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D1A Unplugged: What 3 Creatives Learned from a Digital Detox

by Jasmine Nadim, Adaobi Ugoagu and Caleb Brent

From remote work to entertainment, our entire quarantine life has revolved around a screen. As things return to “normal,” we asked three D1Aers to unplug for the weekend and journal the results. Since they’re all digital natives who spend hundreds of hours scrolling, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Here’s how their experiences went.

Caleb detox
Credit: Caleb Brent

Caleb Brent, Creative Coordinator

The challenge to “unplug” wasn’t easy. When waking up each morning, my first instinct was to check the notifications on my phone. Maybe I received an important text message, email, or maybe someone new followed me on Instagram. These thoughts were most likely an overestimation of my popularity, but they continued to nag at me.

Day One

10:00 AM: Woke up and decided to read one of my books.

11:00 AM: I made a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. I answered some texts because I had a Zoom call scheduled for noon.

12 PM: Had a Bible Study with a couple friends over Zoom.

1:00 PM: Showered and got dressed. I had to answer some texts from friends that I’m getting lunch with in a couple hours.

2:00 PM: Got on the subway. Needed my phone to check the location of the restaurant we are meeting at.

3:00 PM: Ate some Japanese BBQ with friends. It was weird not pulling out my phone to document my tasty meal.

4:00 PM: Still at the restaurant talking with friends.

6:30 PM: Started a large group picnic at Central Park.

7:30 PM: Playing volleyball with friends. I left my phone in my backpack so I'm not tempted to look at notifications.

9:00 PM: I invited some friends from the picnic back to my apartment. I check for any important texts I got during the picnic/volleyball.

9:30 PM: My friends finally leave my apartment and I head to sleep.

Day Two

9:34 AM: I woke up without an alarm.

10:00 AM: Still laying in bed, not knowing what to do.

11:00 AM: I got hungry, so I warmed up some chili and rice that I made earlier in the week.

11:30 AM: I checked my phone for text messages because I was planning on having a few people over to my apartment later. I ended up texting a few people back, but I refrained from opening up any social media apps.

12 PM: I realized how many books I own but have never finished. Instead of listening to a podcast, I decided to open up a book.

12:45 PM: I got tired of reading, so I walked around the apartment. I saw that I had a lot to clean up before people came over.

1:00 PM: I checked my phone for text messages & responded to those.

1:10 PM: I sat at my desk, tempted to watch Game of Thrones on HBO Max. Instead, I decided to shower and get dressed to pass some time.

2:00 PM: Had an extended singing session in the shower. Now a few songs are in my head, and I’m itching to play them on my phone.

3:00 PM: After getting dressed, I decide to go outside to take a walk to get more food because I’m hungry again.

4:30 PM: I haven’t cleaned up anything yet, and people are coming in a few hours. I start to clean up the kitchen.

5:00 PM: I realize that I somehow can’t clean effectively without music, so I give in and play music from my Bluetooth speaker.

7:00 PM: People start coming over, and soon my apartment is filled with friends. At this point, I'm fully entertained without thinking about technology.

8:30 PM: My friends turn on the Nets game and we watch it together.

11:00 PM: We start a long conversation about dating in NYC.

3:00 AM: My friends finally leave my apartment so I can go to sleep.

Final Thoughts

This digital detox taught me a lot about my reliance on technology. Even when I’m with people in person, it’s typical for us to be on our phones most of the time or even wanting to post videos on social media instead of simply enjoying the moment. With technology, it is easy to get wrapped up in the lives of other people through social media or to be immersed in the fictional worlds of TV shows & movies, but this detox has taught me to appreciate the smaller things in life. It gave me a chance to embrace the “mundane” activities and to fill my mind with meaningful thoughts during the “boring” moments, instead of trying to distract myself with technology. Now that the pandemic is coming to an end, I want to embrace the thing I’ve been taking for granted: life outside of the screen.

Image from i OS
Credit: Adaobi Ugoagu

Adaobi Ugoagu, Senior Creative Strategist

Every social media marketer/manager/strategist knows the benefits of doing a digital detox regularly. Our whole world revolves around these small to mid-sized glow boxes, so whenever there's a chance to look up and refocus our attention on the environment around us, we take it. So, I did a digital detox for two days, 12 hours each day. You should know I’ve already failed.

Day One:

10 AM: I woke up and immediately snatched my phone to check personal emails and realized I lack self-control (lol). Put my phone on silent and do not disturb mode.

