Category Archives: Technology

Digital Detox – 5 Things I Learned in a Month Without Facebook & Instagram

I started reading the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport on March 31st.  In the opening pages he encourages his readers to take “aggressive action … to fundamentally transform your relationship with technology.”  What he calls “the digital declutter” amounts to 30 days of no optional online activities.  The experiment intrigued me, and even though I was only a few pages into the book, I committed to the fast.  I deleted every app I considered optional and committed to refrain from all social media for the month of April.  Newport explains, “During this period, you’ll wean yourself from the cycles of addiction that many digital tools can instill, and begin to rediscover the analog activities that provide you deeper satisfaction.  You’ll take walks, talk to friends in person, engage your community, read books, and stare at the clouds.  Most importantly, the declutter gives you the space to refine your understanding of the things you value most.”  (emphasis mine)

Well, I made it to May without FB and Insta, and I’m still alive.  🙂  More alive, actually.  And so I don’t forget, here are a few takeaways from both Digital Minimalism as well as my decluttering experience over the past month.

  1. I waste too much time on social media.  

I go through cycles of conviction on this one.  About a year ago I deleted the Facebook app off my phone and only checked it via a browser on the laptop.  However, once we announced my pregnancy, I got caught up in the “checking for likes” syndrome.  I re-downloaded the app and didn’t look back.  Then my son was born, and that like and comment itch grew.  Checking social media became a mindless time-suck, and I rationalized it telling myself, “Well what else are you going to do while you’re nursing this baby?”  Without long stretches of uninterrupted time to accomplish projects, scrolling social media for a few minutes here and there seemed innocent enough.  Those minutes add up, however, and often stretch into longer periods of zoning out and not being present in the moment.  I would shudder to know the actual number of lifetime minutes I’ve spent in a digital world.  Once Facebook and Instagram (and Settlers of Catan on my iPad) were no longer an option, I was suddenly hyperaware of all those here and there minutes and had to decide how best to fill them.

  1. The more time you spend on social media, the more money companies make.

While I understood that social media companies made their money from advertising, I never gave much thought to the concept of an “attention economy.”  To explain this concept, Newport shares a fascinating anecdote about the penny press newspapers of the early 19th century: “Up to that point, publishers considered their readers to be their customers, and saw their goal as providing a product good enough to convince people to pay to read it.  Day’s innovation was to realize that his readers could become his product and the advertisers his customers.  His goal became to sell as many minutes of his readers’ attention as possible to the advertisers.  To do so, he lowered the price of the Sun to a penny and pushed more mass interest stories.  ‘He was the first person to really appreciate the idea—you gather a crowd, and you’re not interested in the crowd for its money, … but because you can resell them to someone else who wants their attention.’”  Newport goes on to compare the monetary value of tech giants to that of oil companies and the shift that has occurred over the past 20 years or so.  “Extracting eyeball minutes, the key resource for companies like Google and Facebook, has become significantly more lucrative than extracting oil.”  No wonder after a week or so off of Instagram I started receiving emails like these every few days …IMG_2749

  1. While social media does provide some value to my life, that value is limited.

One of my biggest hesitations in giving up social media completely stemmed from FOMO.  What if I miss out on something really important?  Well, I did actually.  I didn’t make a big announcement about my retreat from social media with instructions to contact me via text or email, and it turns out I missed my cousin’s engagement.

The beautiful bride to be!

She had sent me a message on FB Messenger and was a bit baffled when I hadn’t responded in over a week.  But you know that that led to?  A phone call.  I got to talk to her (digitally) face to face and hear about the proposal and express my deep congratulations.  That communication was worth so much more than a like and a fleeting comment.  I do value the updates and photos social media provides, especially living so far away from so many friends and family, so I don’t plan to delete social media entirely.  However, as Newport notes, “The sugar high of convenience is fleeting and the sting of missing out dulls rapidly, but the meaningful glow that comes from taking charge of what claims your time and attention is something that persists.”

  1. There are digital resources I have no desire to give up.

I may have been a bit overzealous in my app deleting on April 1.  My phone indeed looked min-i-mal.  There were apps that I quickly added back and some I wish I had added back sooner (finance tracking apps, for example), but the experience of stripping everything down was incredibly eye opening.  Newport’s definition of the term digital minimalism is especially helpful here: “A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”  I value stewarding our money well, so I’m keeping YNAB and banking and credit card apps.  I value pursuing physical fitness, so I’m keeping 5K Runner and Netflix (to ensure I actually use 5K Runner … ;)).  I value reading, so Kindle’s a given.  I value God’s word, so Accordance and SheReadsTruth and First 5 stay.

  1. The good is often the enemy of the best.

I don’t think social media is a bad thing.  It may even be good (in some ways), but for me at least, it is often an enemy of the best things in life.  I read six books in the month of April (including the hefty book club pick, Pachinko, clocking in at 496 pages)!  I want to be the kind of person who reads six books in a month; I’m pretty sure that was a first for me.  I also want to be the kind of mother who (at least most of the time) is fully present with her children.  I don’t want my kids to associate me with my devices.  I want to spend deep, undistracted quality time with my husband in the evenings without social media’s siren song.  I want time with God to be a priority that it often isn’t.  These are the best things in my life.

So now that the 30 days are over, what’s next?  I actually hopped on Facebook this morning and was instantly overwhelmed.  I hated it.  Too much screaming for my attention, and it left me feeling icky.  Number one, I definitely need to cull my follow list.  I do value FB for updates, photos, articles, and professional and interest groups, but in order to use this media well, I have to be more selective.  My goal moving forward is to limit checking Facebook to once a week or so with a hard limit of no more than an hour spent there per week.  Instagram I intend to check once a day for ten minutes or less.  I think these are reasonable goals, but if I feel like I’m being lured in further, then an indefinite abstention may be in order.  Newport’s overriding question, “Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value?” will be my guide, and for now the jury’s still out on social media.


