An Experiment in Decreasing Social Media Distractions

Fresh air and big views in Waterton National Park!

Noise has tugged at my concentration lately. Not voices in my head (I’m used to those), but comments, likes, and a gravitational pull from my phone.

I’ve felt myself twitching to check in, to scan through social media. My phone feels like a distraction scalpel, slicing away my ability to focus.

This has happened before, but this time, rather than my drastic measures of both 2014 and 2015 – when I completely checked out of social media for six months – I’m aiming for a more nuanced approach. After all, I meet and stay in touch with adventurous, fun people through Facebook and my Instagram account. I don’t want to shut that down.

Meeting (and hiking with) rad new friend in Canada!

Hiking with rad new friends in Canada!

I love connecting with friends and always look forward to hearing from people. This isn’t about removing that contact. Instead, I want to be completely present when I’m with someone in person. Too many times lately I’ll be talking to Chelsea while scanning my phone and will just stop mid-sentence, losing my train of thought, or else find myself texting or checking email during a meal.

I can’t just tell myself, “No social media except during these times of day.” It doesn’t work. I need a stronger obstacle than just moving an app to the 2nd screen on my phone. It’s similar to putting chocolate chip cookies out of sight versus not buying them. If they’re in the house, I will find and eat ALL the cookies.

To curb the frequent distractions, in September I added some structure to my tech life. These are tests, and I’ll report back later regarding how things are going. I will say that I already feel less distracted and present, which is exactly my goal.

Who needs a phone when you've got boxes?

When I was a kid, we played with boxes, not smartphones. Oh wait, this was only a few weeks ago.

My four experiments:

A weekly digital Sabbatical

Phone off and left behind, computer snapped shut and in a cabinet. More time to explore the outdoors, hang with Chelsea and/or friends, build something, read, or dig into other creativity. Maybe I’ll learn how to cook something besides stir fries and burritos! (*Cue Chelsea fainting in surprise*)

A no-phone rule during meals and in the bedroom

No more pulling my phone out mid-meal to check a text or Google some random fact. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll just look that up,” or “Check out this photo!” The distraction continues and the conversation thread unravels.

Beyond that, I’m also no longer setting my phone on the table during meals. Leaving a phone in sight signals to my companion that I’m present and engaged, but ONLY until some other communique shoulders its way into our conversation. I don’t want that. Prior to meals, I’m putting my phone on do not disturb and banishing it to my pocket.

The same applies for phone use in the bedroom. No more: my phone (and Chelsea’s) will spend the night recharging in another space. Since I read all my books via my phone, I’m going to pick up a cheap Kindle for nighttime reading, which is probably better for my eyes anyway.

High on the Devil's Thumb in Banff with Lake Louise behind us.

High on the Devil’s Thumb in Banff with Lake Louise behind us…with phones off.

Deleting social media from my phone

Facebook was relegated to computer-only long ago, but my Instagram use warrants adjustment.

I still want to use Instagram, just not on my phone. To accomplish that, I downloaded the free program Gramblr, which facilitates posting from my computer. (Update 10/25/18: Gramblr is defunct, so I’m now using the much-better Web for Instagram Chrome extension.) I edit all my photos in Lightroom on my laptop anyway, so this streamlines things.

I can scroll through IG and FB feed from my laptop, though I’m less likely to impulsively do so. I’m already spending that time on things like writing, reading, watching mountain biking videos (KIDDING), or editing videos and photos. The shift in my distraction levels was immediate and dramatic.

Phone stuff, on the other hand, fits into moments like grocery shopping, standing in line, driving, eating… What was a handy tool instead became an ever-creeping amoeba eating away moments of silence or solitude. As Lewis C.K. has said, sometimes we just need to be alone and not constantly bombarded by information.

Deleting personal email access my phone

No more scanning Gmail during “down” moments. I’ll be on top of work stuff, but personal emails can wait until I’m at a computer.

This is a two-fold victory: I won’t be pulled to check email all the time, and it is more efficient to respond on a computer versus pecking away on my phone.This isn’t an Email Commandment. I’m not setting time parameters like, “Ye shalt only look from 8-8:15 pm.” Simply removing the capability to look at email on my phone is enough to result in time-blocking, efficient email processing on my laptop.

