The week I went offline

Woman on phone. (Photo: Getty Images)
Woman on phone. (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s just an average day for me. The alarm goes off and after hitting the snooze button a few times my fingers crawl blindly across the bed feeling for my smartphone.

Through bleary eyes I peer at the screen, check for messages then head straight for Instagram or Facebook and dive in. What have I missed while I’ve been sleeping?

If you’re anything like me, social media is usually the go-to at the start and the end of each day, so the thought of giving it up for 24 hours, let alone a week, was daunting. But I sensed my dependence on my various feeds was coming dangerously close to addiction so I decided to see if I could take a holiday from the online world.

I grew up in a time before social media was everywhere so I have a good idea of what life was like before selfies, before we felt the need to update our followers constantly on the minutiae of our lives – from our relationship status to the last meal we ate or our baby’s first words.

So how hard could this be? I put myself to the test: strictly no Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat for a week. The results were interesting – and liberating.

The brutal beginning

A proper social media detox is what I was after so drastic steps had to be taken. The first thing I did was put myself out of temptation’s way. I didn’t want enticing icons leading me astray. I immediately logged off all platforms and deleted their shortcuts from my phone and computer.

I made sure I wrote down my passwords for the various sites so I wouldn’t forget them and have the hassle of resetting them when this torture was over. I guess I could have deactivated my accounts but this felt a little too drastic.

Getting the feel of it

Like any kind of detox or fast, the first day or two is always the hardest. Withdrawal is a real thing, especially when you’re sitting in the office and your colleagues are chatting away about what’s trending, or your friends ask you what’s going down on Insta or whether you’ve seen the post they’ve tagged you in.

But once the initial withdrawal was over, it became easier. I started forming a new routine. Instead of reaching for my phone the second I woke up I’d listen to music while I got ready for work and found myself having more time in the morning to prepare for the day.

The toughest part

As a journalist I work a lot in the entertainment world so being offline proved a challenge and a professional inconvenience. How would I know what celebrities were up to if I couldn’t scour their social media accounts?

Social media is also great when it comes to getting in touch with many of my sources and a way to find story ideas and inspiration. There were times when I’d be sorely tempted to take a peek to help with pitches or to write up snippets for the weekly celeb pages but I was determined to find a way to get over this hurdle.

My solution was to ask my colleagues to help when it came to doing research via social media. They’d source pictures for me and grab screenshots, which I could use to put together my articles. Because I had no online access I had to be super-resourceful.

But relying on others to gather information for me was frustrating – and not sustainable in the long term. I had to come to terms with the fact that being online is an essential part of my job.

Replacing social media

In an era where sites such as Instagram seem to run the world, where do you turn to when you’re offline? The answer is: everywhere.

I couldn’t believe how much more time I had on my hands. Everything from doing laundry to grocery shopping was done a lot faster and more mindfully because I didn’t have the distraction of constantly checking what was happening on the ’gram or trending on Twitter.

Let’s face it, we all know how a quick social media check-in can lead to being swallowed whole for vast swathes of time as you click mindlessly from one suggested post to another. It was great to be free of that rabbit hole.

And my week off social media made me appreciate the news more. I enjoyed watching it on TV or reading it in an actual newspaper or magazine.

Phone calls also made a comeback. Because I couldn’t see what family or friends were up to via their posts and respond by liking or commenting I ended up doing the old-fashioned thing and giving them a call. It was so much more personal.

Fighting off temptation

Accountability was key. I made sure the people I surrounded myself with were aware I’d banned myself from social media. When there were times I itched to check something online I’d have them around to reassure me I wasn’t missing out on much or to fill me in on anything funny or important. So I’d get my fix but at one step removed.

It’s strange but I feel as if my online detox also made my friends more aware of their social media habits. For instance, if we were out for dinner or drinks together, instead of people constantly looking at their phones we engaged with one another more.

My verdict

This exercise was definitely worthwhile and I found it surprisingly enjoyable. In fact, I got into it so much I ended up extending my social media detox for a month. Although it was tricky to navigate at first, by the end of the process I found my mind was much clearer.

I was able to get things done a lot quicker and without distraction and I was freed from the need to carry my phone with me wherever I went.

I now know it’s okay for me to leave it at home when I go to the shops or to leave it charging in another room while watching a movie rather than always having it within reach.

Don’t get me wrong, social media is a big part of my life, but I’ve realised I no longer want to be consumed by it. Whether it’s a few hours, a day, a week or longer, I can heartily recommend taking a break.

You’ll quickly realise that while it might be a big part of your world, there really is more to life.

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