How To Go On a Digital Detox (Without Losing Your Mind or Connection)

This post was originally called, “My Blocklist Has 35 People and 92…93 Apps (And I’m Not Sorry About It)” and I had planned to tell you about the liberation that comes when you block things you don’t care about it or don’t uplift you. Then, I got involved with it, and I decided I had a lot more to say and a lot more freedom to claim.

I have always had a keen interest in technology and its users’ digital lifestyles. As a former academic technologist, millennial, and a teacher who witnessed e-Learning and 1:1 devices come to fruition, I believe there is an anthropology to what we do online. I deeply believe in the importance of digital citizenship and portraying your digital self in the manner in which you believe a citizen of the world should behave. On another day, I may say more about that, but the point today is that as a person I sometimes feel the need to withdraw for numerous reasons. Sometimes I am processing something personal and need less distraction. Sometimes I have felt digitally violated in terms of privacy and wish to disengage from an ugly community. Sometimes I simply crave stronger connection than what I am receiving. In any case, anyone who knows me and has known specifically my Facebook account since 2007 knows that I enjoy a good deactivation every now and then. Managing and controlling your consumption of social media has a cleansing power to it, something similar to Clay A. Johnson’s The Information Diet. It’s important for reflection and healthy digital living.  So yes, I do have 35 people on my Block list, but lately there’s more to it than that.

This time I tried something different and more drastic which I have only done on one other occasion in my life. That is a digital detox or full-on cleanse of my digital sphere. I’m going to share with you the steps I have taken to complete my digital detox, and the effect it has had on me for the last 2 months.

Facebook Detox (1)

Make a list of your information inputs. Distinguish which are staples and which are choices. – First, I made a huge list. I listed all of the things that required a sign-in, which included: all of my phone apps, bills, office suites (Google Apps, etc.), design platforms, shopping accounts, and social media. Social media tends to be the one that gets the attention in digital living, but all of these are inputs; they are places that direct information toward you and take up mind space. After I had my list, I sorted them into needs and wants. For example, I need an email account for online banking, but I want Ticketmaster updates sent to it. This step gave me a better idea of what I have because it enhances my life versus what I have because it was trending or because I mindlessly engaged with it. You’d be surprised how many things are on your phone right now that you haven’t used in the last 3 months. This step would be the equivalent of taking a food inventory or diary to see what you’re consuming.

Choose 1 platform to actively engage. – Next, I looked at the technology that fell under wants and decided that for the time being I was only going to actively engage with one problem. Essentially, I set a “calorie intake” limit for my tech and knew I had to get the junk out of my systems. Cold turkey is hard to pull off, because we do crave connection. In my case, I chose Instagram because I wanted more visuals, more community, and still less Internet assholes. I also chose the platform because I didn’t feel as acquainted with its norms, and I wanted to discover something new about the way I express myself in a digital environment. This one platform has become my only social media outlet during the detox for status updates, and so far I haven’t felt the loss. In fact, it has been relieving knowing that I didn’t muddle my communication between platforms, because there’s only one place the general stream is coming from.

Wipe remaining platforms of activity and connectivity. – If you’ve ever tried to compile a capsule wardrobe, you know that this is the scary part. This is the scary part, because you have to *dun Dun DUN* let go. You get an intense fear of FOMO, and you start spinning out with insecure thoughts like, “What if nobody talks to me anymore?” or “What if no one even notices?” In this moment, you need to remind yourself why you wanted a digital detox anyway. I bet it was to relieve yourself of worries like what you are or aren’t missing out on and what other people think of you. Rip it off like a Band-Aid, and trust your initial intentions.

Here are some questions I had to ask to push myself to let go:

  • Why do I want a digital detox?
  • Why did I get this app/platform to begin with? Is that still the reason I have it?
  • How have my needs for this changed?
  • When was the last time I used this?
  • Does this overlap with something else in my life already covering this need?
  • If this randomly disappeared, how long would it be before I noticed it was gone?
  • Will I need to replace this technology with something else if I get rid of it?

Here’s an example of what these questions looked like for my Vivino app:

  • I want a digital detox to get rid of digital noise and clutter. I do not want to spend mental energy or waste time on platforms “just because.” I want to use my tech intentionally. I feel emotionally drained and detached from my current digital lifestyle.
  • My friend recommended the app to me. It was fun for a while to keep track of all of the wines that my husband brought home on wine-tasting nights. However, he has since changed jobs and we generally know what wines we like and buy those. I have never used the app to actually find a new wine or research wine pairings.
  • I tried it out of curiosity, but there is no strong utility I reap from it. I don’t find it fun to scan in wines anymore.
  • No idea. Let me open the app to find out. Wow, that is an old profile photo. I don’t even look like that anymore.
  • My mind and friends’ recommendations.
  • Until the next time a friend invited me out and bought a new bottle I’d never tried. So, probably, forever.
  • No.

So, Vivino, along with dozens of apps, accounts, pages, and friends had to go. Really, as much as I could stand was deleted, including one particularly scathing review of a narcissistic Page admin that I had trouble letting go of. Because I can be petty when people are indecent to other human beings.

Keep a backdoor open. – A lot of my detox just involved deleting. Deleting Pinterest boards, account activity, shopping carts, all photo albums (which were downloaded and backed up on my external hard drive), and friends. However, the challenge I always run in to when I deactivate is stuff like being a Page admin for my writer’s page or running PR posts for fundraising and social groups or wanting to know about ultra specific events or things and not so much LuLaRoe pop-up parties. I had tried in the past to create a secondary admin, but that profile proved more trouble than its worth. This time I simply unfriended everyone but my husband and changed my profile picture as explanation. People can still find me on my active platform (or also, you know, real life) and I still can get minimal event notifications and post as needed on Facebook. Anyone who searches me or notices I’m missing from their list will see my photo that clearly explains my intentions, rather than them guessing that I deactivated or even blocked them. Some people might not be ready for as severe a detox as I took, so leaving yourself a way to re-engage if needed is not a terrible plan.

Fill the voids. – If you miss something or find that you need it, add it back. If you crave something new, try something new. If you miss your friends, try other methods. Since I started my detox, I have had few voids to fill—BUT, the ones I have, I have filled. Turns out, the people I want to talk to still do talk to me.

Stepping back from digital arenas is not about torturing yourself or becoming socially inept. It’s about resetting your control over the things you spend your time on and being conscious about who and what you allow into your life. You get one life. You get every second you live just once, and you never get it back. So whether it’s mindlessly snacking or mindlessly Googling, it’s important that we remember that our lives are sacred. They are brief, and they matter. Every day. It’s okay to step back. It’s okay to say that you won’t post or update or make your friendship and presence simply a convenience for others. It’s okay to adjust your social habits and ask others to support you in that. You are an amazing person, and knowing you is a privilege. The people who need to be in your life will be.

For a printable resource to help you get started, check out my Digital Detox Companion.