Digital detox tips: How to spend less time on the internet

Cat videos, insane ‘look like a Kardashian’ contouring beauty tutorials, the fact you can google Jonathan Taylor Thomas and find out in seconds where he went – these are just a few of the best things about the internet. Oh and that whole keeping in touch with people thing.

We all love the internet but I’ve definitely noticed a shift where it’s just not as cool as it was to constantly be online. Comments about how good it feels to go out without your smartphone or go on a staycation without any devices are becoming standard office small talk and writing digital detox tips are now de rigueur for lifestyle journalists like myself. Plus, all those studies about the negative effect of social media on your mental health are hard to ignore.

While I haven’t gone on a fully blown digital detox (yet) this year I’ve definitely started to pull away from constantly being connected. Why? Well, like everyone else, I feel like being online is taking more out of me than I’m getting out of it (mostly in terms of sucking my precious time) and I feel increasingly sickened when I look around at a dinner and we’re all on our phones or I’ve spent the weekend with loved ones and I’ve spent the whole time gazing at the blue glare of a screen. When I die, I will not be thinking ‘I really should’ve Googled this more’. Fact.

I’m embarrassed to admit this but something weird happened a few weeks ago where I actually experienced ‘life envy’ scrolling through Instagram. Now, I’m genuinely not someone who steers towards jealousy and I am well aware that social media is just a highlights reel and not real life but this horrible feeling came out of the blue and I ended up feeling really crap about myself and my life choices. Maybe it’s my own fault for following so many 25 year old fashion girls who’d never get black eyeliner smeared on their white jeans Cat Marnell-style but the urge to compare myself with their glossy #goals came over me and my mood plummeted.

Anyway, I’ve found it really hard to not check my phone every ten seconds but simultaneously I feel repulsed by it, by the idea that I’ve spent HOURS of my life fiddling with Insta filters, Googling 1980s film trivia instead of using my brain and – worst of all – tweeting inanely over 19,000 times. Jesus.

So here’s a few things I’ve been doing to help me spend less time on the internet:

Ask yourself is there someone with you or in the room with you? Then put your fucking phone down. Have a look at photographer Eric Pickersgill’s work ‘Removed’ where he photoshopped the phones out of people’s hands. Isn’t it grim? Your phone is not real life or as real as the person in front of you. Be present or at least TRY to be.

Go outside. This is a great read about how nature is the best cure for burnout, an idea I’m 100% behind. Most importantly, leave the house without your phone. DO IT. Of course, this could be the time you see James Franco in Starbucks and can’t get an awkward selfie but it’s pretty unlikely now, isn’t it? If the thought of not being able to snap a photo of a tree to your social channels puts you into a tailspin, bring a camera (remember them?). Speaking of which…

Get a non-digital hobby. Exercise, create a reading wishlist and start ticking them off, go for a walk during the times you’re most likely to scroll and eyeroll, take a yoga class, explore the world of no-bake baking, whatever floats your boat. As well as swapping my smartphone for podcasts when I’m on the bus, I’ve started reading again. I’ve always been a big reader but in the last two years, my data usage has skyrocketed and my reading of books has plummeted so I’ve set out to rectify that. Follow me on Instagram to see what books I’m reading. On that note…

Join the library. My book stash is reaching hoarder levels so I just signed up to my local library and I swear, the catalogue is bibliophile porn. Did you know it’s free and you can order books and DVDs – even boxsets of MACGYVER – from libraries across Ireland? Amazing.

Switch off alerts and push notifications for apps (except more essential ones like email) as these are just luring you back online. Another thing I’ve really been trying to do is to stop responding immediately to everything. It feels like I’m breaking the rules of internet etiquette here but not every email or tweet demands an immediate reply. By doing this you’re allowing digital to constantly interrupt your life.

Time your internet usage and be strict with yourself. Inspired by this handy productivity hacks vlog from Irish fashion blogger Erika Fox from Retro Flame where she recommends a cheap and cheerful timer from Amazon for tasks, I’ve started putting an allocated time limit on my online tasks each day. For example, I tell myself I’m going to spend 30 minutes replying and sending emails and then I can do something I actually enjoy, like eating raw cookies.

Cull your social media and be ruthless. Leave groups you never participate in but who clog up your feed, unfriend people like your school friend’s mam who posts nothing but ‘She wanted to, so she did’ inspirational crap, unfollow negative creeps who tweet about #notallmen and stop hate-reading blogs that drive you crazy. Remember what you love online – even if it’s just the Cats of Instagram feed (ahem) or, I dunno, this blog – and use your time online for what you actually get something positive out of.

Start new rituals. God, am I starting to sound like a well-thumbed Hay House self-help book yet? For a long time, the first thing I did in the morning was switch on my phone and start scrolling until I felt less like a zombie. Now I wake up, go get coffee, go back to bed and read whatever book I’m chewing through for 20 minutes (FYI, right now it’s Torch by Cheryl Strayed). It’s admittedly hard not to go for a social media fix first but I really feel so much sharper after reading a book instead.

Get a functional phone, not a smart one. When literary goddess Zadie Smith gives writing advice, you should listen and one of her big tips is not having a smartphone. While I haven’t ditched my Android, I did dig up an old Nokia that miraculously still works and made this my work phone. It stays charged for a full week (for real) and all I need it for is calls and texts.

Post and go. This is my new approach to social media. Whether we admit it or not, most of us post online and wait for some kind of feedback or digital standing ovation, whether that’s five doubletaps on Instagram or the elusive retweet on Twitter. Now I just post and get on with whatever I’m doing. Later, if I’ve got a reply – or a man tweeting me with ‘Actually…’ – I reply to everything in one burst so I’m not dipping in and out of social media all night.

Post everything in the evening or in your downtime. Social media gurus will no doubt throw their iphones at me for this but now I post all my tweets and ‘grams after 5.30 when I’m clocking off work for the day. I know this obliterates the element of ‘insta’ and goes against the ‘share everything about yourself every minute’ culture we know and loathe but I just find that social media is not dominating my day this way and I actually look forward to my #latergram post of a blurry sunset in the evening. (Is that pathetic?)

Have internet free weekends. I’ve admittedly lapsed on this one (mostly ‘cos I started writing blog posts like this one on the weekends) but for a few months I was going internet-free at the weekend and it was glorious. In general, things are pretty quiet online at the weekend so – celeb deaths aside – you’re really not gonna miss anything. Don’t forget there’s smug points on Monday when you tell your colleagues that you’re down with the cool kids on the digital detox train and those cool points are worth more than any carefully staged Instagram.


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