Music on the bike, Facebook on the train, Whatsapp on the couch - is there another moment when we're not glued to our screen? NU.nl editor Lisa Peters did a digital detox . She did not use social media for the entire month of October. "When I opened my Whatsapp again after 31 days, I had 1,021 unread messages."
"Are you still in?", Girlfriend Joska apptages the last day of September. A week earlier, she proposed to leave social media for a month. Now that point is coming, I doubt.
"It doesn't really come out right now", I app back. I have planned a number of work interviews via WhatsApp with people who live abroad, I have just a few nice matches on Tinder and how should I keep in touch with my mother and sister who live in Groningen?
In the meantime, I realize that that is of course the whole point: it never comes out well. The fact that I find it scary to give up my phone, with all kinds of excuses, confirms that I am addicted to social media. And I'm not the only one.
Submerged in a parallel universe
That day I look around me. On the way home from the NU.nl editorial team, all thirteen train passengers are sitting in my compartment with their heads bowed, sunk deep into a parallel universe. The same applies to those waiting at the arrival platform. On the sidewalk in front of the supermarket I barely avoid a pedestrian who only has eyes for his screen.
In the evening I don't think about it too long. I'm going cold turkey. A number of people and groups receive a standard message, I update my profile photo with a written note (see photo). Then (with trembling fingers) the Big Uninstall starts. The number of deleted apps: seven.
The next 31 days I have to do without the apps of Tinder, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Buienradar and NU.nl. Midnight expires, October has started. I'm sitting on the couch and it happens: nothing. I make a cup of tea, grab the newspaper.
Now, more than a month later, I have gained five insights. And is the big dilemma: do I renounce social media forever or do I return?
A number of people and groups receive a standard message from NU.nl editor Lisa Peters and she updates her profile photo with a written note. (Photo: Private collection)
Day 1. Social media catches you if you pay the least attention
When I wake up, I immediately grab my phone. Zero messages. That feels pretty good. A few hours later, when I still haven't received any text messages and emails, I get nervous. Is nobody missing me? Why don't I hear anything? Have they seen my farewell message? The first (and only text) of that day comes from Joska. "How many times have you wanted to open WhatsApp for a quick message and thought: oh no!"
Much of my social media use happens unknowingly. Especially at the end of the day, when my concentration usually reaches the level of a teaspoon, my thumb shoots to the place where WhatsApp ever sat. And then Google Maps opens, which has captured the prominent spot on the main screen. My fingers automatically go to Facebook on my laptop. Fortunately I am prepared: logged out everywhere.
Day 3. Do not expect miracles (and sometimes they do)
Those first days stay calm. I don't get a text message, there are few people calling and I don't really need to speak to anyone except Joska. My boss is calling - rather surly - that he wants to discuss an article and asks why I am no longer available on WhatsApp. He thinks it's all good, on one condition: that I write a piece about it. That's great.
Unexpected things also happen. Now that I am no longer on Tinder, I have to talk about real life. I announce at the beer after my weekly dance class that I am no longer on the dating app and ask if they know anyone else for me. The next morning I have mail from an unnamed person: whether I want to date. Nice!
How much time are we actually on our phone?
- 30 percent of young adults call themselves telephone addicts, according to research from the CBS.
- Almost 40 percent of young people spend more than three hours a day on social media (CBS).
- Every year, Dutch people spend an average of 34 days on their mobile, according to research by telecom provider Simyo.
- That amounts to two hours and fifteen minutes a day.
Day 8. Yes, you miss things (but you don't know what)
I sit with Joska in a restaurant in Utrecht. She has just been sick for a week and in the meantime sms has largely taken over the role of her WhatsApp. "But without all the noise from those groups. Every time I contact someone, I think first: is it really so important that I have to send this right now, or can it also wait until we meet?"
Are we missing things? Solid, but blessed are the ignorant. "I asked on WhatsApp if you wanted to earn more, but you did not respond. Too bad," my chef teased me at lunch.
My profit cannot (yet) be expressed in money: I have already read two books, because I no longer sit glued to my phone in the evenings. That part of my brain that always knows where my phone is and how likely it is that there will be new messages has finally come to rest.
Day 12. Everyone wants less social media, but nobody dares
"Did you know that the average teenager scrolls the perimeter of a football field with his thumb every day," says a friend while we drink coffee. I eagerly accept his words (and because you don't have to check a good story to death, I don't do that here either).
Everyone I speak to is full of admiration for my digital detox . The addiction, the unrest, the inability to ignore notifications and leaving conversations unanswered are recognizable. And yet nobody dares to participate. The emotional dependence is too great. There are also the necessary raised eyebrows, as if I'm just a bother, the alcohol-free party pooper on Friday afternoon drinks.
Day 24. It also takes some getting used to for others
The telephone remains a big part of my life. I listen to music via Spotify, meditate via Headspace and since I go through WhatsApploos, I obsessively check my bank app. But there is also peace. And on empty evenings, when I feel forgotten by all my friends, I am now calling. The first happy recipients of a phone call from me still answered with a startled "Is something wrong?" Meanwhile, enthusiastic feedback is being made. And people even call me.
My chef is less enthusiastic. He thinks that living without Facebook hinders me in my work as a journalist (admittedly, Facebook is home to a wealth of good stories) and, according to him, I am not easily accessible.
"WhatsApp is just the standard in the Netherlands. Now I have to leave my comfort zone because you want to live without social media if necessary. I don't even know where my texting app is!" (He also reminded me that I didn't bother for him when he tried to live a month without Google).
Day 31. Back on social media, or not?
"This is the last day of our experiment. What now?", Joska texted. I have decided that I will remove Facebook, that contributes the least to my happiness in life. Instagram and Tinder also remain in the bin. The big doubt is WhatsApp.
I am curious what I missed and install Whatsapp. My phone crashes when I open the application. 1,021 unread messages in 38 chats, without even saying a word. I cut a knot.
"Hi, I have decided to permanently ban social media. Don't you forget me? Text or call me!"