How I Survived 30 Days With (Almost) No Digital Media

Today is the day after a month-long fast from all digital media, except…
movies at the movie theater,
music,
email,
and websites or apps needed to get work done
(and, as it turned out, communal video games).

I’ve always been slow to upgrade to new technology (unless it’s free), so it was not until last year that I really experienced for the first time the true power of having a smartphone. Not only did I get a blazing fast iPhone SE*, but I switched carriers and for the first time in my life had access to a respectable data plan to go with the new phone**.

Once I upgraded to my new phone on my new plan with my new shiny high speed data, I became one of those phone zombies I normally look down my nose at from my moral high ground. I thought I was better than everyone else, but it turns out I was just technologically handicapped enough not to be tempted by my smartphone.

Being 2017, the News app was my drug of choice, followed by Instagram and Twitter. It was suddenly so easy to tap or slide and read page after page of news and thoughts, getting fired up by trolls and the part of the population active on social media whom I did not agree with and who were prone to arguing and name calling.

I would not be surprised to find out I digested more news media in 2017 than in all the years before that, combined.

After about a year of it, I realized I needed a break.

Not a ‘slow down and take it a little easier’ kind of break, but a full stop, 180 degree, let’s remember what silence is like kind of break.

Actually, it was really Rob Bell who inspired the whole thing. I was listening to his podcast one day when he said something like, if you let silence into your life then you’ll be able to hear the voice deep down inside that’s trying to guide you in the right direction. He said to try turning off the radio while driving and see if you hear that voice trying to talk through all the noise and distractions. (Ironic that a podcast got me to stop listening to podcasts?)

Did I mention I’ve felt more anxious this past year than ever before, or that I’ve had consistent trouble getting to sleep at night for the first time in my life?

I decided the main things that were stressing me out were news, social media, and podcasts. Podcasts are an interesting one, and I will get to that in a second. I decided while I was at it, I may as well get rid of television and movies and online videos for a month too.

All I really needed, I thought, would be music to work to, and to listen to with my kids, and email, and whatever websites and apps I needed to work. And maybe a trip or two to the movies.

Before the first of April came, I turned off all the notifications on my phone that I knew would distract and tempt me. News app, gone. Twitter, gone. Instagram, gone. I don’t have Facebook installed on my phone or it would have definitely been gone too. Anything else that seemed like it would add unnecessary noise to my life, gone.

I ended up checking the weather a lot, which I had not specifically included in my okay list, but weather seemed harmless to my mental wellbeing and also helpful for planning our days.

Other phone apps I did not specifically allow, but used without restriction because I needed them or because they helped instead of hurt my progress toward a zenlike state: MapMyRun, Yelp, Waze, Facebook Messenger, Paper, Bear, Calm, the Starbucks app, and the Bible app, and of course the camera and clock apps, which I don’t even think would qualify as digital media anyway.

So, let’s get to the point, shall we?

How was it? Did it change my life? Have I decided to move to the desert and become a monk? Did I manage to avoid all the temptations of 21st century digital media?

First of all, I did not experience any great big revelations. I have not made any major life altering decisions. Everything is basically the same. I cannot say my deep down inner voice, or the voice of God, or the universe, whatever you want to say it is, talked to me and gave me direction, but I think having more silence helped me to focus on priorities, plans, and goals, and start making progress on some things that had been easy to put off.

I did not miss the news. I heard about a few big stories from family and friends, and I saw front page headlines on the newspaper rack at Starbucks, but I did not feel compelled to find out the details or keep up with every single thing going on. I knew everything would be different in a few days anyway.

I did not really miss social media. There were a few times when I started to pick up my phone to look at Instagram and remembered I wasn’t doing that any more. My wife filled me in on any big news from our social circles.

I did not miss watching television, except as a way of relaxing with my wife. I’ve never been a big TV person and knowing I could catch up on anything I missed later took care of any FOMO I might have felt.

