My Digital Detox

The topic is digital and the question is how much? If I were to ask you how many times per day, on an average day, do you think you are exposed to, interact with, or experience some form of media. A dozen? A hundred? Thousands?

As consumers living in the digital age, we can escape digital media just about as easily as we can live without water. We would last a few hours, perhaps in isolation, but there is an indefinite guarantee that media would find us. The average American interacts with more than 30,000 unique forms of media every single day. This statistic was presented in an advertising course I recently took. At first, I denied that I experienced even close to 30,000, internally claiming that I must not be considered average. And while on a majority of accounts, I am certainly far from average, I dove into what actually consists of a single media interaction and wouldn’t be surprised if I experience double that amount.

The digital environment is not only present in our daily lives, it’s proactively engaging you and I around the clock. A single media encounter may stem from a variety of outlets. We are consistently and constantly exposed to such outlets in both digital formats and more authentic sources. For example, when I go for a run (hypothetically speaking of course…) and I wear Nike running shoes, every person I run past would essentially encounter a media interaction after being exposed to the popularly branded “Nike swoosh” on my shoes. Any type of brand material exposure or digital messaging can be taken into account. Media moguls today thrive on the access to our attention and take advantage of the endless opportunities to capture it.

Now let’s introduce a term we are all way too familiar with: ‘social.’ The social world within the existing digital age has essentially shifted our entire culture and critically altered our existence. Humans think, interact, feel, and experience life in different ways today than ever before.

Our thoughts are influenced by the infinite amounts of information being seeped into our brains 30,000 times a day. It’s difficult, and even exhausting, to sift through the endless media streams and draw out pieces of reality and truth.

We interact with each other in a more distant sense while simultaneously feeling more connected than ever before. For some, screens provide security. For others, social channels have opened up lines of communication to a broader audience for shared ideas, free collaboration, and open dialogue. We have the opportunity to challenge social issues on worldwide platforms, to shed light on areas of disaster and to highlight actions that are changing our world for the better.

Our relationships have been more affected by the digital world than any other aspect. As we become more aware of the details of each other’s lives, our emotional boundaries are tightened. When relationships fail, we still have access to the intimate details of someone’s life. When we are in relationships, there is instant visibility into other relationships, thus resulting in increased temptations and strains in the relationship itself.

We experience our lives differently in the sense that we’d much rather watch the home improvement channel than doing home renovations ourselves and we’d rather watch the food network instead of going to the grocery store. Some even watch shows about people getting engaged in a 10-week series instead of building authentic relationships. We are, more or less, experiencing life in all forms through a screen.

Why?

The entertainment is undeniably addicting, the resources are absolutely endless, and the simplistic efficiency is so irresistibly enticing that we forget how we ever lived without GPS, Netflix, and Siri. Digital resources creep up everywhere without our knowledge. Why do we ask for the WiFi password at restaurants, is the company around us not enough? We carry portable phone chargers around like an extra limb, because we cannot bear the thought of being unconnected.

We become so engrained in what’s online that we become jealous of others without even realizing it. For the female population especially, this intense, suppressed jealousy can develop into a competitive nature, one we certainly never desired in the first place. It’s easy to forget that we only are exposed to the joyous highlights of everyone’s life through their accounts. It’s now easier to see why so much of the younger generation struggles with anxiety and depression, because there’s a constant internal force that pushes pressure to conform in unnecessary ways.

FOMO (fear of missing out) may have started as a comical acronym but can inflict serious implications to those who internally compare their lives to the glamorous lifestyles posted online. Do you ever ask yourself why you are posting? Do you simply want to share? To prove a point? To share an opinion? To brag? For attention? For one person’s eyes specifically? For likes?

There’s not enough space in this piece to reveal just how rapidly the digital age is continuing to shape human culture and thought. However, as I’ve noticed it personally shaping the way I live my life, changing the relationships that I have for better or worse, and influencing my career as a whole, I have decided to take a step back and evaluate the positive value versus the impending damage digital has induced.

I have pledged (solely to myself) to stay off all social accounts for one week. For creativity’s sake, I’ve decided to call this my ‘Digital Detox’ project. Beginning 6/25, I will eliminate my social world for seven days while I attempt to understand the magnitude of how influential and powerful social media can truly be.

To provide color and context, (and to better explain why I’m currently breaking out in a nervous sweat wondering how I can survive a week without checking Instagram) I would safely, but embarrassingly, admit I am an absolute social addict. I am guilty of checking the majority of my social apps multiple times an hour. Why? Nine times out of ten, I will open social media as a strictly subconscious habit and mindlessly scroll through feed after feed. I rarely think about which social channel to check next. I simply open, refresh, repeat. I’ll also be the first to admit that nine and a half times out of ten, there’s absolutely nothing even remotely worthwhile to view.

As a generational point of view, there is an indisputable reason as to why millennials desire instant gratification and have short attention spans – we are endlessly distracted by social media. Generally, we have a hard time focusing on one thing at a time, because we are subconsciously aware of and cannot ignore the stimulation from our digital devices.

Worst of all, do you find it infuriating to be thinking about which picture to take and to post instead of focusing on the present event? Perhaps this is an aspect of social media that I solely struggle with. And by struggle, I’m absolutely blissfully unaware that my social habits may be considered extreme. Hence, the need for this ‘detox’. My goal is to start living in the moment, occupy my time more wisely, reduce the need for instant verification and satisfaction that comes from receiving a ‘like,’ and to better understand where social media can enhance how I live and where it devalues my life experiences and relationships.

Arguably, by working in digital marketing, I am further exposed to this world of media madness. Working on digital platforms and monitoring social accounts has now become part of my career and while I continue to have a passion for digital business strategies and advancing technologies, it is a personal goal of mine to know when and how to unplug.

There are certainly a multitude of potential health benefits to “un-plugging” as well. Imagine if we didn’t sleep with our phones. We’d allow our brains to relax, breathe, and think freely before we fall asleep and awake with a fresh mind, free of social politics and constant notifications.

It is my hope that this short-term detox has the potential to provide long-term insight into how to focus on the benefits of social media and navigate its potential dangers. In keeping with my consistent ideal of being open, honest, and transparent as a blogger, I will undoubtedly struggle being “offline” for this week. The social environment supplies me with a way to communicate daily with those close to me and offers an outlet for me to share (maybe too much) of my life with you. My short-term fears are that I’ll miss out on some “big news” or that my communication will dwindle with those I only hear from over social channels. However, this will push both me and you to call one another and develop stronger relationships that can survive outside of a singular social channel.

From an older generation’s point of view, this may seem totally extreme, if not dramatic. Again, I certainly don’t deny that social media is absolutely a habit that needs to be addressed. However, growing up in a world desiring to be completely connected definitely requires a conscious effort to stay offline and unplugged.

There will be a follow-up post sometime after the seven days have expired to reflect on this social experiment. I encourage you to join me, even for a day this week, to silence the social aspect of your life; it might be easier than you think. We are often so reliant on our daily routines that we don’t even realize an element, like social media, is unnecessary.

Maybe there will be no significant change or realization at all, but for now, I’m logging off.

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