Frequently asked questions
What if my job involves the internet?
You can use the internet for your work/study during work/study hours and for work/study activities. Log out of any personal accounts you have on your work computer and don’t use your work computer for personal use. In general, it's good practice to separate your work and personal social media accounts.
If possible, download an app like Self-Control to prevent personal sites from showing up on your computer. Oh, and do not check your work email outside of work hours or designated internet hour.
Can I use my kindle or E-reader while I'm on the 'detox' part?
Yes. I'm yet to find anyone with a negative, compulsive relationship with their E-reader!
Why am I allowed to text but not use WhatsApp?
WhatsApp involves more than just text. For example, you can be part of the group, which means getting a lot of irrelevant messages a day. It’s not uncommon for people to receive dozens of messages from groups and feel overwhelmed by the obligation to read and reply to everything.
The compulsory blue ‘double tick’ can also create a sense of guilt and anxiety if you don’t get back to someone quickly. You are able to turn off the ‘read’ sign in text messages unlike the “blue tick" on WhatsApp. You can also access WhatsApp in your hour but not outside of that hour. Part of the aim of this course is to help you communicate with other people *on your terms* - not because you're being pushed by psychologically manipulative design features.
Text tends to be focused on one-on-one interactions. So if you really want to message your best friend, you can still do this - just not on WhatsApp.
Can I use Google Maps?
Yes, you can, but only when you need to get to a specific place or you're lost. After you’ve searched for something on Google Maps, turn off your data and wifi once you’re done with it.
Can I listen to my digital radio? (i.e. an actual radio that is not a phone or laptop)
Yes. Even though this involves the internet, it won’t bombard you with notifications and is unlikely to trigger repetitive and distracted behaviours.
What about Netflix, films and music?
Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services are not allowed during the "detox" part of the course. If it involves an internet connection to watch or listen to, you'll be cutting back on it.
But if you have a DVD or you have a film that is downloaded on your laptop and does not involve an internet connection to watch, you can watch this during the 'detox' stage of the course. This is because you're unlikely to spend your time constantly browsing through films for hours or falling prey to the 'next episode' autoplay feature. This is about resetting the default ways we 'consume' digital media so the focus is on purpose and quality.
From day 4 of the digital detox onwards, you can listen to podcasts and music on your phone as long as you can access them offline. You can listen to pre-downloaded playlists on Spotify for example.
It seems like a small difference, but we spend a lot of our time just "browsing" music, television and films. But by making the effort to watch films and listen to music offline, you've committed to it. It also has a finite end, as opposed to nudging you consume more content.
But also use this week as an excuse to broaden your offline experiences. You can go to the cinema or a bar with live music for example.
What do I do if I have a friend who doesn’t want me to do this?
Try to find alternative ways of contacting your friend, whether it’s through texts, calls or coffee catch ups. Explain to them it’s not personal and that getting control over your online behaviour is important to you.
This is also a perfect time to set boundaries between yourself and those who have unreasonable expectations of your time. An important part of the plan is learning that it’s okay to take your time to respond. ‘Seen’ or ‘read’ design features prey on your anxieties. The course is partly about helping you respond on your own terms instead of out of panic, guilt, obligation and fear.
You don’t need to be contactable all the time. Breathe, relax, give yourself a break. Most people will respect that. This is about escaping the overwhelm and giving you control so you can spend time with the people that matter most to you.
I’m too scared, is it really possible?
YES. The smartphone is only ten years old, Facebook is only 13 years old. We forget how recent these technologies are. Furthermore, we don't realise how easy it is to actually reset these habits. It's a bit like going on holiday -- many people automatically reduce how often they check their phone without trying (and they many don't take their laptops with them either).
You won't get chemically-induced withdrawal symptoms that will put your physical health at risk. It's not that kind of "addiction". Giving yourself permission to take a break from the noise is easier than you think. The time restriction part is only for seven days. It’s not a long time. You can do it. The earlier you start, the earlier you'll be able to have a healthier relationship with what you do online.
Simply by becoming more conscious of repetitive, negative behaviours, you will be able to improve the quality time you spend online and cut back on the bad.
What if one of the activities on my list involves the internet?
Use your preparation day or internet hour to download, print or note down any necessary information you need to enable your activity. For example, the recipe for the cake you want may only exist on a blog online so write it down so you don’t need the internet to do it.
I have really bad internet cravings, what should I do?
YOU’VE GOT IT IN HAND. HERE’S WHAT TO DO:
1. Review your ‘5 things you’d do if you had more time’ list or any of your other lists. Plan to do ONE THING on the list. You have plenty of things you can do that don’t involve the internet.
2. Text or call a friend on your contacts list
3. TURN OFF your phone and go for a walk
4. Write how you feel in your notebook. Your notebook is your new phone. Take it with you EVERYWHERE.
5. Just sit there and experience the discomfort. Be curious about why the feelings are so strong. Use it as an opportunity to learn about yourself.
Why all the prep, can’t I just dive right in?
This plan encourages you to find alternatives to spending all your time on activities that involve the internet. It’s about you resetting your defaults and making time for things you’d love to do. Following a bunch of rules and getting on with them is no fun.
You'll also find it more difficult to stick to the plan and you'll be spending a lot of your energies agonising over what you can't do. This week should be fun, liberating and give you an excuse to follow your passions. It's important to keep your attention outwards and on things you CAN do instead of things you can't.
You will have a lot more time once you start using the internet with purpose. When you have cravings or are bored, you won’t be short of things to do.
Can I buy this as a passive aggressive gift for a friend?
Ha ha, not recommended. I get it. If you have a friend or relative who is constantly 'phubbing' you (snubbing you with their phone) or spends an impolite amount of time on their devices in a way that negatively impacts social dynamics, you can feel frustrated, angry and hurt.
But a key part of taking the course is self-motivation. So if someone is not sufficiently invested in taking control of their online behaviour, they are less likely to succeed at the course. They need to go on their own journey.
By all means, recommend them the course and make them aware that it's something that's available to them. As an approach, I'd recommend showing your own interest in taking the course and encouraging them to take the course with you. Lead by example! If they show interest, send them this way.
I'm constantly trying to find a way of dealing with phubbers, so if you find a way, email me at email@example.com. ;-)
So what’s the long term goal - am I to limit the amount of time I spend online forever?
NO. Digital Cooldown is designed to give you perspective and reset your default online behaviour so that you can increase the *quality time* you spend online.
It does not matter whether you spend 9 hours on the internet a day after the course. What matters is whether what you’re doing is adds value to your life and you feel in control of what you’re doing.
The focus is on self-knowledge - not arbitrary screen time limits. Time-restriction is a method for gaining self-knowledge. It's also useful for clearing up time when you're on a deadline or a project. But it’s not an end-in-itself. That’s why the detox part is only 7 days. It’s enough time to give you an insight into your own behaviour and help you change it.
Should I give up my smartphone?
No. Keep it. The goal is to continue to own a smartphone while being in control of your online behaviour. Some people do eventually give up their smartphones in favour of a basic mobile. If it works and improves your wellbeing/productivity, fine. But it’s *not* something I recommend, especially in the long term.
The reasons you may want to repeat a certain behaviour isn’t necessarily going to go away with your smartphone. You may just end up spending more time on your laptop instead. So we need to take a holistic look to our ‘digital diet’ that goes beyond smartphones and address our emotional drivers.
There are many ways of changing your settings to make your phone less disruptive, you can always delete apps and there are useful tools to help you regulate your smartphone use. Anyway, you can turn your smartphone into a normal phone just by turning off the wifi and data (or just not buy a package with data included).