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The Iconic Edition
Advice
|27 May 2019|6 mins

The Glitch: On Taking Yourself Offline

Welcome to The Glitch: THE ICONIC's weekly column, deep-diving into our relationship with all-things tech.

When writing this piece about taking a social media detox, I couldn’t complete a paragraph without checking my phone. I’d interrupt each sentence with near-military precision to scroll or to send someone who was sitting three seats over the latest New Yorker cartoon.

But it’s not just the ‘Gram. It’s the g-chat from work, the Pinterest notifications and the FB shout out every time you comment on our pieces (thank you, by the way).

All the while, my deadline was looming closer and closer. Never mind that 50% of these DMs are to our Editor.

Right now we’re seeing more and more people in our feed announce they were taking it offline. Not forever, but for a week, a month, a while.

It comes with an obligatory announcement post. In these posts, they told us they were taking a break to “recalibrate”, “reset” or “recoup”.

They made out like Instagram was a relationship they “needed space from” and, as we scrolled and liked and commented, it raised the question – is this a case of the old “it’s not you, it’s me?”

And, why did they need to announce on social that they wouldn’t be on social anymore? Is it the old tree falling in the woods scenario – do you need to make sure someone hears it for it to actually happen? Or, is it a kind of anti-ghosting sentiment?

via Instagram @selenagomez

Whatever the motivation, it’s undeniably a trend. Last year, off the back of a broken engagement to Pete Davidson, Arianna Grande announced she was going off social for a while. And she wasn’t the only one. Selena Gomez, Gigi Hadid, Ed Sheeran, and Leslie Jones have, at some point, pulled the plug.

And, like the one left behind as the other one moves on – we wonder: is there something wrong with us? should we also take a break too?

Computer scientist and author of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life In A Noisy World Dr. Cal Newport is pushing a new breed of digital non-participation. As a millennial, he never jumped on the social bandwagon (admittedly over-jealous at the success of a college mate by the name of Mark Zuckerberg) and is an advocate of not just the social media detox, but the never-coming-back break up.

He likens social media platforms to Vegas’s slot machines. Addictive and offering some semblance of a better life.

“We now know that many of the major social media companies hire individuals called attention engineers, who borrow principles from Las Vegas casino gambling, among other places, to try to make these products as addictive as possible,” he told a TED X audience. “That is the desired use case of these products: is that you use it in an addictive fashion because that maximises the profit that can be extracted from your attention and data.”

Said marketing guru Seth Godin of this theory:

While founder of VOX.com, Ezra Klein, said his is “a bid to be the Marie Kondo of technology: someone with an actual plan for helping you realize the digital pursuits that do, and don’t, bring value to your life.”

But it’s more, says, Newport, than just a way to spend your time. Instead, social media – or rampant use of – changes the way you think.

“The actual designed desired-use case of these tools is that you fragment your attention as much as possible throughout your waking hours; that's how these tools are designed to use,” says Newport.

“We have a growing amount of research which tells us that if you spend large portions of your day in a state of fragmented attention – large portions of your day, breaking up your attention, to take a quick glance, to just check  – "Let me quickly look at Instagram" – that this can permanently reduce your capacity for concentration. In other words, you could permanently (alter your ability) to do exactly the type of deep effort that we're finding to be more and more necessary in an increasingly competitive economy.”

And this is where we see people take their offline time seriously. To get a project off the ground, to learn a language, to spend a little more time on #selfcare. Or, even, to finish a feature. They see social as a habit to break, a distraction that needs to be silenced, if only for a little while.

There are some, too, who take a break without the announcement. Who smoke bomb for a while, or who even delete the app Monday – Friday, and find themselves venturing into RL, reading a book before bed or finally finishing that project they were working on.  It’s just about removing the temptation. It’s not, then, always a case of all or nothing. As most would argue, moderation is key.

And as for the question of connection, there’s an irony too, in that the more you use it to connect, the research shows the more disconnected you will feel.

“We know from the research literature that the more you use social media, the more likely you are to feel lonely or isolated,” says Newport.

“Something I think we're going to be hearing more about in the near future is that there's a fundamental mismatch between the way our brains are wired and this behaviour of exposing yourself to stimuli with intermittent rewards throughout all of your waking hours. It's one thing to spend a couple of hours at a slot machine in Vegas, but if you bring one with you, and you pull that handle all day long, from when you wake up to when you go to bed: we're not wired from it. It short-circuits the brain, and we're starting to find it has actual cognitive consequences, one of them being this sort of pervasive background hum of anxiety.”

So, how can you make a move to be a little more offline than on?

  • Most devices will have some semblance of a screen time feature. Make use of it – what else could you be doing with those 28 hours a week you spend on social?
  • Set some goals around this. Read a book. Meet a friend. Learn a language. Finally put away that laundry. Meet your deadline.
  • Reach out. Instead of DM’ing your loved ones, why not set up a dinner or a drink with them? There’s nothing quite like a dinner with your oldest mates.

Need a hand? We get it. We’re hooked too. We checked in with those who have done the detox to find out what helped them…

  • “I delete the app from my phone – every Monday and install it again on Saturday. I don’t miss that much and just catch up all at once. It means too, I’m not scrolling late into the night.”
  • “I sleep with my phone in airplane mode – that way I’m not hit with notifications every time I wake up and check the time.”
  • “I turned off notifications. It means I check in way less.”  

And as for me? I turned my phone over to finish writing this piece. Baby steps are still steps.

Make a statement with your phone face-down...

Make a statement with your phone face-down...

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Elle Glass
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