spend more time creating in solitude, including writing. I really like Newport’s recommendation to write more letters to yourself. I do some form of this already, though I do hope to make it more of a regular habit.

As far as keeping up with people, I’m already the weird one in my friend groups who randomly calls people on the phone. And, I have no trouble meeting new people in real life – I once made a friend on Bart!