Detailed Guide to Unplugging


Be intentional with your technology

First of all, I'm not trying to evangelize to anyone who is happy with the status quo.  I'm not trying to take away your phone, or force you off Instagram!  But if you, like me, feel overwhelmed and unhappy with your current digital overload and want to break free, then  Do these things immediately:

1.  Take all social media apps off your phone.
A few things are going to happen when you do this:

First, you're going to feel bizarre and disconnected.  You'll try to convince yourself it's a bad idea, and you'll say rational things like "this is the way people connect today," and "I won't know how to reach people without checking Facebook" and "I don't really think being a Luddite is the answer to anything."  

Stop doing this.  You could walk into traffic
I'm not saying to delete your accounts.  (I'll do that later.)  For now, check IG and Facebook and Twitter ONLY from your computer.  Stop grabbing your phone throughout the day to thumbwalk through feeds.

Next,  after the initial withdrawal stage (it took me about three days) you'll notice that you really don't miss checking your phone.  You'll start to be a little embarrassed at how much you used to look at it all day, and you'll start to notice how weird it is that everyone around you is constantly looking at theirs.  You'll realize how odd it is when your friend stops looking at you during a conversation and suddenly, randomly shows you a video from someone on Twitter.  You'll begin making sheepish eye contact in public with others who, like you, have put their phones away.  Some will nod knowingly like you're both in some kind of secret club.  

It sounds bizarre now, but you'll rediscover how great it is to be free of looking at a screen.  You'll start to really see the things around you.  For those of you old enough to remember when everyone had Razrs or Nokias and there were no iPhones, this will fill you with a profound sense of nostalgia, and possibly the urge to listen to mid-2000s alternative rock.  For those of you who have come of age in the era of smartphones, this will give you the opportunity for a lot of awkward silence with people in public.  You might actually have a conversation with someone.  For those of you who have seen They Live, you'll feel kind of like you got a pair of the glasses.
Just stop it already.

You'll be in the world, instead of transfixed by the device in your hand.  You'll start to wonder about all kinds of things in the absence of constant screen distraction.  You'll start to brainstorm ideas.  You'll notice lots of fascinating real-world stuff that you wouldn't have seen before.  If you can ignore the urge to post it all on Twitter with a pithy hashtag, you'll have an opportunity for a real epiphany.  (My favorite memoir of the last few years beautifully describes all of this.  Read it.)

This is the stage when you start having those creative breakthroughs you thought you'd lost.  You didn't lose them to growing up or growing older.  You actually lost them to your phone. (This book goes into more about all of this.  I highly recommend it.)  I was the most surprised that giving up my phone gave me back my imagination. I don't mean a little imagination came back.  I mean full, psychedelic, like-being-a-little-kid imagination.  Once I stopped filling my every moment with flickering screens, my mind kind of started doing improv.

And it's great.

Finally, you'll start thinking about the other things you want to remove from your phone because in the first few days without access to social media apps you'll spend a lot of time checking other things like Etsy, eBay and Amazon.  (For me, I checked the weather.  A LOT.  Also traffic.)  The smartphone is designed to be addictive.  Break free and start deleting apps.

If you are still anxious about life without continual phone access to every single thing on the internet, then put all of your apps into a folder and stick the folder a few screens over from your home screen.  You can decide what to keep or get rid of later, and the act of looking for apps might just shame you into stopping.  My phone screen has the message app, the phone, the camera and the notepad.  Everything else is in a folder out of view.
What you're actually doing...

The goal is to stop the continuous scrolling and turn your phone back into an actual phone.  If you just can't trust yourself not to reload Instagram from the app store in a moment of weakness, consider this dumb phone choice of many downgraders.  If you have the bucks, go with this one.  And if you get rid of your smartphone, congratulations!  You can skip down to number 7 on this list.

2.  Turn off ALL notifications that aren't integral to your life
The only apps that are allowed to send me notifications are Instacart for grocery delivery and Uber.  Life without constant pinging and buzzing is a joy.

3.  Make a favorites list for allowed calls/texts and then put your phone on Do Not Disturb
My family and best friend can get through, but everyone else waits until I check messages later.

One of the most wonderful aspects of doing this is that you realize how little time you have been spending on actual, meaningful interaction with the people you love most in your life.  Instead, you've been liking posts and texting emojis and getting outraged about politics and scrolling the IG stories of total strangers.  

Guess what?  There is a remarkable device designed for connecting us instantly to people that we care about.  It's a PHONE.  Use it to call or text your mom or your best friend, and start (re)building your most important relationships one-on-one.

4.  Batch read email and text messages at set times during the day
Obviously I'm not suggesting you become unavailable if your job requires otherwise.  If possible: schedule when you will check all of your messages and then stick to the schedule.  

I now check email once a day unless I'm required otherwise for a project.  I haven't noticed a catastrophic lack of information, and the distraction-free time is fantastic.   If possible, take the email app off your phone!
This is weird, right?

5.  Whenever possible go Airplane Mode
I keep my phone on Airplane Mode most of the time now, turning it on when I know I need to make a call or request an Uber or look at GPS.  If am away from my daughter and want to make sure she can reach me, I leave the phone on Do Not Disturb, instead.  (She's on my Okay to Disturb list!)

6.  Get Rid of Alexa

Alexa is creepy.  Alexa is terrible for your kids.  (No, seriously, Alexa is really really TERRIBLE for your kids.)  Alexa (and Google) are listening to you a lot more than you think they are.   Getting rid of stupid, ubiquitous technology is part of the first step of untangling yourself from the Web.  It's not hard to search for something online.  It's actually good to wonder about things before looking them up.  

AI has a wealth of answers for us, but the questions it raises about surveillance, privacy and even memory can't be answered by calling out "Alexa, are you systematically destroying culture, civil liberties and my own humanity?"     

