In June I spent three weeks working as a camp counselor at Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults in the California redwoods run by Digital Detox.
At this camp we don’t use digital technology, we don’t talk about work, and we call people by camp nicknames instead of their real names.
The opportunity to take a digital detox was a wake up call for me. I realized that: a) I spend way too much time using my digital devices and b) I’m happiest when I’m not on social media.
The moments when I feel most alive are when I’m spending time with the people I love. Not when I’m posting about those moments. Not when I’m sharing those moments. And certainly not when I’m seeing all my friends’ beautiful moments on my News Feed.
Having said that, incorporating everything I learned on my digital detox has been a lot harder than it sounds. Within 24 hours of leaving Camp Grounded, despite my goal to be more mindful about my use of digital technology, I was back off the wagon.
Instead of waking up and looking up at the trees first thing in the morning, I’d reach for my phone at 7:34am and check the Tinder message I just received.
Instead of spending my Friday evenings device-free (“I don’t roll on Shabbos! Shomer f*cking Shabbos!”), I’d spend half of Friday night texting my friends to see what they were up to.
I’d get on the bus in the morning on the way to work and like everyone else on the bus, start scrolling through Facebook. I’d make eyes with a cute woman at a cafe and instead of smiling and approaching her, I’d awkwardly pull out my phone (just as she did), as if the phone was going to tell me what to say to her. If I found myself eating dinner by myself at home, I’d check my Instagram while I was eating.
When I went to the bathroom at a bar, I’d pull out my phone as I approached the urinal to check a text message (I’m super skilled at the pull-out-your-phone-and-check-a-text-message-with-your-left-hand-as-you-unzip-your-fly-with-your-right-hand move).
And worst of all, I’d realize it was 12:53 in the morning and I had been aimlessly scanning Facebook for 90 minutes, watching YouTube videos of DMX riding a roller coaster (actually, epic) and two kids salsa dancing (even more epic)—and that I had 16 open tabs in my Chrome browser that I wanted to check out.
The point here is that it’s hard to practice mindful technology use when you’re not in the woods, when you (like the average American) spend 8-12 hours a day staring at a screen, and when you use your computer, your phone, and social media as tools to make a living.
Let me repeat that: it’s really hard to be mindful of your technology use.
Several friends of mine who are considered mindfulness “experts” (they get paid to speak on the subject) spend pretty much their entire days online. But just because something is hard, does not make it impossible, and you have to start somewhere.
I find that I have a far better track record of changing my habits when I actually write them down so I’m starting with writing down the intentions I set during my digital detox. These are intentions, not rules, and there will definitely be days when I’ll fall back off the wagon. But I’m going to keep a list of these intentions in my room and check-off the ones I’ve kept each night before bed.
I’m hoping these intentions will help me build a healthier relationship with technology; one that provides balance and allows me to spend more time doing the things I love with the people I love most.
1. I will use an analog alarm clock and avoid using my phone in my bedroom.
Having my phone next to my bed means the first thing I see in the morning (and the last thing I see at night) is Tinder, which, whether medically proven or not, has to be the most unhealthy thing in the world.
2. I will spend the first hour in the morning after I wake up sans-technology, either exercising, reading, meditating or pursuing a creative activity I love.
Like many other people, my creative energy is most powerful first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, if I check my devices first thing when I wake up, I often spend my first hour (or my first three hours) checking email, which is such a waste.
3. I will have one device-free day or evening per week.
At Camp Grounded, my friend Bubbles told me he and his girlfriend spend at least one evening a week without their devices. They intentionally make plans ahead of time with friends for dinner, and they don’t take their phones out with them, or watch television or Netflix. It takes some planning not to bring your phone with you (you have to trust your friends not to flake on you, you have to avoid relying on Google Maps to get where you need to go, and you have to be content with not documenting your day), but it feels so good to walk around without a phone.
4. I will wear a watch.
Wearing a watch means I look at my phone less, which means I am less likely to get pulled in to checking email or Facebook or Instagram all the time.
5. I will not keep my phone in my pocket unless I have to.
Having my phone in my front jeans pocket can’t be healthy, and keeping it in my bag makes it more likely I will only check it when I actually need to.
6. I will disable all push notifications.
This keeps me from getting sucked into Instagram every time someone hearts a post or checking Facebook every time someone invites me to an event in a city I don’t even live in.
7. I will not look at my phone during meals.
There is nothing worse than sitting across from someone you’re having coffee or a meal with, and watching them check their phone. It’s rude, it’s annoying, and worst of all, it makes you check your phone—which turns into a 10 minute interlude when you start showing each other text messages and comparing stupid YouTube videos which is far less interesting than actually having a real conversation.
8. I will practice a “one photo per event” rule and post after the event is over.
I like posting photos on social media to help build awareness of issues I care about and I enjoy posting photos to promote my friends’ creative endeavors—but the effort to document everything has become too much. You spend so much time documenting and posting that you don’t even experience an event or meet new people. So, a new rule: unless I’m the staff photographer for an event (which is never—and if you are using an iPhone, you’re not the staff photographer for the event either), I will take one photo per event I attend and then I will put away my phone for the remainder of the event. And I will post the one photo when I get home and I’m alone—not when I’m experiencing the event.
9. I will practice the “post and bounce” (post something and not check it for at least five hours).
This both fights my dopamine addiction for checking how many likes a post gets, and more importantly, allows to me to spend those five hours actually doing something productive and not wasting time on Facebook or Instagram.
10. I will spend the last hour at night before I go to bed sans-technology, either talking to someone, reading, meditating or pursuing a creative activity I love.
Many studies have shown that looking at a screen before you go to sleep is bad for you. Whenever I’m surfing Facebook past the hour of 11pm, it’s bad news bears. I read a blog post that has nothing to do with anything. I get depressed reading about all the people dying in the world and overdose on FOMO seeing my friends’ highlight reels—it makes it very difficult to sleep well. My eyes start hurting, my heart turns weak, and my mind races. I’m going to be more intentional about writing in my journal or reading an hour before bed.
As I mentioned, the goal here is balance and not being too hard on myself. While I was writing this piece I checked my phone 14 times, my email 8 times, and my Facebook 5 times—and I’ll certainly be checking how many likes this post gets. If you’re interested in adopting these intentions with me, let me know and I’ll a send a weekly reminder email so we can hold each other accountable.
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Editor: Travis May