11 AM: Made breakfast, and when I sat down to enjoy it, I felt empty not having a phone to scroll through.

12 PM: Planning on grocery shopping that day, and the list was in my notes app. I decided it was more important to retrieve the list on my phone than start a new list from scratch. I still didn’t check any social media!

1-3:30 PM: Out for errands during the day, so it was easy to ignore my phone. I just used it as GPS in my car but did no social checking or test interactions.

4:30 PM: Groceries put away and needed to cook dinner/lunch. I needed to open the TikTok app to retrieve recipe video…*facepalm*

6 PM: Hung out with housemates watching The Bachelor. Put my phone in the room to keep temptation at bay.

8 PM: This is usually the time when I do heavy scrolling on YT or TikTok. I felt annoyed and almost restless that I couldn’t open the app. I planned to go until 10 p.m. to make an even 12 hours.

9:30 PM: Finished showering and winding down for the day. Opened my phone and figured 30 mins early wasn't going to hurt anybody. I listened to ASMR videos until I slept.

Day Two:

Today HAS to be better. I’m going out, so less temptation to scroll. Maybe?

8 AM: Reached for my phone but put it down realizing I have 12 hours to go.

9:15 AM: Preparing for a pool day and wanted to make a quick item purchase at Target. I debated on doing quick order pick-up on the app or just stopping by the store. I stopped by the store instead-much faster.

10 AM: Drove my housemate and me to a friend's house and asked her to navigate me instead of turning on GPS.

12 PM: Met up with friends to do the pool day. I became the designated driver. I had to use GPS to get to the location but didn't check social or send any texts!

2 PM: Champagne in hand, laid out by the pool. I wanted to listen to my new summer playlist, so I did. I didn’t check Instagram even though I tapped it accidentally.

3:30 PM: Mom called, and I texted her that I’d call back later.

4 PM: Pool day was up. I used GPS to navigate home.

5 PM: Thought I heard my phone ringing and immediately went to check it. No calls, and it was on silent. Yikes.

6 PM: Kinda bored, so I watched Loki on Disney + instead of Youtube scroll.

9:15 PM: 45 mins until the detox (lol) was up. I decided to eat a late dinner.

Final Thoughts

So overall, what did I learn? I learned that we should possibly redefine the meaning of a phone detox. Is it total abstinence from your phone? Or showing restraint in checking social media and emails? This also calls into question our current understanding about the necessity of phone usage. Am I addicted to my phone if it helps me cook, choose groceries and direct me on the road? I personally don’t think so, but by the standard of many research studies, all of those minutes clocked in contributes to my generation’s mindlessness. In sum, the experience wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be and in all honesty, I came to really enjoy being temporarily out of the loop even if it was just a few hours a day. It allowed me to engage in my own personal passions and find inspiration offline. For such a short exercise, the payoff was great.

Jasmine detox
Credit: Jasmine Nadim

Jasmine Nadim, Creative Strategist

I am probably the last person you would think of to do this digital detox. And maybe for that exact reason, I am the best candidate for it. Ever the perennial optimist, I choose to see it as a community and a place to garner inspiration. Quite honestly, a weekend without my phone sounds impossible, if not excruciatingly painful. I’m a lifer. I grew up online. My personality was fully shaped by YouTube, Vine and Facebook. But I’m also a joiner, so I’m taking this challenge on. Who knows, maybe by the end of the weekend I’ll be wishing for one of those medieval thumb screws, but I’m an optimist remember?

Day One:

8 AM: My Google Home alarm goes off. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that if I move my phone away from my bedside table, my sleep dramatically improves - a devastating realization for my TikTok addiction.

I have nothing to do. Should I read? I have a couple of books, but I use them mostly as Instagram story props. I’m not sure I even know how to read anymore.

9 AM: Breakfast. Coffee. Easy enough without social media, but my ears are ringing from the lack of ambient YouTube chatter. I’m going to venture a run, but running without music? I’m not sure how our ancestors did it.

10 AM: That was kind of peaceful, in the way sitting at the doctor's office waiting for important news is peaceful. Your brain sort of goes blank. But instead of the hum from fluorescent lights, I had the padding of my feet on concrete. It feels super dangerous to be running without my phone.

11 AM: I am at the farmers market. I did not bring my wallet. Easy problem solving if I could use my Apple Pay. The apricots are making an incredibly convincing argument to cheat on this digital detox. It’s stone fruit season, so I cannot be held responsible for actions taken related to nectarines, peaches, or plums.

12 PM: Lunchtime! We’re getting dumplings. Usually, I order over their website, but I have to walk in to order. I haven’t had to wait for food in a long time. I feel like a Sim standing out here waiting for someone to tell me what to do.

