I’m in detox, my friends.
As most of you know, I have an addictive personality. I’ve quit alcohol and tobacco—substances that have caused major problems in my life. I’ve also stopped using marijuana, which has historically been terrible for my mental health and overall wellbeing. I’m working now on eliminating caffeine from my diet (which has proven more difficult than all the others, honestly).
Now, I’m adding the Internet and smartphone use to that list.
Over the last few months, I’ve become increasingly aware that my digital health is deteriorating. I spend about five hours on the Internet or on my phone every day. I’m usually awake for about 16.5 hours, so that’s close to 1/3rd of my waking life spent on the Internet, sitting and absorbing the torrent of information being laser-beamed into my eyeballs.
Most of that time is spent on social media. As we all know, divisiveness reigns supreme there. Controversial opinions and aggressive stance-taking garner attention, and attention is social currency on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit. I’m certainly not innocent of it. Most of my brand involves a kind of moral superiority.
But standing before the constant deluge of grandstanding has become exhausting, irritating, and oppressive.
I’ve found myself trusting people less. Being present less. I go out into the world to buy groceries and I frown (from behind my mask) at a public whose online “conversations” disgust me. I imagine people treating each other in person the way they do online (which is awful). I sit on the couch and doom-scroll through Twitter, reinforcing ideas that our collective future is fucked and we have no idea what we’re doing. I do this instead of paying attention to my fiancé, or playing with my pup, or finding interest in the show we’re watching.
My face is buried in my phone as I track to-do lists and look for new music and plan my next creative endeavor. I wake up to it, I eat with it, I use it in the shower. Sometimes I scroll it while I’m on the computer.
I would expect spending five hours on something to give me value. But my daily time with the Internet just… doesn’t.
So, I’ve decided to do something about it.
As a preemptive step to this detox, I muted phrases and people on my social platforms in an attempt to “clean up” my Internet experience. I’ve tried talking less as well—not replying to comments as much. I’ve even begun using new platforms as a way to compartmentalize my Internet experience and customize it more to what I’m after.
Those things have failed, leaving me frustrated. Last night, I figured out why.
I’m not using the Internet in a way that gets me what I need from it. I’m using it the way I used to use drugs—basically, for no fucking reason at all.
The Internet is an incredibly useful tool and I’m so happy to live in the age of smartphones. Everything I need is at my fingertips. I can write books and design covers and find recipes and navigate across the world with my thumbs. I can also find new friends and share my art.
But those things don’t take five hours a day. They just don’t.
I can wrap it up in excuses like, “But social media engagement is necessary as a self-published author!” or “This is what people expect of my brand!”
But those things aren’t concrete. Social media engagement does not a successful author make. Selling books does that. I can spend more time on advertisement and less time commenting on news articles. People can expect whatever they want from my brand, too, but I set the tone. I decide what my brand is.
There’s no legitimate reason to scroll through social media or Google news stories for five hours a day.
It’s a waste of time.
So, I’ve made some changes to my digital life and am imposing restrictions on myself effective immediately. I intend to take back my life, reign in what has become a rampant addiction, and transform my Internet experience from drug-use to tool-use.
I’ve set a time limit on my phone usage for the day using a digital wellbeing app. I’ve given myself one hour total of phone use, which I think is more than enough. Every time I open my phone after that hour, the app pops up a window saying I’ve used up all my time. Closing that window closes whatever app I’m trying to use. I can “snooze” the alert for 15 minutes if what I’m doing is absolutely vital.
I’ve also set specific timers on social media apps. I grant myself a daily allowance of 15 minutes on Twitter and Reddit, each. Once I’ve used up that daily allowance, the apps lock and I can’t access them until the next day.
At 8:00pm, my phone automatically enters grayscale mode. The idea here: the simple appearance of the black-and-white reminds me to put my phone down, and the grayscale literally effects my ability to see links. In general, it makes navigating my phone harder—especially on the Internet. This effect goes away at 6:00am, when I wake up.
I’ve also set my phone to Do Not Disturb permanently, allowing only calls and texts from family, friends, and therapists.
Rather than purifying my social media experience through mute filters and blocks, I’m going to reform the way I use social media. I went on a two-year boycott of all social platforms in 2017. I joined Twitter as a college assignment (Digital Marketing for Authors class, I think), found the #WritingCommunity, and became obsessed with the idea that creating a following there would propel me to literary success. I’ve since come to the understanding that networking with other writers is not the same as selling books to readers.
I’ve made a lot of great friends online and I’ve found a lot of fans. I’m very grateful for that.
But, oddly, most of my social media use doesn’t enhance those things. I find myself commenting on news articles and sharing random thoughts. Those actions don’t bring me closer to people. If they do, they don’t bring me closer to the people I want to be close to. The original intent was to market my art. I’m not doing that.
I want a community of fans and friends who care about what I’m saying. Who consume my art. Who are interested in what’s going on in my life. I’m not interested in a bunch of strangers tapping hearts for my thoughts on the democratic process. That shit isn’t making my money or advancing my dreams. If people want to know my thoughts on those things, they can have conversations with me. They can read my books.
I still plan to be intimate with the people who want to be close to me. You’ll still be able to find me on the Discord, and patrons will still get insider access into what I’m doing with my life. This blog will obviously still be running. The podcast will continue.
My social media presence, however, is changing. I intend to use my social platforms purely as a way to advertise what I’m doing and where to find me. Everything will redirect to my site or the Discord. I intend to be much less personal on socials. More selective of how I share myself.
(In the words of my therapist: “You are a gift. Not all gifts are meant for everyone.”)
I have also muted most writing-related communities and hashtags, and I’ve removed myself from writing-related groups. This is a major change. I’m doing this because I’m tired of seeing the same posts and discussions over and again.
Plotter vs. pantser. Writer’s block. Oh, I haven’t written in like two weeks what do I do? I’m a new writer—how do I start? Crafting interesting villains. Should we or should we not use formal story structure formats? Omg, being a writer is mostly staring at a blank screen amirite? Coffee coffee coffee.
Same shit, different day. It’s not enlightening, inspiring, or interesting anymore.
I’ve been in the writing community trenches for a year now. I write every day.
I’m not tired of writing. I’m just tired of talking about it. And I’m really, really tired of hearing about it. That is, except for writing conversations with my close online friends and fans. (Looking at you, Discord.) Those discussions tend to be more substantive and they’re a lot of fun.
Now, I could do all of this without saying a word and most people wouldn’t notice. I’m being open about this process—as I’m open with pretty much everything I do—because maybe you need to do this too. Maybe you’ve been thinking about it for a while, but you aren’t sure how to go about it. Or maybe something has been nagging you but you haven’t found what it is.
Whether you’re a creative or not, I ask you to consider what you want out of your Internet use. If you’re using it as much as I am—why? Are you getting as much out of the Internet as you’re putting in?
Is it possible that you can spend less time in the digital space and more time in the real world? If so, what benefits might you find?
For me, I want to use the Internet to sell my books and keep in touch with fans. I also want to use it for quick searches. I don’t want it to define my day. I don’t want it to be where I get my news. I don’t want it to inform how I view the world.
I want to spend my time in life. I want to really see and feel and hear the effects of politics around me. I want to enjoy the warmth of the morning sun in silence without drowning the moment in Twitter opinions.
I want to return to a time where my errant thoughts could be just that, and didn’t need to be billboards for who I am.
So, yeah. I’m detoxifying. The real ones will stick around and the rest will float away, and I’m okay with that. I prefer a tight circle, not a big one.
I love y’all. Be safe out there. Treat yourselves well.
I’ll see you around.