intentional living, social media, technology

5 Ways a Digital Hiatus Changed Me

Today I’ll be wrapping up my thoughts on the digital hiatus I took at the end of last year. If you didn’t read part one or two, that’s okay! You can find them here–> Part 1: 90 Days “anti-Social” & Part 2: 5 Steps to Streamline Your Digital Life

After 90 days of life spent away from social media and all digital nonessentials, I took some time to reflect on what had taken place during my hiatus. I really wanted to make space to learn and create positive changes based on my experience; the last thing I wanted to do was “check a box” and go right back to my previous habits. 

Below is a list of the most significant ways that I have changed as a result of my digital break. These notes will also serve as somewhat of a manifesto for my relationship with all things digital going forward. 

So, What Changed?

1. I can see a lot more clearly

Now, I’m not talking about actual vision with my eyeballs, although, that would be nice! I’m talking about seeing–being able to look around and also inward at my own behavior and see it for what it is.

Prior to my digital break, I had legitimately zero clue just how much influence my smartphone, social media, etc had on me. All the noise was too close to me for me to see it’s impact. I was like Neo before he left The Matrix. I firmly believe that (unless you already happen to use a flip phone and have never joined any of the social media/phone app frenzy) you are more impacted than you realize. 

Taking a digital break was like slowly removing the blindfold. In addition to the random little things that I started to observe about myself (as I mentioned in my previous posts), I also started to see deeper things too. For example, I started to notice that my impulse to pick up my phone and scroll was strongest when I was tired or when I wasn’t feeling well. So, rather than take care of my body, sleep or do something that was actually helpful, I was in a perpetual cycle of ignoring those little clues and wasting my time.

2. I’m less anxious 

Here’s the thing–prior to my digital break, I had no idea that I was even feeling anxious. It had slowly crept in and I had gotten so used to it that I didn’t even realize that it was there–until it wasn’t. 

So, where was this anxiety coming from? SO MANY places. I wonder if you can relate to any of these:

  • Feeling the obligation to check my phone (even when I didn’t really want to).
  • Wanting to have time “off the grid”, but also feeling that not having my phone was going to result in some kind of crisis. 
  • Subconsciously mulling over the thoughts/comments of people online.
  • Feeling guilty for picking up my phone when I was with my kids/husband/friends, but also not willing or able to set firm boundaries with myself to stay unplugged. 

It blows my mind that I was so oblivious to how much anxiety all these things were bringing me. It took a few weeks of my digital hiatus to even become aware of these things and then a few more weeks to actually get them “out of my system”. This newfound peace is one of the main reasons I am so passionate about maintaining digital boundaries going forward. 

3. I have the capacity to care for people at a deeper level

I’m sure that there is some brilliant person somewhere who has conducted a study on this (and if not, I hope someone does soon). Since I’m not an expert, I’ll just do my best and hopefully y’all can pick up what I’m putting down here. 

I have come to believe that we as humans aren’t designed to process and/or respond to all of the tragic events and happenings of every human we’ve ever met–let alone of the entire world. In fact, I don’t think it’s healthy to constantly be bombarded with news of death, suffering, sadness and tragedy.

In case you aren’t exactly sure what I’m talking about, here are some examples… you log on to Facebook and see a post about your previous neighbors cousin who has a second aunt that was killed by a runaway train last week… or, you jump on Instagram and see a photo of a family you’ve never met who just lost their child. These are horrible things, YES. Unthinkable, heartbreaking things. 

And yet, I have to wonder, are we really capable of hearing about all of them all the time? I know that there are people who will passionately argue that I can’t shove my head in the sand just because something is not “happy”. Afterall, the whole reason someone would share about heartbreak online is to garner support and prayer, which I completely agree is of great value. BUT, the problem (in my opinion) is that we so passively consume all this news on a regular basis. Most of the time, we see a post or article or go-fund me and have an immediate emotional reaction (even if we don’t realize it). Then we easily scroll onto the next thing without actually processing what has taken place or doing anything significantly tangible to help. 

I think a lot of this comes back to the way we accumulate so many “friends” on social media. I’ve heard it said that we are really only capable of maintaining 140 friendships/relationships/connections at any given time. If we only maintain Facebook “friendships” with people that we are actually connected with and want to take the time to maintain some sort of relationship with, I believe that we are much more capable of processing tragedy and then (here’s the part that really matters) actually doing something about it. 

The longer I’ve been away from the constant noise, the less desensitized I’ve become to others and the more deeply I’ve been able to care for people.