1 PM: I’m going to power-wash the backyard furniture because I’m in the running for Daughter of the Year (I’m an only child.) I keep having a phantom urge to check my phone - I am convinced that I’ve missed my Oscar nominations call, a lottery win announcement, and a proposal text. I think this is called FOMO.

2 PM: I used to think I would win Survivor. My confidence is on shaky ground.

3 PM: How am I supposed to make plans?? Does everyone think I hate them because I’m not replying to DM’s? Oh my god, I have Depop orders to ship - how do I get the labels printed? If I cheat will anyone know?

4 PM: I’m going thrifting. I will endure the weird music that sounds like elevator music. Usually, I’d go on Pinterest or Depop to decide what kind of clothes I’m looking for. I guess I’m going into this raw. Goodwill, take the wheel!

5 PM: My sense of direction is so bad. Is there a way you can become the opposite of a Girl Scout? I go to this store every week, and I still got lost. That Survivor theory is looking less realistic.

6 PM: If you go thrifting but can’t share it on Instagram, did you even really go thrifting? Isn’t the whole point of life to be part of a community? How will anyone know that I was able to find vintage green wide-leg pants??

7 PM: If I watch TV does that count as breaking the detox? What about watching YouTube on full screen? I’m way more agitated than I thought I would be. This isn’t relaxing.

8 PM: One of the best parts of living in suburbia is everyone is close by, including my friend S! He’s a little freaked out when I just show up at his house. The only people who show up out of the blue like this have usually escaped from a place with security guards. Or people in rom-coms.

9 PM: I’ve asked S if I can watch TikToks over his shoulder, which legally is not cheating. He said no. I hate having such moral friends!

10 PM: I’m what my teachers called “a joy to have in class,” which is code for “incredibly chatty.” This comes in handy when hanging out with someone and not being able to watch a movie, go on TikTok, stalk other people on IG, laugh at tweets or do anything else fun. We might get in a fight just for some excitement.

11 PM: I haven’t run out of things to talk about (much to my friend's dismay.) Everything I talk about is connected to TikTok. I sound like one of those piano keyboards that give off a different sound for each key. We’re considering playing a board game which means we’re running out of things to do.

12 AM: If you thought I was going to have trouble falling asleep, you must have skipped over the part where I have been weaning myself off TikTok time before bed. So jokes on you! I’m going to sleep like a baby.

Day Two

9 AM: I slept like a baby! I think today will be a lot easier because we have family coming over for a very belated birthday party, and I won't feel the need to be on my phone.

10 AM: Another day of running to just my inner thoughts. I feel like that Spongebob episode where he’s inside his own brain.

12 PM: Ok I’m admitting to cheating here! We needed a playlist for the party and what did you expect me to use? Burn a CD? Make a mixtape? I don’t even know how to do that! Spotify it is.

1 PM - 4 PM: There were a couple of times when I wanted to show people photos or TikTok’s on my phone, so that was annoying. I think social media and cell phones get a lot of grief, but they help us share moments with friends and family.

5 PM: Clean-up time! It’s so fun to hang out with people in real life. But I think I've become more of an introvert from quarantine. I just want to have TikTok time!

6-8 PM: I’m not sure if watching a movie counts as cheating on this, but my Letterboxd followers need me! I watched Rachel Getting Married. #TeamAnneHathaway.

9 PM: Ok, it is time to attempt reading a book, I guess.

10 PM: Dang, they might be onto something with this book thing! I’m reading a book that was suggested on TikTok (lol). It’s pretty good! But I’m wiped from a full day of seeing human people in real life, so it’s bedtime (and the last night of this digital detox!!!).

Final Thoughts

This was a fun experiment that I will never do again. I might be in the minority, but I love being on my phone. Certain parts of social media have adverse effects on my life; the feeling of performing my life on Instagram, the always-on mentality. But I am constantly inspired by the talented creators on social media. I have been gobsmacked at the comedic genius of tweets I’ve read and inspired to learn entirely new skills through TikTok. I learned to sew just from watching a how-to video. Growing up in a sheltered, suburban environment can feel creatively limiting. Social media gives me access to new ideas, voices, and opinions. No one at my local grocery store cares about my outfit, but there is a whole community online ready to talk about the rise in DIY clothing. I know so much more about the world around me because of YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Sure, I’ve had to become good at distinguishing between truth and lies. But being a part of the zeitgeist through social media makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. There is always more to see, do, learn. Truthfully, I feel honored to be part of an online community full of such talented people.