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No Facebook, no WhatsApp: Three things we learned from a digital detox

Housemates Dermot and Darren decided to undertake a digital detox to try and spur them on to use their phone less. As part of our Live A Better Life series, they tell us what they learned.

Dermot Heslin and Darren Ryan

FOR FOUR WEEKS, TheJournal.ie is running its Live A Better Life series, with the aim of helping you to have a better relationship with your phone. While we’re advocating small changes and new habits, some people prefer trying a digital detox to totally disconnect. But does it work? Here, we find out.

Darren and Dermot are two Irish housemates who are dedicating 2017 to Get Better at Life. On their podcast they take on a new challenge every month to create more space, happiness and wellness in their lives, and then share their experiences with their listeners. As part of the podcast they have recently taken on a ‘Digital Detox’ for two weeks, and here they explain how they got on.

Dermot’s Day:

“I walk in the front door of our apartment block and head towards the lift. As soon as I press the lift button, it’s like a Mexican standoff has ensued: my hand darts to my pocket, and before I even realise what has happened, I have my phone in front of my face to keep me company on the long and arduous 15 second journey up to our floor. Heaven forbid I’d make that journey alone!”

Darren’s Day:

“I’m sitting in a café with a great friend and we’re having a lovely time re-connecting and catching up. After a while he excuses himself to go to the bathroom… and I’m secretly delighted. My phone has almost been burning a hole in my pocket. Perhaps there are messages to be read? Maybe some likes on social media…my dopamine receptors are dying for their next hit! Rather than sit there and reflect on our friendship and stay present in the moment, I dive right in and get lost on my phone.”

This was the world that we found ourselves in at the start of this year. While we loved technology and the wondrous things it creates in our lives, it was starting to fill almost every free moment we had.

Being constantly ‘switched on’ is draining and we were becoming distracted constantly – there is only so much that our minds can take. We needed to find a way to give ourselves a break.

And so we committed to a two-week ‘Digital Detox’, which included the following commitments:

  • A complete abstention from social media
  • No emails on the phone
  • No news websites
  • Leaving all our WhatsApp groups
  • No phones in our bedrooms
  • A technology curfew of 9pm every night until after breakfast the next morning.

We downloaded the Moment app which tracks your phone usage and blocked our favourite websites from our phones.

Let’s be honest, it wasn’t the biggest sacrifice that human-kind has ever made, but the experience taught us three interesting lessons:

1. We didn’t miss technology at all

Dermot: After our first few days of stepping away from technology, the biggest surprise was how little we actually missed it. Around the time, there was some mixed news coming from the USA, and I noticed how people around me seemed to be using their phones to feed their rage at Donald Trump’s latest faux-pas. It was lovely to be a bit disconnected from all the chaos.

Darren: My old habits weren’t giving up that easily. I’d still automatically scroll across to open emails on my phone despite the fact I knew they weren’t there. A few times I would pick up my phone, look at it for a while before realising that there was nothing there to check. A real winner was turning off our phones at 9 every evening and not turning them on again until after breakfast the next morning. Both of us found we were suddenly finding time to read more at night, and it was a little easier to settle down to sleep.

Dermot: It was great to have a bit of space in the morning as well, to start the day gently before being bombarded with data and info. We also found it was a nice surprise to occasionally turn on our computers in work and see an email that we hadn’t already read on our phones earlier that morning.

2.  A lot of our technology use was more about distraction than utility

Dermot: As we began to remove apps from our phones, we realised that we weren’t really seeking out high-value content or using our phones for a particular purpose most of the time. After we deleted the social media apps, popular websites and email accounts from our phones, we still had this urge to just look at our phones and check something…anything. Eventually I started checking my banking app several times per day. There was never a surprise pile of cash added to my balance.

Darren: So it seemed that the draw to pick up the phone was more about responding to an impulse, about distracting ourselves from the present moment, rather than a particularly entertaining function. The content was secondary to the hit involved in just lighting up the screen.

It seemed it was something about an anticipation of getting a message, of something new appearing – a bit like that feeling you get right before you realise you didn’t win the lotto. I think we both already knew this on some level, but we needed the full detox to realise fully that this was something akin to an addiction.

3. Finding a middle ground is hard

Darren: While the digital detox was fun (and definitely recommended), the real challenge came afterwards. Without the strict rules and peer support of the detox, it was very easy to slip back into old habits and we quickly found we had fallen off the wagon.

So much of our lives are lived on our phones that it is hard to detach from them, and when the phone is in my pocket the temptation to check it is strong. For me it’s just about trying to find more and more times in the day when I’m offline, and not be too hard on myself when I do slip up.

Dermot: Finding a balance between total detox and full on usage is hard, and honestly we haven’t figured it out yet. Practice seems to be important, in particular having set times in the morning and evening where we are technology free. We also both make an effort to leave our phones at home occasionally when we go out, or leave them somewhere out of reach so that when we get an urge to check them, the extra bit of distance gives us a chance to catch ourselves!

What we learned overall

Taking a couple of weeks off really helped us to learn a lot about ourselves and notice how it was affecting our lives. That has helped us to change some habits, have a slightly healthier relationship with it and to keep a close eye on it as the years go by and technology gets more and more embedded in our lives.

We can’t recommend a digital detox highly enough – try it and let us know how you get on.

You can hear Darren and Dermot talk in full about their experiences of a digital detox on their podcast ‘Darren and Dermot Get Better at Life’. So far they have taken on challenges in mindfulness, digital detox, gratitude and decluttering. You can tune in on iTunes or visit www.getbetteratlife.org

Read our Live A Better Life series>

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About the author:

Dermot Heslin and Darren Ryan

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