The Accidental Digital Minimalist

I’m alive and well. I promise.

No one in my family is suffering from a life threatening condition. When aren’t in financial distress or homeless. I’m still happily married and haven’t been convicted of any major crimes. I have not been checked into a mental institution, although I do have a teenager.

I just accidentally stopped using social media completely.

Before I explain, I want to state for the record that this is not about online shaming. Do not feel bad or guilty about your social media experience. This is about one person only, me. Also, I’m not trying to pull a hipster attention scheme to get more followers or likes.  I am definitely not trying to be cool.

I simply and very unintentionally quit having fun on social media.

The whole thing started in March with a PR interview of Cal Newport and his book Digital Minimalizm. Cal was saying things from a perspective I’d never heard before. So at the stoplight I pulled out my phone and bought his book.

We all know that we should probably not be on our phones as much and it’s common knowledge that technology is drastically changing our lives. Just look at the kids these days, right?

At the time I purchased the book, I was feeling pretty dang good about my choices. Months ago I had turned off notifications on my apps and watched a significant dip in my screen time. Not bad at all.

Evidentially, not enough according to this psycho Cal. Nope. All I had done was put a teeny leash on the beast and called it good.

As I read further, things got pretty disturbing. I knew marketing to increase user screen time was a big piece of social media and the dudes in charge don’t always do the right thing. That’s not new, but somehow having someone lay out exactly how this research targeted our brains to learn how to manipulate us on a chemical level and how much money was spent to do so was big for me. Billions have been spent to learn every possible way to keep our eyes glued onto our screens.

My brain was bought. My brain was manipulated to become physically addicted to my phone. Worse than that cowboy in the advertisements smoking Marlboros.

These companies have also fed us a doctrine that states we need our phones. How else will grandma see pictures of Susie? What if we miss the latest weather advisory?

This crazy author next told me my job was to first disconnect for 30 days and second to build up alternative things to do with my time. Read, walk, hike, play cards, draw and listen to music. Go have lunch with friends instead of texting. I was required to retrain my brain to look for activities with longevity instead of instant gratifying fixes.  I proceeded to take off every stinking app on my phone. No FB, IG or Snap. No banking. No email. No photo editing. Not a damn thing was left except for the weather and my calculator.

I figured I’d nail this. I was already basically there. Right?

I was dead wrong. I spent the first 48 hours checking the weather around the world incessantly. I was jonesing for a fix, even if that only meant partly cloudy in Paris. This was harder than I thought. And it was annoying too. Like standing in line at the bank to deposit a check or not getting your Michael’s 50% one item coupon because you can’t google it.

Things got slowly better and I did have a great month reading to my kids and reading for me. I took loads of walks and did lots of daydreaming on the toilet. The break made me acutely aware that I had not been in charge. The break didn’t really make me a better mom or daughter or wife though, so don’t feel guilty. My teenager thought I was a total weirdo and a few felt this was a bad move for my business. The truth is, I am a weirdo already and my business grew faster in those months than it ever has.

The break did make me mad.

Mad that our society, our families and our kids are being used by these companies for profit. I am furious that our collective, complacent minds have made a small few bucket loads of cash.

When my 30 days was over, I was supposed to slowly reincorporate whatever I felt would make my life better and would add value to my experience. Mobile banking went on in a heartbeat along with my music. Not that I don’t like the free Dum Dums at the bank. I kept email off because I wanted to limit my time to business hours and use my laptop only. I put Facebook back on my laptop and on my phone.

The first day or two was fine. I was very aware that I wasn’t in the habit of looking at my phone and thought I would do well. Slowly I noticed that I started to reach for the phone for no good reason and one night I got caught up scrolling and wasted a entire hour.  I took FB off and didn’t try again until four months later.

My experiment started in March. Since then all of my kids have had killer birthdays with my signature over-the-top cakes. My oldest daughter turned 16, got her drivers license and a real job at Target. My son got a bearded dragon named Olive. My youngest chopped off her hair and is playing on a traveling soccer team. We surprised her for her birthday and went to Lagoon and she rode the Sling Shot while I watched in terror. We had a ton of fun with family and travel this summer. Lib and I celebrated 10 years together, acting like teenagers and spending the night in our car at a rest stop after an Eric Church concert in Washington. I took 10 brownie scouts on an overnight camping trip.  Lib spent 5 weeks in Seattle remodeling the house that I started my life over in after my crappy divorce. The house sold in under 24 hours. So many things have happened.

Not one of them was captured on social media.

I was sad at the very beginning. Then I had a crazy idea. I should send my pictures of the birthdays to my friends and family. Call them with updates. Facetime. Those moments were more meaningful once I was used to the difference. They weren’t that dopamine hit FB gave me and they always took more time, but they were better.

I’m not going to be a digital Nazi forever. I’m just going slow so be patient with me, starting with my business and seeing how things go.

I had family tell me I should write about my experience but I wasn’t sure how to present it without looking pompous or making anyone feel guilty. I hope I’ve conveyed that well to you.

Over the five months that I’ve been unplugged in various stages, I have run into a few people around town. Most of them ask me if I’m OK, that they were worried about me.

I thought quite a bit about those questions. Maybe its because I’ve retrained my brain to search out more tangible and tactile experiences. That I’m rusty with the FB world.

I wonder though, why didn’t they just call and ask?

Maybe real connections are what its all about. Maybe it took an accidental break for me to figure that out.



9 Responses to “The Accidental Digital Minimalist

  • Best post Ever!

    • Lorraine Howe
      5 years ago

      Andi- I love this and I’m proud of you for taking the challenge-not only putting away the social media stuff, but replacing it with the good and meaningful stuff. At any age-we can become addicted to our phones. I see it from 10-85 years old! I think you’re on to something. It’s fun to see someone “in your age category” recognizing this. I am thinking about taking the challenge in some way myself. Thanks for sharing.

      • Andi Brown
        5 years ago

        You are very welcome and thank YOU for your comment. It’s always hard to put yourself out there when it’s personal. Hugs!

  • Patti Wachter
    5 years ago

    WOW Andi, good for you! How interesting, insightful and encouraging!

    • Andi Brown
      5 years ago

      Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts through!

  • Loralie
    5 years ago

    Awesome !! I try to stay off some of this too. It’s too easy to not do what I need too. You go, girl!!

  • Valerie Dinsdale
    5 years ago

    Andi, bravo! I’ve done minimal posting and reading on Facebook for a few months now and I love it. I’m not sure that I could do what you went through. You went hardcore and came out a winner.

  • Jessica
    5 years ago

    Not so long ago, I had to figure some of this out, too! The digital world is convenient, but it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. And it should not be the only way we (people in general) communicate with each other. That is when it just feels cold – when others expect you to post about your personal life and comment on theirs, but for some reason you never see them in person anymore and there are no private confidences between you. I’m an introvert who could hermit it up half the time, but I still need human interaction on a non-digital level. And I miss letters and birth announcement cards – I just want one occasionally!

    I think it’s admirable that you have figured out which digital tools added value to your life and gave you more time with the people you love – you found a balance that other people don’t even realize they’re missing. Quality over quantity, yes?

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