Abhishek Kothari


Why You May Not Need A Digital Detox

The Case For A Common Sense Approach To Social Media

Chris Barbalis on Unsplash.com
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving — Albert Einstein
No more. No more. NO MORE. No more excuses. No more: “I’ll start tomorrow.” No more: “Just this once.” No more accepting the shortfalls of my own will. No more taking the easy road. No more bowing down to whatever unhealthy or unproductive thoughts float through my mind. No. No more. No more waiting for the perfect moment and no more indecision and no more lies. No more weakness. No. No more. Now is the time for strength. And through strength — and through will — and through unwavering discipline — I will become what I want to be. I will become who I want to be. And then — and only then — will I rest and say: No more — Jocko Willink, Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual

Social media is an integral part of my life but it is also the root of many problems in my life. Sounds familiar, right? Never more so than now. I have been observing the constant debate every day in the press and broader media about accountability of social media behemoths such as Facebook, Twitter and others towards society. There are movements to reduce people’s addiction to social media such as the Center For Humane Technology and about the need to take a break from social media. It is extremely hard to balance your time spent on social media with the real life but maybe some common sense approaches may help you just as they have helped me. I must admit that I am and I continue to be a recovering social media addict. However, I have begun my journey towards reformation. This article pens down my simple approaches to dealing with social media. I hope they help you. By no means am I perfectly balanced but beginning is half the battle won.

First, Watch This Video

Then, This Video

Twitter Befuddled Me

To be honest, it took a conversation with the editorial team of a television news company to convince me to sign up for Twitter and to have a Twitter handle.

For the longest time, Facebook meant an easy way for me to connect to my friends, family and colleagues separated by time and space. In other words, I could understand the reason behind creating a Facebook account. My experience with Twitter was completely different. If I am not able to distill the answer to the question “why am I doing this?” In one word or one sentence, it’s a cinch I do not need to engage in the activity in questions. Instagram then becomes sharing images, Facebook connecting with people. It helps that Instagram and Facebook are linked to avoid overlap.

Twitter, which began when Jack Dorsey first saw implementations of instant messaging. Dorsey wondered whether the software’s user status output could be shared easily among friends. Dorsey and Biz Stone decided that SMS text suited the status-message idea, and built a prototype of Twitter in about two weeks. This attracted capital from Ev Williams. The rest as they say is history (source: wikipedia).

Twitter was founded more than a decade ago in 2006. However, it wasn’t until four years ago that I really discovered. I was having a conversation with the producer of a News show on television. We were discussing a solution to optimize the use of Outdoor Broadcast (O/B) vans. These are vans with a dish antennae on top that can be dispatched to the site of a Breaking News event to relay the signal back to the studio live as the event unfolds.

The producer began by saying that in the future, there would be lesser and lesser utilization of O/B vans as common people will capture news events using their cell phones and use Twitter to broadcast news to their followers. In fact, mainstream media will use those feeds from Twitter to senselessly integrate social media into the mainstream media thus obviating the need to use O/B vans.

It was then that I had the realization that Twitter IS the News and it is how people WILL consume news. So, I opened my first Twitter account.

Moral of the story is that there is a need for social media just like any other innovation. In that sense, it is indispensable. All we can do is modify our response to it. Many would claim that we should get rid of social media altogether. I don’t know what the correct answer is but I do know that I can regulate my response. This is true of the broader internet and in fact true of any innovation. Necessity is the mother of invention and our response to that invention is what matters the most.

It’s The Children and Millennials, Not Us

Facebook rolled out Messenger for Kids on February 14, 2018 on the Android platform after rolling it out on iOS in December amidst controversy.

There is a growing clamor that millennials (there are many definitions of millennials but they are people roughly between the ages of 18–34), teenagers and young children are the biggest addicts of social media. Therefore, all attention should be focused on them.

Then, there is the absolute brutal truth surrounding the deadly app Blue Whale which prompted hundreds of suicides amongst players around world.

However, as adults, it is our responsibility to be role models and to practice what we preach. As a first step, many schools have started banning smartphones in school. Dumb phones that only support communication are another alternative.

Easier Said Than Done

The reason I used my experience with Twitter as an example is to illustrate why I think Social Media has become so indispensable to our lives. As I said, my response to social media is under my control and is the single biggest weapon to combat its harmful and sometimes unintended consequences. Below, I have outlined the ingredients of my response. These are in addition to the highly effective tools advocated by the Time Well Spent Initiative and its founder Tristan Harris which is now known as the Center For Humane Technology.

