Let’s be honest with ourselves. Working at a computer in these over-stimulated times means that when we virtuously power up in the morning, it doesn't take long until we open Facebook, check Twitter or start watching YouTube clips of skateboarding bulldogs. Before you know it, an hour has gone by… sound familiar?
Personally, I find myself clicking on Facebook at any opportunity. I think in status updates. I check Twitter while on the phone. My attention span is shot. I tell myself I haven't time for daily walks, but considering how many hours I waste online I could take several walks a day if I was more disciplined.
This is why I decided to go on a diet - a digital one, that is. I hear of mythical people who don't have Facebook accounts, computers, even mobiles, and dream of how their lives must be, far from the electronic forces the rest of us have willingly handed ourselves over to.
Don't get me wrong - I love the Internet and don't want to abandon social networking completely; it’s more about giving my mind and digits some time away from it. A few days without seeing a ‘LOL’ can only be beneficial, lets be honest. When you start to hear people saying ‘LOL’ out loud in conversation, you realise that there are a large number of us in need of a virtual oil-change.
I want to say it’ll be like a holiday, but I can't think of one recent break that hasn't involved me texting pictures of my dinner to loved ones, taking photos in a bid to find the perfect profile picture or, worst of all, sneakily checking emails. Something’s got to give.
So, can I thrive in the computer age without being a slave to the internet? Let’s see…
Too much too soon and I'll only go crawling back to YouTube to watch a ferret playing the banjo or something, so I have one mission for today: Facebook, your time is up. I can deactivate my Facebook account (well, accounts - I have one for my cat too) without deleting it permanently, so, after a moment worrying about people thinking I've dumped them, or missing some vital communication, I go through the process, ignoring the 'Sarah will miss you! Gavin will miss you!' messages that appear. I refuse to be emotionally blackmailed. Anyway, a bit of mystique never did Greta Garbo any harm (now there's someone you wouldn't find with a Facebook account.)
It’s done, and I already feel lighter. However, auto-pilot has taken over and I've only gone and cranked up Twitter, methadone to Facebook’s heroin. My sense of pride dissolves as I scroll idly down the timeline.
Still, by the evening, I am amazed by the hours I’ve reclaimed after dropping one social network. I even have time for a seaside walk! Control is already inching back into my grasp, but I take my phone and check my emails on the beach. Major fail.
As I sit up in bed, I check my iPhone and am thrilled the number of emails in my inbox has reduced thanks to the lack of Facebook 'notifications'. But that brings me to the next problem: iPhone in the bedroom. It is my alarm clock, but as soon as I hit snooze, I blearily spot the emails and start looking at them with my still-asleep eyes - hazardous on various levels (particularly if I try to reply). Once upon a time you’d only see your emails when you were at your desk, dressed, breakfasted and awake (sort of).
Being Facebook-free still rocks, and there are no outward signs of cold turkey - no trembling or gibbering here. Yes, I’ve had a few emails from friends wondering whether they’ve offended me, and I do miss some of the banter, but I don't miss the weirdo who sporadically leaves passive-aggressive comments on my page. You know the type: the one you daren't delete in case they turn nasty? Now it's just another thing I don't have to think about for the next few days. Hooray!
Twitter. Tricky one. You can’t deactivate your account without deleting the bugger, so this will take discipline… although not as much as I thought. All I need to do is make a list of pros and cons to convince myself that a few days off Twitter will be a breath of fresh air, not least for this reason: while many of us get our ‘news’ from Twitter, when we click on a hashtag, we find ourselves wincing at the scores of silly and sometimes scary tweets from all corners of the globe, bearing little relation to anything and often instilling a not very cheery view of humanity.
And, much as I love using Twitter and following fascinating folk, I’ll be glad to avoid the raft of unattractive classic Twitter blights – the snipers, spammers, moaners, boasters and downright pests. Yes, we can unfollow or block, but sometimes these Twits can be people we know in real life. It’s a minefield. So, as I vow to give the Twitterverse a wide berth, my psyche breathes a sigh of relief.
Despite a few momentary lapses, I’ve stuck to my regime and I’m feeling better for it. It hasn’t occurred to me to visit YouTube (most links I check come via Facebook or Twitter anyway) and I’ve naturally stopped looking at iPhone apps. I’d usually browse them listlessly in bed or on the train – the star map app, the bus times app, the weather app, Candy Crush bloody Saga… all highly essential, of course, but my insatiable interest has dwindled and I’m not feeling any poorer for not knowing exactly what the weather's going to be like in Grimsby on Wednesday. It’s official - the Internet and its delights no longer rule me.
So it won’t be too hard to have 48 email-free hours then, will it? Being the end of the week, I decide things are probably winding down, and while I can still get work done on my Mac, I can activate an auto-response and get back to people on Monday. The world will probably cope. But will I?
It’s not easy. The ‘mail’ icon on my desktop tantalises me. My fingers send the cursor dangerously close to it before I remember myself. But after four days of avoiding Facebook, Twitter and apps, it’s not really as bad as I’d thought. I soon sail through my chores and then go out to meet a friend, amazed by how much of the day I still have to play with.
The final day of my self-imposed diet and there’s one step left to take: giving my iPhone the day off. I record a message giving my landline (landline!) for emergencies, and actually put the phone away in a drawer.
Once my work for the day is complete, my hands don’t know what to do and I suffer a wave of withdrawal. What did I do before all of this digital malarkey? Ah yes: read, went out, listened to music, saw movies, watched TV without tweeting a commentary. For today’s purposes, I pick music.
The idea of sitting back to listen to an album on a weekday afternoon feels decadent, even though I’ve done everything I need to do. I put In The Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra on the record player (more in the spirit of the exercise than iTunes) and spend the next hour listening, drinking tea and gazing at the view – uninterrupted by any ‘emergency’ calls on the landline, of course. This was an hour that would otherwise have been wasted online, punctuated by compulsive phone checking. The thought.
So what have I gained from this experiment? Time. That’s not to be sniffed at. I missed nothing that couldn’t be dealt with when I was ready. I had real interactions, went to bed peaceful and remembered how I lived before there was a laptop surgically attached to my thighs. And, as I now tentatively return to the fray, I appreciate the technological advances we now take for granted much more.
This must be one of the cheapest, most liberating holidays you can take, and I, for one, am looking forward to another in a few months’ time. See you by the pool…