At 4:00 pm one random Friday, I deleted my social media apps. After a few moments hesitation, I also deleted my Wood Block Puzzle app for good measure.
The hours leading up to that moment had been filled with intermittent scrolling, taking up longer and longer portions of my day. There was nothing new to see on Instagram, nothing interesting to read on Facebook, and yet, seemingly without any ability to stop myself, I kept scrolling.
It was the thought “I don’t want to be doing this,” which finally penetrated my numb yet cranky brain and made me quickly, almost violently, swipe those little time-sucking apps into the trash bin.
Now, before you get too excited, let me clarify. In that moment, I didn’t think I’d made any kind of permanent decision. I knew they wouldn’t stay gone forever. And they didn’t. In fact, they’re back on my phone right now. All of them. (Except Snapchat, which I rarely used and do not miss.)
But I knew I needed a break and obviously had no self-control.
I have been thinking about and reading about the necessity for technology fasts or sabbaticals for awhile. I’ve listened to podcasts about it, and started (but never finished) an audiobook on the subject. I kept thinking that I needed to plan out the perfect time to step away for a while. But I never did.
Until that Friday, when I just couldn’t take it anymore.
I ended up going social media free for the whole weekend. Not exactly a tech sabbatical, but it was enough to greatly reduce the amount of time I was staring at my phone. And enough to show me a few things about my habits that could change the way I use my phone in the future.
I underestimate how much I can do in 10 minutes.
On Saturday afternoon of my social- media-free weekend, I let Abby watch Daniel Tiger while I finished a chore. At the half-way point of her show, right after Daniel visited one of his “neighbors” and just before the second little vignette in which all the residents of his imaginary neighborhood know all the words to all the same songs, I sat down on the couch. The thought crossed my mind that I could read a little bit of the book I’d started, but that thought was immediately followed by “eh, it’s all the way in the dining room, I’ll just look at my phone.” I immediately realized that a) there was no point in looking at my phone since my social media apps were gone and b) the dining room is literally 10 steps from the couch. I hauled my rear end up, got the book, and was back in about 7 seconds. And before Daniel Tiger sang his closing number, I’d read a whole chapter. How many other times have I zoned out on my phone for 10 minutes, thinking I didn’t have time to read, or write, or work on a fun project, or do that nagging chore I keep putting off? (I don’t know, but I’m guessing a LOT.)
My thumbs have muscle memory.
Pretty much every time I picked up my phone, to read a text or check the weather, my thumbs automatically moved toward the folder where I keep Instagram. I would have the folder opened before I even realized what I was doing. How many times a day do I open Instagram without consciously thinking about it? And how much time do I spend there each time I click it? (I don’t know, but I’m guessing a LOT.)
My interactions with my family are much more positive when I’m not distracted.
Usually, weekends are a little rough for me. I’m an introvert who likes a routine, and having so much unstructured togetherness can really stress me out. To ignore that stress, I turn to my phone and try to zone out. And when, inevitably, I’m interrupted, I get more stressed. It’s a vicious cycle. Not being on my phone didn’t magically make me love the weekend. But overall, the number of pleasant interactions I had with my family was higher and my general mood was definitely improved.
The experiment ended on Monday morning, and as of this writing, I haven’t repeated it yet. But I can definitely see the potential benefits of having set hours each day, days each week, and weeks each year when I step away from online noise and distraction to focus on being present with the people I love.
The next step is to make it an intentional decision instead of waiting for the next time my brain reaches max capacity.
Have you tried a tech sabbatical? How did it go? Share your best tips in the comments!