And while I'm on the subject of Alexa, remember a time not that long ago when we used to make jokes that John Ashcroft might be bugging our phones?  Remember when we thought this was an awful idea?  There is no reason to have willingly installed a microphone in your house.  Whether it's the government or a corporation, no entity should have ongoing, unlimited access to our conversations.
7.  Turn off WiFi at home

Learn about the actual health reasons for going WiFi-free here.  And no, the danger from non-ionizing radiation  isn't Alex Jones-worthy conspiracy theory.  It's Big Tech cover-up reminiscent of the tobacco industry.

But turning off WiFi serves another purpose: it helps you get intentional with your technology.  Getting rid of WiFi gave me back a lot of control.  Before you assume I now spend my time playing a handcrafted vuvuzela instead of ever going online, let me assure you I am well-connected.  My home is now ethernet-wired with all the family computers plugged in. You'll be amazed at the lightning-fast speed of ethernet.  (No loading! Ever!) So from a technology standpoint, ethernet is actually superior.  

Without constant connectivity from every device, however, I'm not tempted to stupidly fill my free time with scrolling on my iPad.  Roku has this great ethernet-ready device for streaming WiFi-free on your TV, and this connector lets you plug in your phone and iPad if you want.  (I rarely do.)  

I now turn on WiFi only to print something, or to download films and books to my tablet, and then I turn it off immediately.  (You can even get this handy-dandy switch to turn it off with a remote.)  

This may sound ridiculous in our age of streaming, but I have a dedicated tablet to use offline as my personal media player.  Instead of streaming (or scrolling) I choose a time to go online and select movies, magazines, music, podcasts and audiobooks that I download.  I give myself a time limit to do it.  This reminds me of the way we used to rent movies and buy albums, books and magazines in the past.  We never went into Blockbuster and watched snippets of films for two hours without actually renting anything!  Maybe you can browse Netflix without a specific film in mind, and still manage to pick something, but I need boundaries.  

My "download media time" forces me to make decisions, load my player and then log off. Later, when I want something to watch or read or listen to, I choose from what I have downloaded.  I have a lot of playlists downloaded from Amazon Music and Spotify, so I can listen to music without streaming, too.  (I get overwhelmed with all the choices, people.)    

I download ebooks to my Kindle and read it in offline mode, too.

When I actually need to go online, I go to my ethernet-wired computer instead of getting sucked into my phone.

Don't post it.  Live it.  
8.  Set tech free hours and keep to them

I found that giving myself a technology diet helped me get back the perspective I had lost with constant connectivity.  At 6:0PM every day, I disconnect.  Sure, my family and I still watch movies and TV, but we no longer isolate in our own little screen worlds.  Instead, we watch together on the TV. 

In addition to family movie nights, evenings are now filled with all kinds of analog things: cooking, reading books, playing games, having conversation, taking walks, playing musical instruments, writing, making art and any number of things that don't require internet connection.  I was amazed at how different my family life became when we made evenings relatively phone-free -- and yes, this includes my 14 year old. (If you can't turn off your phone, at least put it on Do Not Disturb.  Remember, that Ok to Disturb list is yours to curate, so if you're waiting for a call or text you don't have to miss it.)  The important thing?  Connect in real life and stop scrolling!

Going tech-free is now a thing...

"Tech-free" bars, restaurants and even camps are offering zones of peace and digital-free detoxification.  Check them out.  (Steve Tyler opened a really cool one in England.)  There's even a beer glass that won't let you drink if you're on your phone.  Yes!

Not Just Nights, but Mornings, too:

I no longer check Twitter first thing when I wake up.  This act alone has made mornings much less dystopian, and I start my day with coffee and actual conversation with my husband instead of outrage, disdain and frustration over the latest trending topic.  Unless I'm on a deadline and have to wake up early to check messages, I stay away from the internet -- yes, even podcasts -- until I sit down to work at 9:00AM.  Your hours may vary, but set them.  Then, stick to them and see if your life isn't better.

9.  Think "produce" instead of "consume."

Cal Newport has loads of information about how scrolling inhibits our ability to concentrate, Nicholas Carr breaks it down further and Adam Alter tells us why it's so hard to quit.)

Make art IRL
Artist, writer, musician and inventor pals take notice: the internet is killing your creativity and innovation. The act of scrolling many different items in quick succession actually changes the way your brain works. (See the books in my Library for all the science.)

If that isn't bad enough, just think about this: For every minute you spend "networking" on social media, you lose a minute of actual work.  

If you're tempted to mindlessly scroll other people's content, create something instead.  It can be as complex as writing a novel or as simple as making a birdhouse with your kid.  Use your phone camera to capture your world without necessarily needing to post it. 


Log off.  Tune in.  Opt out.

When I took all these steps, I was stunned at the resulting wave of creativity and productivity.  Mostly, I was surprised at how happy I felt.  Constant Internet "connection" was actually disconnecting me from what I loved. Not only am I happier and more creative, my actual relationships are better.  All that time I didn't realize I spent on superficial emojis and likes, I now use for what Cal Newport calls "Deep Work."  More importantly, I use it for real interaction and one-on-one time with the people I love.  I call people directly instead of checking feeds. (Ask me about the handwritten letters my friends and I now send each other, as if we're stepping back into a BBC Victorian drama or coplaying an E.M Forester novel!) 

My experience was so dramatic I was inspired to start this blog and begin writing a memoir.  I never ever expected to see such a dramatic improvement in my work, much less in my overall well being.  

Maybe something similar will happen to you.  At any rate, I'll be the one smiling and nodding knowingly at you without a phone as we wait in line together at Starbucks.

Welcome back to the real world.