4. I’m more grateful

It has been said by many that we become the average of the five people we surround ourselves with. In virtually every season throughout history, the people we surround ourselves with have largely been people that we physically spend time with. We see the strengths and shortcomings of these humans. We have a connection. We grow alongside each other (for the better of for the worse). With the explosion of social media, the five people you surround yourself with can easily become people that you’ve never met, people that live in a completely different social/geographical/economic group than you do. While this ability to “connect” is an incredible tool, it also has the potential to be highly destructive.

Annie Leonard (you may have seen her on the new Netflix Documentary by The Minimalists, “Less is Now”) explains this shift as a “vertical expansion of our reference group”. Instead of comparing ourselves to people that share similar values and resources, the standards which we now hold ourselves to are unrealistic. For example, any person with an Instagram account can see Kim Kardashian and her seemingly flawless skin and (if they aren’t hyper aware), they allow Kim’s skin to become the standard of healthy skin that they hold themselves to. Nevermind the fact that Kim has an estimated net worth of over $780 million or that she (like the majority of people on social media) only post the most carefully curated and edited photos of themselves. This subconscious comparison game is a losing game, to be sure.

The example of flawless skin is just one in a long line of thousands. We compare our level of happiness to the apparent happiness of others. We compare how well behaved/educated/dressed our kids are to whatever standard the “momtrepreneurs” we follow seem to project. We compare our homes. Our habits. Our spouses. Our financial situation. Our friends (or seeming lack of friends). Our fitness level. Our ability to organize our homes. Our political opinions. Our values.

After a few weeks of being “unplugged”, I had this moment when I realized just how ungrateful I had been. My life isn’t perfect. It’s not without struggle or tragedy. AND YET–when I let go of all the unrealistic standards that I’ve allowed to set the bar in my life over the past few years, I am instantly humbled and overwhelmingly grateful. God has blessed me with life. The fact that I’m even breathing right this very moment is a gift. I’ve been given a relationship with my Creator, I’ve been blessed with incredible people, I get to enjoy nature and eat like royalty (for real, if you live in the USA, you eat like royalty compared to the masses of our globe). I pray that I never allow the pressure of consumerism, the “American dream” or the photoshopped photos of people I’ve never met to determine my gratefulness again.

5. I unfriended over 1,200 people on Facebook

This was a fun one *sarcasism fully intended*. I had spent a few weeks thinking and praying about what the specific purpose of each app would be going forward. Facebook is honestly the one that irritates me the most. I’ve often said that, if it weren’t for the group functions on Facebook, I would have deleted my whole account long ago; but, as it stands, certain functions of Facebook provide tools that I haven’t yet been able to replace.

When I started to really hone in on what I wanted each of these tools to add to my life, it became very obvious that (as far as social media was concerned) Instagram would be for a wide audience and Facebook would be for people that fell into one of three buckets, 1) People that we regularly do life with, 2) Close friends and family that I don’t see all the time, but who I want to stay connected with, and 3) Clients that I want to stay personally connected with. I determined these three buckets and then scheduled a time to log onto Facebook from my laptop and clean up my friends list.

It took me about 90 minutes to go through my whole friends list. At first it felt weird to be clicking through hundreds of faces and “unfriending” them, but then it just started to feel freeing. It was like I was metaphorically taking the social media standards that had been forced on me and throwing them out the window. Who says that I have to have a Facebook account at all–let alone that I have to be “friends” with every person I’ve ever met or who has ever requested me?? Facebook (a for-profit mega company) wants me to believe that. Some of the people that I “unfriended” certainly believe that too, as I was able to confirm when I received several different messages from angry, hurt, confused or straight bitter people that I had “deleted”. 

Several times I was asked… “was deleting so many friends on Facebook even ‘considerate’ of others?” I mulled over this question for a few days. Part of me was saddened that I had unintentionally hurt others. Another part of me was equally dumbfounded that people I hadn’t connected with or spoken to in decades would even care if we weren’t Facebook “friends” anymore. After a bit of thinking and praying, I came to the conclusion that it’s really up to each person to determine how they will use their digital tools (which includes social media). If someone wants to streamline the people they are connected with or expand their connections or even delete their entire account permanently, then that’s entirely up to them and no additional justification is necessary. Simple as that.

I fear that our culture has been far too quick to embrace the world of social media with open arms, never really questioning the role that it plays in our lives. Far too many of us have lost sight of the fact that the digital world is only one tiny piece of life. But that’s another can of worms to open on another day.

Final thoughts…

At the end of the day, the important thing isn’t the specific number of ways that I’ve changed over the past few months; what matters is that my digital hiatus created space for new habits to be cultivated. Whether you find yourself in the midst of a digital detox of your own or not, my prayer is that these examples will inspire you to embark on your own journey of intentionality. Living an intentional “digital life” might not be easy, but it is absolutely worth it.

TTYS,

Christine

2 thoughts on “5 Ways a Digital Hiatus Changed Me”

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