I don’t know about you, but occasionally I get a little fed up with the Internet. Yes, I marvel at how the answer to every question under the sun is always at my fingertips. And I would literally be lost without my iPhone as I check for directions every time I’m going somewhere new. But every so often, I just want to shut it all off and go incognito. I’ve tried doing a “digital detox” a couple of different times with mixed success. Hurricane Sandy interrupted my first attempt. I was visiting my sister on the West coast and broke my no-phone rule to check on friends and attempt to reschedule my flight home. My second attempt was a weeklong break from social media this past winter, which was harder than I thought.
One of the trickiest things about giving your online life a rest is the fact that no one else in your life will be taking a break at the same time. That means that even though you’re unplugging, they will still be online expecting responses to their emails, texts, and tweets. The question is how do you manage those expectations of immediate replies?
My solution has always been to let a small group of people have a way to reach me, and catch up with everyone else when I log back on. When I unplugged back in 2012 (the attempt that was foiled by Hurricane Sandy), I actually put my phone into airplane mode for almost three full days. I was visiting my sister at the time, so anyone who really needed to reach me probably had some way of getting in touch with my sister, and thus me. Work was a bit of a different story. They knew I was going on vacation, and I had co-workers lined up to cover any projects. Thankfully, they respected the fact that I wouldn’t be checking in at all. That said, I did still give them a way to get in touch with me if absolutely necessary.
This last time, when I just shut down my social media for a week, I didn’t tell anyone I was going on hiatus. And you know what? It was totally fine. I was still emailing with close friends, so I simply explained when they asked if I saw the photo they posted. But for the most part, I didn’t have to make a big fuss about going silent for a week. I think everyone expects that there will be moments of quiet in our online lives for any number of reasons, and that you’ll find it surprisingly easy to catch up when you log back on.
If you’re thinking about doing a digital detox of your own, here are a few things to do:
REALLY COMMIT TO IT.
Set up “rules” for yourself—maybe you’ll log out of social media and email accounts, but still use your smartphone to look up directions or check the weather. And really stick with them. Yes, it will be hard, but after a day or so you’ll find yourself reaching for your phone less and less.
SET UP A WAY YOU CAN BE REACHED IN AN EMERGENCY.
If you’re turning everything off, this might mean just giving your parents or your best friend the number to the resort where you’re staying or the number of someone you’ll be with. It’s always good to know you can be reached in case of an emergency.
POST A “BACK IN A WEEK” MESSAGE.
While I’m not a fan of the email auto-responder (especially on personal email), it’s fine to post a message on Facebook or Twitter that you’re signing off for a set amount of time. If you post often, it’s probably a good idea so you don’t get worried calls from friends thinking something bad has happened.
REMEMBER, YOU CAN CATCH UP LATER.
Yes, there will be interesting articles, cute baby photos, and funny cat videos going around while you’re offline. But there will be just as many new ones to look at when you rejoin the Internet, and because of your time away, you’ll appreciate them even more.