In my first year of Uni, I signed up for a Forensics class. One day during a lecture, the Professor asked as a simple task: When someone gets a message or notification on their phones in the next two hours, he or she shall clap their hands. Just one single loud clap, every time our phone lights up. There were around 250 people sitting in that lecture room, so you can imagine how the next two hours went by. I felt stressed and nervous, unconcentrated, annoyed and tense, waiting for the next claps which were only seconds away and made me jump every single time. At that very lecture and for the first time ever, I learned about the term of digital burnout.
Growing up, I never really got attached to my phone. I signed up to facebook around 2010, never really got into it and I got my first whats app account around three years later. But in mid 2014, I discovered the world of vlogging on Youtube – and I guess that was the moment were I really dip into the digital world. I had a very unhealthy habit of consuming videos for videos, up to hours. I sometimes forgot about my hobbies and interests and lived my life through the people I watched. Reading books became harder for me, which was so incredible strange to realise back then, as I was the child who loved going to my local library every single week since I learned how to read and had a book under my arm no matter what. Reading meant to devote myself, it took longer then my average consume of a 10 min video, the next exciting one waiting for me on the playlist. I started to have a video in the background while getting ready for work or meeting friends and going to the shops, cooking and doing the dishes. When I first moved to Vienna, I wasn’t really happy with my living situation, so I was all about distracting myself while being at my students dorm. I started to watch videos with my meals, before bed and right after waking up. The people I watched did amazing, inspiring things, they traveled around the world, worked hard and shared their day to day life. Don’t get me wrong, I still met up with my friends, went out quite a lot and did well at Uni. But I catch myself all the time, going back to that bubble in the quieter moments, when I was with myself. Watching these people made me happy, calm me down and let me connected with them in a one way friendship kinda way.
I had so many days where I planed to do certain things, not Uni-work related and neither meeting friends (it never went that far luckily), but things I loved doing on myself, like reading, creating, going to the gym, exploring Vienna, writing blogposts – but I ended up being on YT a few hours, following the people doing the things I’d like to do in real life. I didn’t understand myself anymore – why was I struggling with doing things I genuinely LOVE? After a while, watching this videos became repetitive for me, I didn’t feel the excitement anymore, I barely listened anymore and I began to feel numb. I still couldn’t stop watching and neither starting doing something in real life. Being on my phone and scrolling through the search section of instagram while having a video or a film in the background became a very regular thing in my life and my concentration span and patience decreased immensely. At that point (back in 2016) I finally made it my mission of changing the way I used the internet.
My biggest problem was that I wasn’t present in time. I feel like being fully present is something that a lot of people struggle with, specially our generation. We all sometimes have spiralising thoughts about the past or the future, try to figure out everything regarding what the future holds for us (which is something I still struggle with nowadays). We want everything fast and in high quality, we want to be in control and maybe dedicating our time to one specific task might be a bit challenging and a waste of time as in our imagination, we could do multiple things at the same time. Everybody is on their phones. Focusing on other people on social media or in day-to-day life means taking the focus off ourself, which can be a relief.
Over the last year, I developed some habits that completely changed how I felt about the digital world which now allows me to enjoy the world of social media without being consumed by it. The most interesting thing for me is that I pretty much had to go back to habits I once had when I was younger. They were true passions of mine, but somehow over the years, I’d forgotton about them.
Awareness and building a distance
The first thing I did which I think helped me a lot was to go offline. I’m pretty sure you all are aware of the term of digital detox, which appears in so many books, magazines, posts, etc. and honestly, for me personally, completely switching of was the first and major step of changing my habit. I logged out of YT, deleted instagram on my phone for a while and switched my phone to airplane mode in the night. I went for walks without taking my phone or my ipod with me and tried to be full aware of my surroundings. In summer 2016, my friends and I went to a trip to South Africa, where we rarely had any internet access, which helped me enormously. During that summer, I fell in love with reading again, which made me incredibly happy. When I came back from my trip, I was so surprised that I didn’t went straight to Youtube to catch up with all the videos I had missed for weeks, because I purely wasn’t interested in them anymore.
Developing new habits and finding the way back to old, healthy ones
Reading before bed and after waking up helped me so much with maintaining my new mindset. Switching my phone on airplane modus 1 1/2 hours before I went to sleep and never taking my laptop in my bed with me, meant that I could just dedicate my whole attention to reading. I also started to write more, specially in my personal diaries, to reflect about everything and nothing. I left my phone at home before going to buy groceries and for walks and only checked my emails once a day in the mornings. When I started my blog and wanted to use instagram as a platform, I made it my habit to post my photo in the mornings at a specific time, check out what’s new on peoples feeds and then staying away from it for the rest of the day, which works very well for me. And generally, I fell out of the idea of being multitasking – which focused my mind on being present in a huge way.
I do have days where I am on Youtube or any other social media for longer then usual or days binge watching shows on Netflix, which, in my opinion, is totally fine, as long as I’m fully aware of that. For me, the problematic thing about using the internet is to spend a lot of time unconsciously scrolling through information and forgetting to pursue other activities, passions, hobbies and actually living.