2017: An Illustrated Year in Review, Day 3 – Digital Discoveries & Decisions

I am neither a Luddite nor an early adopter when it comes to technology.  I think there’s plenty to be leery of in terms of cost (in both time and money), but I sincerely appreciate devices, sites, and apps that make my life easier or provide quality entertainment.  Neither David nor I are what anyone would consider “tech-y,” so we mostly benefit from the wisdom of friends (looking at you, Randy Lucas and Jeremy Davidson) and even students when it comes to technological trends.

That being said, in this post I want to share three “digital discoveries” I happened upon and two “digital decisions” I’ve made over the course of 2017.

Discovery #1: Spotify’s Discover Weekly I’ve heard it said that most people stop listening to new music at around 30, which has actually been somewhat true for me.  I guess that shift coincided with moving away from Chicago and beginning a career that doesn’t allow for much music listening throughout the day.  I dearly miss XRT, how it exposed me to so much excellent music, both old and new.  We’ve had Spotify since we moved over here about five years ago, but I’ve never really taken full advantage.  It’s just so vast, and who has time to navigate all that content?  Enter Discover Weekly.  I happened upon an article that finally brought my attention to this delightful feature a couple months ago.  Who doesn’t want a new playlist perfectly curated for them each week?  I mean, especially in light of these rave reviews:

Discovery #2: The Potential for Being an Insta-Story Creeper … : /  I have not yet (and likely never will) jumped on the Snapchat train.  I am just not a cat/princess/whatever-other-face-filters-are-out-there kind of person, but hey, that’s just me.  Neither have I yet (and likely never will) created Snapchat-esque “stories” on Instagram.  I do love sharing photos on Instagram and Facebook, but the disappearing stories about how you went to the dentist that day don’t really appeal to me.  I sometimes watch other people’s Insta-stories and am usually (but not always) a little underwhelmed.  Not having created a story myself, I didn’t totally understand how they worked.  There’s no like button, so how am I supposed to show someone I watched their story and actually liked it?  There’s a message function, but that just seems like a lot of work.  Give me a like button any day.  Discovery moment: SNL Scrudge skit in which a Scrooge-like character tells another character he knows a woman’s been watching his Insta-stories.  What?!  People can see when you’ve watched those things??  Lesson learned: do not hit “Watch All” unless you want your former student creeped out by the fact that his 9th grade English teacher is watching videos of his cat …

Discovery #3: Facebook “Add to Collection” Function  I have 4881 articles saved on Facebook.  (Still working on minimalism breaking into my digital world …)  I follow a lot of blogs, news organizations, and groups relating to my interests, so often things come across my feed that I’d love to bookmark for later.  Once my saved list became so massive, however, it was apparent that I would never get to everything, especially with it all lumped together.  The other day I found a new (at least to me) feature that allows you to categorize all your saved items into collections.  I’ve started the arduous process of both weeding out now unwanted saves as well as moving the things I still want to read into helpful collections.  Yay.

Hassan (RIP) hanging out in our Dominion boxes

Decision #1: Time Wasting Accountability  The summer before we got married, David and I were both job hunting in Texas but a state apart as I was in Oklahoma for a summer internship.  He would drive up to visit me and we would mostly play games together because we were both jobless and had no money.  I don’t know how many hours of Dominion we played that summer, but I would be slightly embarrassed if I did.  Before we moved to Indonesia, we bought every version available and carried the cards over here in baseball card containers to cut down on the bulk of the original boxes.  We don’t actually play a whole lot over here due to the inconvenience of setting up games.  However, over the past year or so I began playing online.  We never paid for access to the expanded card sets, but you could play against people who had.  Sometime this last fall I realized how addicted I had become to this stupid online game.  I would come home in the afternoons, put Clementine down for a nap, and play mindlessly sometimes until David got home.  I would stop playing for a weekend or a week, but I didn’t like the draw the game had over me, and I especially didn’t like how it was wasting my time.  There is definitely a place for down time and relaxing, but this was quickly becoming more than that.  I decided that I wanted to cut it out indefinitely, and the only way to commit to that and stick with it was to tell someone.  I texted a friend to say that I was quitting and that I was only ever allowed to play again if after a face to face conversation with her, we both agreed that it wouldn’t be a detrimental distraction to the life I’m meant to be living.  That was over two months ago, and it has been such a welcomed change.

Decision #2: Taking Facebook off My Phone & Tablet  A few months back I also made the decision to take the Facebook app off my phone and iPad with the intent of only accessing it on the computer.  Why did I not do this sooner??  There are several things I appreciate about Facebook, namely that it allows me to stay somewhat connected with friends twelve timezones away and also that it connects me to news and ideas that I would otherwise have to be much more proactive in gathering.  I actually prefer Facebook to Twitter in that I can see the photo attached to an article and read the first few lines sans character limit.  All that being said, Facebook is also a huge time waster.  When I had the app on my devices, I caught myself mindlessly scrolling, sometimes for embarrassing amounts of time.  Whereas I really needed (and continue to need) a total Dominion detox, limiting Facebook to our jointly shared computer vastly reduces the amount of time I spend on it.  Sure, I may miss some of my friends’ posts, but when it comes to significant milestones and events, they usually let me know in other ways.

Now I’m curious to know your digital discoveries and decisions in 2017!  Is there a life-changing app that you now can’t live without?  Flipboard and Pocket have served me well in place of Facebook in many ways.  How has technology benefited or burdened your life this year?