[This post was sent as a newsletter to our Digital Detox participants. We will post all Digital Detox newsletters to this blog, so stay tuned!]

Written by Sonja Burrows, pedagogical consultant for DLINQ

In Can Higher Education Save the Web? Michael Caulfield wrote, “The recent technologies we use for the web bear more in common with slot machines than books. They are primed to keep us clicking, watching, and pulling-to-refresh, ever desirous to find the next new thing that everyone will be posting and tweeting.” Indeed, the driver for decisions made by social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat is straightforward: how much money can be made off of you, their user. It is in their interest to keep you engaged, to keep your attention, and to extract as much value from you as they can.

Social media crave and demand your attention.

At a time when we have become acutely aware of the vulnerability of our attention and data in the hands of companies like Google and Facebook, it’s tempting to remove oneself entirely from social media. For those who can’t quite give up the idea of building a meaningful and safe digital community, an alternative to exiting is to mindfully modify our participation. If we remain involved, but engage in healthy practices around our use of social media, we can help to shape the digital world we want to be in: a safe space to connect, collaborate, and belong.

What constitutes mindful practice with regard to social media? We can choose to disengage the “always there, always listening” aspect of social media. We can resist the push to post every significant moment we experience. We can set up our participation so that we are more mindful about when, how, and if we want to engage. Try the following practices:

  • Remove social media apps from your phone. They can detract from your participation in an experience or in a special moment, and they encourage less mindful behaviors. Never deleted an app on your phone before? Here are some instructions.
  • Change browser settings so that you do not automatically open social media when you open a browser. Choose specific times during the day to engage with social media and consider using a tool that limits how much time you spend on those platforms.
  • Commit to staying away from social media during specific times of the day, e.g., when you first wake up, during meals, while in the car, or before bed. To help yourself stay away in the morning or at night, buy an alarm clock and move your phone out of your bedroom.
  • Avoid social media during waiting times, like when you are in line at the grocery store, or waiting to see the doctor. Spend that time observing and noticing things. Better yet, have a conversation with someone (if you can get them to look up from their phone).
  • Turn off notifications so your attention is not pulled to social media throughout the day.
  • Take a break from daily engagement in social media. Try skipping one day, then two, then more. Try breaking for an entire weekend. Increase the number of days gradually.
  • Don’t rely on social media as a source of news. Instead, pick a few reliable news sources, and add them as bookmarks to your web browser.
  • When you share on social media keep in mind what you are sharing is public, in spite of any privacy settings you may have established. Keep private news private and reduce the amount of personal information (address, phone number, birth date) you share.
  • Remember email and snail mail? Try sending friends and family personal photos and updates via those channels!
  • If you feel alone or need to process an experience, reach out to a person with whom you are connected in the real world. Call someone. Go for a walk with a friend. Share a meal.
Not sure where to start? Pick one suggestion and try it for a week. Slowly add mindful practices week-by-week. Detoxing requires intentional and disciplined (but also self-forgiving) action. Take one step at a time and you’ll be on your way to a healthier digital life.
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