Even though the podcasts I listen to mostly help me learn and grow in my work and in general, I did not really miss them either. It was nice, actually, to just breathe and not feel the need to keep up with all the new episodes coming out. I’m a person who likes to check things off a list and seeing new episodes pop up on my phone sometimes feels like adding extra to-do items, as weird as that might sound.

I listen to some writing and publishing podcasts and it felt good not to be inundated with information about what I should be doing to help my indie writing career. They have been invaluable for teaching me the ropes of the industry and the finer points of storytelling, but it was good to take a month off.

I felt more relaxed.

I started meditating again. I read more, even some magazine articles, which has not happened in a while. I got more done around the house. I definitely wasted a lot less time. I started getting to bed earlier, and I think I slept better. I for sure had less bedtime anxiety.

I ate lunch outside with the kids almost every day. If I lived up north, I could say that was because of the weather, but I live in Florida.

I think I wrote more, too, though that could have been influenced by other things, like my wife’s schedule or having a better idea where my story was going.

I played two board games, which never happens anymore (I won Stratego but lost Settlers Of Catan).

I made progress on a big cleaning and rearranging job I had wanted to do in one of the rooms in our home for a long time.

Another funny thing. Because I wasn’t sharing photos and thoughts on the socials, I ended up texting friends directly instead, sharing things with one or two people instead of the world. I thought that was an interesting development.

Okay, confession time.

I did watch a couple nature documentaries with the kids on days when it was too hot to eat outside and we all really just wanted to sit and eat lunch or dinner and watch something.

Oh, and because my oldest had been asking lots of questions about Jesus after Easter, we also watched The Miracle Maker.

And I peeked in on some YouTube videos about Disney World Wendy and the kids were watching. Some of it was hard to miss, like when I was cleaning in the kitchen and they were watching in the living room. But some of it I could have gone into the other room to avoid. But I didn’t.

Then there were the video games.

We had friends over for dinner, and there was a running rivalry among us to see who could beat our friend Darius at the game Injustice. So we played an hour or two while they were over.

And toward the end of the month we got back to playing Super Mario Odyssey, which we stopped playing after beating the initial game. By then I had decided video games with other people were okay, even though they do stress me out sometimes. Especially Mario Kart.

I didn’t feel bad about any of these lapses back into the world of digital entertainment, but I do want to be honest about the whole experience. I wanted this to be about quieting down my life, but I didn’t want to be so strict that it turned into a painful experience, especially when it involved hanging out with other people or my family.

So, in summary, it was a very good month.

I missed watching movies, especially on Sunday afternoons, which is a ritual of mine. And I missed sitting down and watching something with my wife at the end of a long day, although that would have kept me from getting as much done as I did. But other than that, I didn’t miss much. I certainly did not suffer.

I’m very happy I decided to take this challenge. I’m kind of excited it’s over, but not as much as you might think. There are a few podcasts I’ve got lined up and a few movies I want to see. But, really, I’m hoping to keep more to the April way of doing things than the pre-April way.

Photo by Max Saeling on Unsplash

*As of the time I picked up my new phone, iPhone SEs were already three or four generations behind current iPhones, but I was upgrading from an iPhone 4S. On the 4S I was basically limited to calling and texting and listening to podcasts, especially toward the end when the 4S was blocked from updating to the latest iOS version. One by one, apps I could still sort of use began to tell me I could no longer use them until I updated them to the latest version, which also required the latest version of iOS, which I could not have on my phone. Even the podcast app succumbed in the end, and I was left with the equivalent of a flipless flip phone.

**This is not a sponsored post or anything, but just because I like to pass on good stuff when I find it, I highly recommend Cricket if you’re looking at changing carriers. As of this writing, their 2GB High Speed plan offers unlimited talk and text plus 2Gb of high speed data (you still have data access after that, just much slower) is available for $30 a month. Mine comes out to $35 with taxes and fees. When I signed up, the iPhone SE came with the plan for an extra $200, which seemed like a heck of a deal. They’re owned by AT&T and I’ve never had trouble getting signal except in the loneliest of mountain roads in North Carolina and California.

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