No time to think about Instagram or email riding terrain like this. (Black Rock Mtn, Alberta)

No time to think about Instagram or email while riding terrain like this. (Black Rock Mtn, Alberta)

I love technology and I’m not deleting my interaction with social media or technology. My phone just won’t be the epicenter for me.

I’m 12 days in and at times, it honestly still feels strange. When I use my phone, the twitch to flip through various feeds and open my email (just for the heck of it) remains.

And yet, my desire to look at my phone or scan Instagram/Facebook is already fading. The mind rewires quickly. I think (hope!) this experiment will become a permanent addition to my life.

How do you deal with curtailing technology and social media overload in your life?

Loving a tech-free day in the highlands of Iceland.

Loving a tech-free day of hiking in the highlands of Iceland.

11 replies
  1. Mark
    Mark says:

    That sounds like a great idea!!!!
    It’s slightly reassuring that I’m not the only one doing these things……but also worrying that I am!!!
    Is it just me, that on the way back to bed from a night time bathroom visit, checks my phone for messages???
    Perhaps I need to get an alarm clock rather than use my phone…….

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Thanks man! Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.

      Yep, an old-fashioned alarm clock is the way to go! And don’t worry, I think most people (older than 18 at least!) are thinking about our reliance/addiction to social media and smart phones.

  2. Chris Miller
    Chris Miller says:

    Yay for you! I am so sad when I see people who can’t seem to take their eyes off their phones (and I’m sure you were never one of those!) even when surrounded by real, live people. I recently got a (used, previously belonged to one of my grandsons) smart phone because I was tired of not being able to get pictures on my not-so-smart slide phone, but I’m trying very hard not to get addicted to it.

    Love the box photo!!
    Chris Miller recently posted…Quilting…My Profile

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Oh, I’ve been one of those eyes-on-phone people. This latest change is a shift to get away from it! Careful with that smartphone – they really can pry their way into every moment of daily life. As for the box photo, I do stuff like that only to make Chelsea laugh 🙂

  3. Marty Mueller
    Marty Mueller says:

    I applaud your commitment. The wife and I laugh when we are out an about, you can look around and see people interacting with their phones but not with their companions. On another note, we modeled our van build out after yours and are now living in Germany. Maybe we will get to see you two the next time your on this side of the pond. Safe travels!

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Yep, companions in the flesh are SO boring compared to social media or texting…

      Glad to hear my van build helped out. Did you bring your van to Germany? Sounds like a fun adventure! Considering another trip to Europe next year, so perhaps we’ll cross paths then!

      • Marty
        Marty says:

        Yes, we couldn’t bear to leave it behind. We are planning our first road trip in a few weeks through Luxembourg, Netherlands, and northern Germany. Should be fun and only a little chilly.

        • Dakota
          Dakota says:

          Sounds great! I’ve gotten a few quotes for shipping the van and was impressed at home affordable it is. What service did you use? I was considering Halifax to Frankfurt…plus it’s a great way to send all of our gear at the same time!

  4. Johnny B.
    Johnny B. says:

    I forwarded that to V, who has been tapering/restricting lately, as have I. Still work to do, but it’s gotta be done. Now, the big task is how to get Eliot off the iPad trash he’s into, and Etan off the computer watching endless MTB videos. I fully understand now how much boring, goPro material is out there!

    Great topic, buddy!

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Cmon man, endless uncut GoPro video of lame MTB action is SO SO GOOD. (Kill me.)

      Three weeks into this trial, I’m seriously digging it. Phone already feels less necessary and I’m spending far less time on social media also. Hope it works for you and V! The boys may be a lost cause 🙂

  5. Julia
    Julia says:

    Every morning when I walk the dog, I leave my phone behind. No more listening to podcasts or audio books when I walk (wah!). When I give my mind a chance to flow unencumbered, I come up with cool, creative solutions for things I want to achieve in my life. It’s a chance to brainstorm with myself.

    If you see me muttering along the road, I’m brainstorming!


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