digital /ˈdijidl/, adj.

Earlier this year, one of my LinkedIn connections shared his reflections after reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. The book takes readers through a 30-day process of removing social media from their lives—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Netflix, any and all streaming services, and even news sites if readers felt they squandered unnecessary time on them. Newport sets guidelines and advises readers to undergo the minimalism transition while reading the book so they can receive continual advice on keeping digital media out of their lives and learning to fill the void with productive activities. 

Even if you don’t decide to undergo your own digital detox, the book is highly relevant and makes strong arguments against our being constantly connected online. As someone who began wasting time on Facebook since the 8th grade, I knew I wanted to go through the full 30-day process. These were the rules I set for myself, based on Newport’s suggestions: 

  • Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn only on my computer; delete Twitter and LinkedIn from my phone; hide Facebook and Instagram from my phone home screen.
  • Check work email only during work hours; check personal email only on my computer, at most three times a day (morning, lunch, evening), and only when I have time to sort through my email.
  • Do not watch Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or Disney+ by myself, only with others.
  • Check news only on the computer in the afternoon and evening, one hour max each time; listen to NPR and The Daily podcasts in the morning.
  • Check and respond to texts and messages only when able to respond, at certain hours of the day.*

*I was more specific than this in my personal rules document, but didn’t feel the need to get into the nitty gritty here.

I would have deleted Facebook and Instagram off my phone, but part of my job responsibilities is managing our organization’s social media, so I kept them on my phone for work purposes. I did, however, hide both apps on the last screen of my iPhone to avoid having them in easy access. 

For the first 14 or so days of my 30-day digital media removal, I slipped up a few times: I posted occasional stories on Instagram, I posted on Instagram, I liked a few posts (which Newport advises against). I blame this on the fact that I kept Instagram on my phone, but in reality, I knew it was because I sought the attention I would get from these digital interactions. 

Otherwise, I was successful in avoiding streaming services, scrolling Facebook idly, and wasting time online. I started reading six different books (finished one, still working on five), I learned how to more efficiently use my new computer, I wrote, and I was more productive when I sat down to complete tasks.


Then the coronavirus hit.

Like most other folks, when I learned that we would have to shelter in place and socially distance, I felt stranded. Even as an introvert who requires several hours of alone time each week, I felt the strain of not having in-person contact. 

I rapidly made time to check in with my closest friends via video chat—which happily allowed me to check in with many of them sooner than our original in-person plans would have. But the combination of everything—the ever-changing news, absence of loved ones, and strain of social isolation—suddenly made me forget that I was still in the middle of my 30-day digital detox. 

At home full-time, I ended up sitting in my room in front of three screens (my laptop, a separate monitor, and my phone) for most of my waking hours. I’m also currently coming off a slow-healing knee injury, so I’m not able to workout, dance, or run despite having significantly more time to do so—which means that I spend even more time in front of my screens, inevitably reading the news, sitting on social media, unable to pull myself away from the vicious cycle.

It took me two days to realize how far I’d slipped from my 30-day digital minimalism rules, and it took me another five days to get back on track in a way that would allow me to stay on top of the news but not feel overwhelmed by it. 


Now physically unable to meet up with anyone, I felt reluctant to remove myself from social media in the same way that I had at the beginning of my 30 days. While others, including Newport, might argue that this was the perfect opportunity to further remove tech from my life, I worried that this additional layer of virtual distancing would be further detrimental to my mental health and counterproductive to the emotional work I’d done over the past week. 

So on day 25 of the 30 days, I amended my rules: 

  • Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn only on my computer, at most twice a day, 30 minutes max each time; log out of Twitter on my computer; delete Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn from my phone; hide Facebook and limit Instagram from phone home screen use to 40 minutes a day.
  • Check work email only during work hours; check personal email only on my computer, at most three times twice a day (morning, lunch and evening), and only when I have time to sort through my email.
  • Do not watch Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or Disney+ by myself, only with others.
  • Check news only on the computer in the afternoon and evening, one hour 30 minutes max each time; listen to NPR and The Daily podcasts in the morning afternoon.
  • Be available Check and respond to texts, messages, calls, and video chats outside of work hours. only when able to respond, at certain hours of the day.

Thursday, March 26 was day 30 of my digital minimalism. Now, per Newport’s process, I should reintroduce digital media into my life gradually so I can best determine whether each tool, platform, or website offers me deep value and is actually the best way to use tech to serve this value. 

To be frank, I don’t currently feel equipped with the emotional or mental capacity to make these value judgments about the digital media tools in my life. I also recognize that the current reality of social distancing will likely sway my judgment of what is valuable. 

During the first two weeks of the detox, I was a little bored standing in a long checkout line at Berkeley Bowl without Facebook to browse, but this boredom was novel. The last two weeks of the detox, I stood in the same line, vaguely five feet from the customers ahead of and behind me, anxiously willing myself to not touch my face nor my phone to avoid transferring any germs my hands might have picked up in the store. (And I was also quietly grumbling about the fact that the entire aisle of bread had been emptied.) Unlike the first two weeks, I was not bored in line; I was out of my mind with anxiety.

Even in today’s landscape of social distancing, I do still find value in removing the technology that doesn’t add significant value to my life. This much was clear to me after I sabotaged my mental health by sitting on the news for hours on end. 

While Newport’s arguments and conclusions can still apply in a world where we all must remain in our homes or six feet away from anyone outside of our current homes, value now takes on different meanings. And I think it’s important to recognize that the value that tech adds to our lives may differ each day depending on our mental, emotional, and social needs.


Today would have been day 32 of the original 30 days.

But I have decided to try for another 30 day detox with my amended rules, so it is day 2…again.

It would be nice to actually finish these 30 days fully and reflect at the end. However, I do also hope that my detox gets messed up again. Because this time, it might mean that I wouldn’t need to rely on technology so much to see the people I love anymore.

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