A Year of Digital Detox
A year ago I decided to significantly alter my digital habits: I closed down my Facebook account. I kept Twitter but removed the app from my phone and have not used my account in over a year. I removed Strava from my phone and can go weeks without looking at it on my laptop. I switched from using Google for search to DuckDuckGo.
I did this for a variety of reasons. I got rid of Facebook because so little of what I read on it actually benefitted me in any way. Plus I didn’t like the way Facebook tracks and monitors and advertises. That’s also why I moved away from Google – DuckDuckGo doesn’t track users in the way Google does so gives less personalised search results which I prefer; and I no longer suffer all the pop-up ads for things that Google and Facebook think I should buy. I realize that as an exile living in Babylon I have to use some of the structures and systems of the world but I don’t want to be more enslaved by it than I have to be.
I took Twitter off my phone so I couldn’t be distracted by it so easily – because it can be a great distraction. Plus, Twitter has become an increasingly hostile and unpleasant place, and with its evermore desperate attempts to generate revenue and constant changes to the platform was becoming less and less user-friendly.
And I took Strava off my phone because I too easily suffered FOMO, envy or disappointment when I saw how much further and faster my friends were running and cycling than me. I have a competitive enough personality as it is without needing to be constantly goaded by the electronic accounts of the exploits of my friends.
Has living less on social media helped me though?
There are certainly some things that I miss. These are primarily around the genuine social interaction social media makes possible – for instance, I’m now much less likely to know when my friends are going for a bike ride. But at least I don’t then find out about it via Strava! I also miss some of the humour on social media, and some of the news. There are some people I am less in contact with because they are the kind of people who only respond to contact through social media.
I’ve faced incredulity from some who cannot believe I am no longer on Facebook. And a degree of snarky hostility from others who are eager for me to hear about how ‘good’ social media can be.
Overall though I’d say that my quality of life has improved by my change of digital diet. I probably get irritated and downcast less often than I did. I certainly waste less time. I’ve probably read more books. And I feel less device dependent – I’m quite happy to leave home without my phone without panicking about it; and often intentionally leave it behind. All of these things mean that I’m probably more focussed than I was and thus – though it’s hard to measure – more productive. I’m also happy for the big digital corporations to know a little less about me than they did. Big Brother isn’t watching me quite so closely now.
A year into this experiment I’m not minded to go back to my old ways. I might get back onto a social media platform at some point but don’t feel any great desire to do so now. For me, when it comes to a digital life, less is definitely more. I can still lose an hour following links on YouTube as easily as anyone, and am not against posting the occasional thought on a blog, but the life less digital feels a life more serene.
The aim of the C of E’s Digital Charter is to make social media a kinder place. That’s a commendable, if perhaps hopeless aim. But for all of us who are followers of Jesus the key questions need to be how our words and actions help us to grow as disciples and minister the grace of God to others. If social media helps in that, great. If not, detox.