  1. Restrict the number of social media apps, clear unwanted and rarely used app based on the Pareto principle (80% of my need for social media is restricted to 20% of my apps). In my case its 5 apps: I use Facebook to stay in touch with people not on WhatsApp (Or any VoIP app that helps create a more personal connection such as a video call with parents residing in a foreign country); Instagram for creating my own visual scrap book or album in the cloud; Twitter for news feeds and creating lists; Medium for blogging and WhatsApp For VoIP Video calling.
  2. Certain times during the day should be sacrosanct detox times ie no social media during work/study, exercise, meals, reading and outdoor activity including playing with children in no particular order. Of course, I do use cellphones or a GoPro occasionally to record videos or take photos for my memory. I share them later. I also don’t spend more time taking photographs than enjoying nature or the sights around me.
  3. Generally speaking, 15 minute Yoga in the morning is followed by breakfast which is followed by reading news. Then, its off to Work followed by outdoor, social activities and household work, dinner and heading to the gym. Gym time can be in the morning but very rarely can I adhere to a morning workout. At the end of the day, i allow myself one hour to divide between reading, watching television, reading and social media. Honestly, reading books across a variety of sibjects trumps television and social media. My reading habit gives me more pleasure than TV or social media. If there is one habit that has the power to strongly reduce addiction to social media in a healthy way, it is reading.
  4. Reading also helps deal with obfuscation and undue influence of social media on personal beliefs by constantly reminding me to study both sides of the argument. Even then, I always keep in mind that I may never discover the real truth. History is constantly revised and so should your opinions in the light of new evidence and facts. That is the scientific approach. Also, have a wide variety of news sources and international literature to look at a problem from mutliple vantage points.
  5. Travelling is a great way to understand and reconcile diverse perspectives. Vacations should ideally be a digital detox. However, at first, try to limit time spent on social media towards the end of the day when all else is done.
  6. An ad on social media can be very tempting. Ask yourself if the item in question is an absolute necesssity. As far as plan B goes, upersonal finance apps such as Albert, Mint or even your online banking app to scrutinize expenses every month is great to avoid unwanted expenses next time if you cannot avoid buying by clickbait. Generally, recurring expenses and uncanceled subscriptions can account for a majority of expenses. Making a personal cash flow statement and a balance sheet helps a lot too.
  7. Keep cell phones away during sleep time and out of the bedroom.
  8. Don’t turn on notifications from social media. Usually, everything can wait until later. Maybe, one day in a week can be a social media free day.
  9. Monotony can be a great cause of anxiety, depression and social media addiction. Switching routines and trying different activities ie Learning a new language, swimming, dancing and a combination of millions of other options are possible. Not all are expensive least of all a walk in the park.
  10. Lastly, bear in mind, these are not hardcoded solutions but principles or guidelines I try to stick to. So, at times, I do make exceptions or fail to abide by them which is why they are more realistic and rooted in simplicity. Also, I keep trying to come up with better ways to cope up with my social media addiction.You might have a different route to the same outcome.

Ultimately, if life itself gives you a high and other activities such as work and play become sources of elation and dopamine release, minimizing and in some cases going without social media is entirely possible.

Trying to Live In a Fractured World

Today’s world is by no means perfect but it is not a completely lost cause either. The key is to live with imperfections by deciding our response to them. I am not saying that no one needs a digital detox. Some might. That is why I used the word “may” instead of “don’t” in the title of this article. However, adopting a more common sense approach of moderation means having a daily detox routine instead of an annual get away. Sometimes, an annual getaway from social media multiplies the need to go back to addiction.

An obvious but not so easy solution is to start living without social media. If you keep a hand on your heart and question your need for feedback and also for easily connecting with loved ones outside your home country, it is harder to do so. As in the case of capital markets or cryptographic currencies, every innovation is a double edged sword. Our handling of the sword decides which way the balance swings. Equity markets can quickly become casinos and the Blockchain can become the biggest example of anarchy. Harnessing the deleterious effects is an ongoing battle. It is much harder than getting rid of the innovation altogether and then it would mean living without any innovation altogether.

Another option is to continue to live precariously by throwing caution to the wind and feeding the narcissistic, dopamine generating machine that social media has become. Gene editing can be a boon but it can also enhance inequality further.

The common sense approach is to achieve that elusive balance ie to control your mind and not allow your mind to control you.

Can it be done? Yes. Just as a healthy diet, sticking to a fitness regimen and doing Yoga everyday is. I am tying to do all of the above. I may fail many times but in general, I am moving in the right direction. Sometimes, a teacher or a buddy helps a lot. The onus, at the end, is always on you.

Is balance hard? In my humble opinion, it is the hardest option out there but it is also the most ideal response.

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