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Digital Detox

Brent Holmes

Sans Screen

Yes, I can (*twitch*) totally handle (*shudder*) a whole week (ack!) of digital detox.

I am, in the parlance of the kids these days, an Old. In practical terms, that means I remember a time before the internet, before we all decided that leaving each other indignant Facebook comments or fooling our friends with carefully curated vacation pictures would be our primary mode of communication.

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So the idea of doing a digital detox — a self-imposed postmodern Lent where you forsake connectivity — sounded fun. Quaint, even. My rules would be to live like it’s 1983, before the Atari 2600 came into my life and turned me into a hopeless tech nerd. I’d use my laptop for work, but other than that, I’d use my phone strictly as a phone, and watch solely network television and listen only to music I owned on physical media. (Within reason. I’m not going looking for my tape deck.)

I don’t have Facebook or Instagram accounts. I don’t obsessively refresh news sites. My biggest content weakness is sports, but it’s not baseball season, and the Giants and Sabres are lousy. I got this. I can do this standing on my head.

Day 1: I can’t do this standing on my head. The first thing I do is look at my phone, pawing at a bleating alarm. On the commute, I resort to drive-time radio, which, conveniently, is also stuck in 1983. In the office, I get intensely curious what the “GTO” in a Pontiac GTO stood for. Briefly considering bartering with someone else to look it up on Wikipedia, but it feels like that violates the spirit of the law. Unread messages: 62

Day 2: At the grocery store and can’t remember all the ingredients I use to make chili. The recipe is online. Friends are beginning to show concern for my well-being after I haven’t answered for days. Unread messages, cumulative: 79

Day 3: After three days without skimming Twitter, I’m beginning to think the things I like are good and it’s okay to like them. Went to check the time and pulled out my phone. I’m wearing a watch. I am not an intelligent man. Unread messages: 89

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Day 4: My productivity style can best be described as “furious bouts of panicked, creative outburst fueled entirely by distraction, procrastination, and deadlines.” I feel like I’m missing a key part of the process. Still procrastinating, but now just by staring into space. On the plus, I deeply understand The Statler Brothers’ “Counting Flowers on the Wall.” Call most frantic friends to assure them I’m alive. Chili is lousy. Unread messages: 114

Day 5: Make a wrong turn that costs me 20 minutes, thanks to no GPS. Having a weird issue with no sense of smell or taste. Can’t look up those symptoms, so I assume I have nose cancer. If I could check WebMD, I’d know I have nose cancer. Unread messages: 155

Day 6: Haven’t picked up a newspaper in days. In that time, the Yankees have hired a manager and the Giants fired their coach. I’m frantic. On the plus side, I haven’t heard any kvetching about or by Donald Trump in nearly a week. This is glorious.  Unread messages: 186

Day 7: Can’t take it anymore. First day back online, and I immediately get into an argument over nothing with a friend. Sounds about right.

If the idea was to ease the anxiety of too much connectivity and open a window to a more harmonious, tranquil life, it backfired. Mostly, I was anxious about the constant influx of texts and emails that I ignored. Because you can choose to do this, but unless you go full airplane-mode commando, no one is going to stop contacting you. What I missed the most were the little time-wasters. When you’re standing in line, there’s nothing to do but stare at the other people. Or worse, be alone with your thoughts. Who the hell wants that? My brain is evil. This is why I drink.

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At least now I know for certain that, barring a reality resembling the gritty, post-apocalyptic future of Tom Petty’s “Refugee” video (not unlikely!), I’m going to be walking around with a phone shoved in my pocket until I’m tossed into my casket. And even then, my friends will keep texting.