Six hours without tech: A holiday reset

Brigit Hirsch makes the most of her Christmas break with a technological detox

If you’re like me, then you’re looking at the rapidly approaching end of the holidays and wondering where the time has gone. If you’re like me, you’ll realise that this lost time has been spent on social media, binging hallmark movies, and watching YouTube. And, if you’re like me, and you want to get out of bed and finish the break on a high note, then I humbly offer you my high school English teacher’s tried-and-true detox: six hours without technology. That homework assignment from the days of my youth helped me to optimise my holidays. While I’m still attached to technology like it’s a lifeline, I tried six hours without tech again this Christmas break, and it’s already saving me from post-holiday regret.

I reached a point in the semester when I was fed up with the constant noise of technology, including frequent social media notifications and my favourite playlists. From experience, I knew that I’d still be hooked on tech over the break unless I made a change. I’d resurface after an hour of Facebook scrolling and wonder how one notification led to such a waste of time – time that I could be chatting with my mom, whom I only see in person four months of the year. But for me, a complete social media shutdown or true digital minimalism is out of the question. I use Facebook for communication with societies and other social media platforms are my only connection to out-of-town family. This six-hour commitment is the next best thing, and it’s still a bad-habit breaker. 

“I’d be forced to appreciate what I was doing with my time that much more”

Just as my classmates once questioned this unheard-of homework assignment, I considered what I would qualify as “technology”. Here’s my conclusion, for anyone interested in a tech detox: Use the heater. Use the stove and oven. Use a car, bus, or train if you must, and for the love of all things good, please use your electric toothbrush. The goal, I decided, was to eliminate technology such as phones, laptops, music players of all kinds, and possibly the microwave or dishwasher, depending on how far I wanted this experiment to go. Ideally, it would eliminate distractions, as well as a few appliances that make life much easier, so I’d be forced to appreciate what I was doing with my time that much more.

I started my tech-free six hours from the time I woke up on a day that I wasn’t at work. The first hour was the easiest to kill. I ate breakfast, threw on a little makeup, and got ready for the day. While I certainly had more freedom for thought, because I didn’t check my emails while I ate, I was easily occupied, and started a book. The second hour was worse, and I realised just how much I thoughtlessly reach for my phone, which I left under my bed for the day. I went for Whatsapp every time I had a slightly interesting thought. Since my phone was upstairs, I had to digest those thoughts myself. It took effort to finish the chapter I was reading without a significant pause. When I was younger, before I had a phone, I remember that skill coming much more easily. It’s amazing how my phone turned my attention span into that of a goldfish, and stretching it back out is like stretching a weak muscle. If you can avoid screens and snack-like distractions, you’ll sail through to hours five and six. 

I intentionally sought out conversations during those middle hours, and I ended up having some great chats. I was lucky that my sister and mother were around to talk, but it can also be really helpful to leave the house and take a walk or meet a friend. In my case, this broke up an hour of sitting and contemplating the articles that I wanted to work on from my laptop. I can now attest that it’s possible to have a good brunch without instagramming a picture of a hometown friend and their aesthetic vegetarian brunch from across the table. I’m as shocked as you are. It’s also possible to get to a restaurant without a phone. I know this. I survived it. It’s a taste of freedom that’s been in decline since around 2010, and it’s terrifying. 

“I was craving more of the silence and calm that I experienced that day, even if it was inconvenient”

Maybe I wasn’t staring into the void, but the silence of the last two hours of the tech-free challenge was still frustrating. I found it helpful to whip out my lately unopened diary and journal about my short experience going tech-free. Maybe you’ll do it again over the break, or maybe you’ll find the journal entry in a year, read about how much you hated those six hours, and try it again just to make sure I’ve been wasting your time. In distraction withdrawal, any frustration or anxiety I’ve been running from usually surfaces, and it’s good to put those things on paper and flush them out of the brain.

Reading back on that entry, I realise I should probably incorporate the challenge into my weekly routine. By the end of the six hours, I was craving more of the silence and calm that I experienced that day, even if it was inconvenient. I felt like I had more time than usual, and I read and wrote more than I had on a daily basis for the entire first term. I’m really grateful for that assignment that the 18 year old me thought was a waste of time. Developing the skill of being at peace with yourself in silence doesn’t come easily in 2020. I spent better quality time with the people I love this break, and I got more done in less time. I’m back to scrolling Instagram already, but I’ll be able to finish break saying that I wasn’t watching Netflix alone for 200 hours this month. I’m happy with that, and I think I’ll start back in Hilary Term with more confidence.

Brigit Hirsch

Brigit Hirsch is the current Social Media Editor of Trinity News.