“Can you handle 24 hours without your phone?” I asked my followers on Instagram, telling them about Digital Detox Day which was happening on Sept. 5.
“Can you?” friends replied to my Stories.
The question was valid. I am pretty attached to my phone. It’s the first thing I reach for when I wake up, it’s the last thing I touch before I fall asleep. Thinking about this made me decide to really take on the challenge of Digital Detox Day.
#IAmWhole, Lush and Zoella founder Zoe Sugg collaborated for Digital Detox Day, a campaign that aims to bring awareness to the negative effects of social media on mental health and encourages people to cultivate a healthier relationship with these platforms and the devices they use. They asked people to step away from social media for one day.
#IAmWhole cofounder Jordan Stephens said, “Social media has become such a huge part of all our lives, and I know all too well the negative impact it can have on mental health if we don’t set boundaries. Digital Detox Day is all about taking some time out to reflect, so we can form better relationships with ourselves and our devices.”
Sugg said, “I love social media, it’s incredible in so many ways and it has helped build communities and businesses, and given people a platform in order to share their stories that might not otherwise have been heard. However, as the years have progressed and social media has grown in size, it’s clear that it has its flaws, too. Comparison, criticism, cyberbullying, a disconnect from reality and real life. All of these things and how often we are scrolling can have such a negative impact on our mental health.”
Over 40 countries that carry Lush including the Philippines took part in Digital Detox Day, with 19 of them selling a limited-edition bath bomb called IRL. IRL was created by Sugg and Lush inventor Jack Constantine for the benefit of grassroots mental health charities.
On Friday night, I drew a circle on my palm and wrote the word “OFF” in the middle, took a photo of it and posted it online, promising to fully commit to my Saturday away from social media.
My work doesn’t allow me to be completely away from my phone—I still needed to be able to check my email and receive messages—but I vowed not to check Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for 24 hours.
But before that, I had things to do. I grabbed my already lengthy task list and added a column of things I needed to do on social media before the clock struck 12. That included finding islands with good turnip rates in the Animal Crossing Facebook group I’m part of so I could sell what was left of my supply before they rotted. I tweeted a link to a story I wrote for the Super website. I Instagrammed a photo of my dog looking miserable while I gave him a bath. I contacted an interview subject on Messenger. I plugged the fourth episode of the Inquirer Podcast “Let’s Talk Oppa.”
Then, just before midnight, I switched off all my social media notifications and I put my phone down.
In the next 24 hours, I realized that the problem wasn’t that I was missing social media. What was concerning was, every time I touched my phone, without thinking about it, my finger would automatically tap on the Instagram or Facebook app, as if on autopilot. I would then catch myself just as the app would open, shriek, swipe it closed and proceed to do what I really picked up my phone to do (book Grab Delivery, Google a recipe, find a song for my nephew to sing along to). This happened at least five times.
Was I so hooked on social media that my body was looking for a hit without me even realizing it?
“Why were you online on Messenger two hours ago?” my mother asked over dinner.
“Ooh, you cheated,” my brother said.
“No!” I said. It was my stupid finger.
Digital Detox Day made me think about just how dependent I’ve been on social media. I contact interview subjects using Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. My mother calls me to eat using Messenger. I order food using Instagram. I buy toys on Facebook. It’s my primary mode of communication with friends. We don’t even text anymore. Social media is useful to me in that sense.
But I also realize that I spend too much time on it, sometimes scrolling mindlessly, when I can be doing other things. And not just that, my day away from social media showed me that when I put my phone down, I can be more present for the people I love.
I can watch Word Party and listen to my nephew sing without distractions. I can teach my other nephew how to get a pearl on Animal Crossing. I can have a real conversation with my mother and really listen to her. I can make tomato soup and grilled cheese for my brother without feeling the need to post about it. I can give my dog my full attention.
That was my biggest lesson from Digital Detox Day. Social media is beneficial as long as you use it wisely, as long as you don’t let it consume you and as long as you remember that there’s an entire world waiting for you that isn’t on your screen. Only one moment almost made me forget about my vow to go on a social media detox. I read “No one’s throwing in the towel,” the beautiful Opinion piece of Ma’am Chato Garcellano and I was ready to share it on my feed when I remembered, “Oh crap, I couldn’t be on Facebook!”
Eventually, midnight came, and social media was no longer the forbidden fruit.
I went online, saw that in the 24 hours I was gone, I didn’t really miss much, and so I put my phone down again and cuddled with my dog.