A Week Without Digital Dopamine
13 December 2016 | BY ANDJELKA JANKOVIC | Life , Travel
And I know you wanted to for some time now
If you eat an abundance bowl but don’t share it online, are you still #blessed?
I’ve been wanting to learn Vedic meditation for quite some time, and recently travelled to Byron Bay for a retreat with The Broad Place at The Atlantic. Initially, I was planning to only go phone-free for the four-day immersion, but then I decided to go offline for the following week to figure out what is real. A sort of ‘detox’ from digital dopamine.
Digital dopamine is a term I like to use to explain the feelings of reward and pleasure from constant online communication, Facebook likes, Instagram hearts and Twitter retweets. It’s that rush of satisfaction and self-worth we all know. But more and more, I/we are using social media to kill time and that is literally what it does – kills it. I was interested to see if I could experience less digital anxiety by going offline to explore questions like: are we the sum of all the things we post or all the things we choose not to post?
This is what my week looked like: No internet, no laptop, no iPad, and phone use (only for alarm clock, camera and for receiving photos of my just-born nephew). The hardest part? A week-long GFZ (Google Free Zone).
In the spirit of N=1 (self-experimentation), here is my approach and discoveries for spending a week without digital dopamine:
How to get offline in the first place
- Turn off notifications for all social media and messaging apps. For me that included Instagram, Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp, Google Calendar, Yelp, Gmail, Couchsurfing, Goodreads, Google Maps and Safari
- Turn off sounds for unneeded things like the ‘text sent’ and lock screen sounds
- Put phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ (emergency contacts can still reach if they are in your Favourites)
- Activate Night Shift in your display settings from 9pm-7am
- Tell family to text for emergencies
- Delete all apps (don’t worry, you can re-download the ones you need) OR move all apps to a new folder and forget them
- Put phone on Aeroplane Mode or put out of sight
Learnings and realisations
- We share our lives online to feel close to people in real life
- Sleeping with ‘Do No Disturb’ mode will change your life
- Social interruption is rampant with loud phones in cafes and public spaces, and constant looking at phones to check the time
- Time feels like it doubles without phone use, like the excitement of 10.30am feeling like 2.30pm
- Facebook Messenger really needs an ‘Out of Office’ setting
- I noticed so many moments of synchronicity simply by looking up
- My favourite app is Spotify because music > sanity
- When you have no one to share with, your capacity for self-reflexivity grows ten-fold
I want to end by talking about loneliness. Going a week offline felt like ‘Phrowar universe, here I am – am I enough?’ followed by ‘Weeeeee freedom, I am never sharing anything online again
unless I marry Justin Vernon’ with a bit of ‘But I want to share this beautiful moment! Who’s shitty idea was this?’ – basically a series of minor freak outs and bounce backs.
Being a morning person and a daytime adventurer, I don’t blink asking for a table for one and can talk to strangers with ease. However, evenings are the hardest time to be offline. A gentle loneliness nudges at you saying “you’re alone now”. This moment is generally where we rush to our phones to connect online.
It feels strange to not share incredible moments, the ones where you feel truly alive like watching cracking lightning through a window like a movie screen; going for a sunrise walk to the most Easterly point of Australia in a rainstorm; putting your bike chain back on without any help for the first time; and doing a surfing lesson to conquer an irrational fear of sharks.
During my trip to Byron Bay, I was reading books ferociously. One particular line from Pema Chödrön in Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton jumped off the page and was felt deep in my ribs:
So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for even one, that’s the journey of the warrior. – Pema Chödrön
That’s it – hot loneliness. I’ve unknowingly written about this and made a playlist for a similar idea – the ‘opposite of loneliness’. Yet when the moments of heaviness and despair hit, I forget all of my own advice: listen to music, get lost in a book, call it an early night, have an unexpected conversation with a stranger, go for walk or ride in nature, hunt down Mary Oliver’s poetry, and herbal tea benders (a recurring life tonic).
My Vedic meditation teacher Jacqui Lewis calls this ‘joyriding’ – meaning a small but potent activity that makes you feel good, whole and at one with the world and doesn’t involve anyone else. Make your own list, and refer to it the next time you want to hit the panic button on life. I also find the notion that ‘sadness is not new, it’s ancient’ comforting.
In summary, I survived a week without social media and digital interaction! In my N=1 experiment, I learned more about what lights me up – and what doesn’t. A big part of my Byron Bay adventure was replacing the rush of digital dopamine with real life serotonin overflow.
I realise a week offline isn’t an earth-shattering amount of time, but it can be. I recharged in the energy of quiet, experienced spectacular moments of synchronicity, embrace aloneness and the magic of literature, and filled up on beauty so it may overflow in future times of temporary emptiness.