“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”― Mary Oliver
August is just around the corner. For a few years, I had been following a person who went “off the grid” in August. Locked his phone in a safe, refused to scroll, refused to watch the news. Just detoxed for an entire month.
Last year, I did something similar – minus locking my phone in a safe. I figured I’d feel free and it would be easy.
It was incredibly difficult.
The first week, because I couldn’t scroll any social media, I checked my weather app about 40 times a day. I obsessively checked my email, even though it’s mostly junk mail at this point. And because I wasn’t reading the news, I was tortured by clickbait headlines in subject lines. The pull I had to reach for my phone was so strong I started trying to leave it in other rooms just so I wouldn’t be tempted.
The second week, I described it as waking up from a coma. I still checked my weather app more than I care to admit, but since I wasn’t listening to podcasts, I started listening to music and reading audio books. I also read physical books. I sat down at night to watch a movie with the kids instead of half-watching and checking social media to see what else was happening.
The third week, I felt my anxiety shift. I noticed that I started to genuinely not care if there was something I was missing. My world was way smaller than it had been in years. I was worrying less about what my pictures looked like. I would take three instead of 20 (no longer hoping it would be share-able to the world, just the three of us).
The fourth week, I had finished reading my tenth book that month. I started to wonder if I even wanted to go back to social media and what that would look like. Instead of being excited to open the apps, I dreaded it. I could feel my anxiety start to increase just thinking about it.
When I finally reentered the “grid,” it took me about 15 minutes to catch up on the news, and I caught up on what my friends were up to (though of course we had kept in touch throughout my grid-less month).
Two weeks later, I decided to get off social media again because I felt like my break wasn’t long enough. Throughout the year, I took more breaks – January off, a few weeks in May. Each time, I missed it less and less.
I write all of this because my August break is coming up, and I’m preparing this year more than I did last year. I’m thinking more about what I want from this break. Just to detox? To re-evaluate again how much I want to be sucked into my phone and living in a digital universe. Are there better ways to keep in touch with my friends?
And then to encourage others to take a break too. To wean off the mini-dopamine hits you get every time you click or scroll. To stop using it as a digital pacifier (my favorite description and definitely how I have used it for years). To be uncomfortable sometimes and just be bored.
And ultimately to get time back – to regain your own attention and regain intentionality about where you direct it.
So I’ll be heading “out” after July 31, and I’m sure that first week, I’ll practically have my degree in meteorology. Bless that weather app.