How to Digitally Detox
We'd all love to take a break from our phones, but is it really as easy as just putting it away?
If I told you that you would lose all electricity and access to the internet for 24 hours, how would you feel? If you’re anything like me, your heart skips a tiny beat. But what if I miss an important work email? What if something bad happens and I need to call for help? What if I can’t share the experience on social media?
In our hyper-connected world, it’s easy to see any sort of disconnection from the internet as the beginning of the end. We feel compelled to always be connected—even if it’s "just in case" there’s an emergency—and fight our way to the best WiFi connections that we can find.
But I was about to face this reality for 24 hours during Nyepi—the Balinese Day of Silence celebrated to welcome the Saka New Year. It’s hard to imagine anywhere else, but an island oasis like Bali being able to enforce such a widespread day of silence. The usual hustle and bustle of cars and scooters dissipated as everyone was mandated to stay indoors. Lights had to be dimmed, if not completely shut off. Phone reception was cut off for the whole island, as were most WiFi networks.
I’m not going to lie, I felt a little daunted. Just a few months ago, I was plunged into darkness as a storm-fuelled blackout hit our Sydney house for a day and a half. I had felt so useless, unable to even check in with what was happening in other neighbourhoods, bored out of mind, and sleeping much too early to just pass the time.
The things is: Just as we need to be mindful of our social media use, we should be mindful when we try and detox. It’s hard to ignore the fact that we live connected lives and technology gives us opportunities like never before. The difference between observing a whole day of silence and getting plunged into digital exile for a day and a half was all in the mindset that you had going into it.
So yes, take the time to detox and take a break every now and then. But here’s how to prepare for your digital detox.
1. Know why you're doing it.
As with any mindful practice, it’s important to start with the awareness. This was what was lacking during the blackout, as I had no forewarning, nor mental preparation to be without internet for a day and a half. Going into the day with the thought that I was missing something left me feeling uneasy and strange.
If you are consciously making the decision to do a digital detox, you are approaching it with a positive mindset and will be more likely to reap the benefits of switching off. Understanding the benefits that it can bring to you—from helping you slow down, to generally create more mindful habits around your social media use, or to help you reset your mental health—can help scare away the anxieties of being disconnected for so long.
2. Let people know.
I was once on holiday in Vietnam and about to take a three-day trip to a private island in the middle of Halong Bay. As I left the Wifi of my hostel, I sent my sister a quick message to let her know that I was headed to some island and didn’t know when was the next time I’d be back online. I went off, had an incredible time on the island, shedding all the chains of having my phone or being connected.
Upon returning back to my hostel, I finally logged back into my phone and was flooded with messages on every platform asking me where I was and a message plastered over my Facebook wall from my sister saying, "Has anyone heard from Tiff? She hasn’t been online for three days."
It was strange to see a short offline session be plastered around like worldwide news. It was only three days—an amazing three days at that—and suddenly, the search parties were out. At that point, it made sense. For someone who is constantly attached to their phone, three days was a long time to not even share an Instagram story. And even when we’re making the moves to spend a little less time online, it is still a little unnatural in this day and age.
So at least let one other person know where you’ll be and how they can contact you if it is really urgent—particularly if you’re overseas.
3. Don't forget the essentials.
You don’t realise how much we rely on electricity and staying connected until it is out of our reach. Will you have access to food, or a means to cook it? Will you have hot water to take a shower? Will you need charged-up power banks to keep your phone going, even if you’re just using it as a torch or a timekeeper? Or maybe it’s just making sure there is a way for someone to get in touch if you if there is an emergency.
Make sure you’ve properly prepared yourself as much as possible for the things you might not consider when you are turning completely off. And for the things you didn’t realise you needed the internet for, that’s okay. Be mindful of it, take note of it, be inventive with your alternatives, and see how you can start incorporating these new methods into your regular life to help you be a little less connected each day.
4. Enjoy it.
This isn’t supposed to feel like an exile or social suicide. It is important for us all to take the time to switch off every now and then and recognise the role that technology and the internet play in our lives, by taking away its access every now and then. So enjoy the time you’ve got and revel in the permission you’ve given yourself to not answer the email, check your Facebook notifications, or upload to your Instagram stories.
Do it in your own way; in a way that makes the most sense to you and your responsibilities. And don’t forget to ease yourself back into the online world. Remember that feeling of being offline, or the ways that you were able to introduce more mindful practices into your routine—from how many times you are picking up your phone each day to the need to take photos of everything and not just live in the moment.
Take this as an opportunity to mindfully reset and enjoy being offline in this overly-online world.