The 11-Step Tech Detox

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As Lifehacker’s senior technology writer, I’m glued to a screen for most of my day. I’d love to just throw all my gadgets into a drawer and lock them up for a week, but that would be impractical for my job. I would also have no idea how to get anywhere (as I’m pretty directionally challenged without a maps app leading the way).

The simplest way to reduce tech from your life is to quit your devices cold turkey, but that’s tough to do. You’ll hear no argument from me on that one. While major device manufacturers are starting to wise up and offer you a little help (Android / iPhone), there are some other techniques you can try to distract yourself from your devices.

Shut down Windows 10 the right way

Before we get started with the activities, here’s a quick reminder that there’s an even better way to power down your Windows PC than you’re probably using right now. Will this make you less likely to turn your system back on? No. Is it a little trick you should file away in your “things I set up in every new installation of Windows” mental folder? Yes.

Turn off your devices’ lights for better sleep

And while we’re at it, let’s talk about all those annoying lights on the devices you aren’t using. That includes your smartphone’s wireless charger; your audio receiver; that irritating “I’m ready for you to watch me” standby light on your television; your router. You might want to use these devices less, and even if you succeed in doing so, their very presence is still going to annoy you with all that brightness and blinking. Fix that.

Stop getting bothered on your phone

While it’s easy(ish) to put your phone down and enjoy a carefree day that’s free of technology and annoying notifications, it’s trickier to do so when some shitty insurance scam is trying to hit you up every two hours.

Apple is taking the fight to robocallers in iOS 13, which includes an incredible feature that lets you send all unknown callers directly to voicemail. (I turned it on the second I started using the iOS 13 developer beta, and I love it so much.) If you’re an Android user, or you’re just lazy, you can throw down some other safeguards against your free time and make it a lot more difficult for your smartphone to remind you that it exists. You are trying to use it less, correct?

Sell your gadgets and live like a happy hermit

The best way to take our “analogue week” concept and apply it to your everyday life is to simply sell that which gives you grief. I won’t invoke you-know-who’s name, but I bet it would bring you great joy to know that you can’t waste hours playing Candy Crush when you no longer own a tablet or smartphone.

Delete your accounts

If selling your stuff is too difficult, you can always take other steps to reduce your reliance on all things tech. The pros? You’ll be able to live a more private life, with fewer companies spying on everything you do and fewer annoying “friends” pestering you with mundane social updates. The cons? You’ll actually have to engage with real people in the real world to hear what they’re up to. Oh, and you might get lost a lot more—if you’re swearing off services like your favourite mapping app, for example.

Get offline and clean your gear 

One good way to start weaning yourself off your devices is to spend your time getting them looking pretty, shiny, and dust-free. You’ll have the same thrill of using your computer or smartphone—sort-of—but you won’t be sitting in front of your desk. You’ll be doing something productive, even if it’s only benefitting the very thing that you’re trying to spend less time using. I’d rather spend my day building computers than typing on them, but that’s just me.

If you’re upgrading your desktop PC, you’ll invariably have to use it to research what to buy and how to install it. So, yes, that’s not really “analogue” in the truest sense of the word. However, you’ll be learning a valuable skill that could then translate into a fun hobby or lucrative career (potentially).

At the very least, you might build up your skills enough that you can dremel out a really badass desktop PC, themed to whatever your favourite geeky thing happens to be. And if not, at least you’ll feel a lot more comfortable troubleshooting your system’s hardware the next time something goes wrong. Doing that is ten times more valuable than wasting away the day on YouTube.

Instead of video games, try board games

I do love me some Diablo, but I’d stop clicking my mouse all night long in a second if I could fire up a board game instead. I love board games. I just don’t have many friends who are interested—hence why my poor copy of the World of Warcraft board game continues to collect dust under my bed, and my World of Warcraft MMO character grinds out daily quests.

If you, unlike me, have friends, then a great way to be social, have fun, and get your gaming fix is to play board games together. You’ll have the same incredible adventures and fun as if you were playing a video game, but you won’t be stuck staring a screen with a headset on—getting obliterated by some anonymous teenager. You’ll joke with your friends. You’ll build memories. You’ll realise you’ve been playing the game completely wrong the for the past five hours. Things like that.

And unless you’re using your smartphone to track your Munchkin level—I do—you probably won’t have any urge whatsoever to run off to Facebook and see what’s going on elsewhere.

Skip music streaming and go old-school

Remember CDs? DVDs? I have a few sitting in one of my bookcases, and... they feel kind of dorky. At least, I never really thought of them as “collector’s items,” more the things you find under the seat of your car during the deep cleaning you give it every three years.

Thankfully, they’ve been replaced by music streaming services, which are convenient AF (even though all the media I consume—video games, movies, music—is probably going to cost me a monthly payment someday). However, I’ve started to discover a love of vinyl records, and they’re a great distraction from all things Spotify when I just want to sit back, relax, and not have to interface with a screen to make music happen.

And you know what else I love about vinyls? They’re hefty. They take up space. You can stuff them in a frame and stash them on the wall of your geek den, if you’re so inclined. You can show off a collection; you can’t collect a streaming song, and sharing a playlist over a text message couldn’t be any less exciting. Get yourself a decent record player, grab a vinyl, and dim the lights a little bit. Spend the next hour enjoying zero responsibilities. All the streaming in the world doesn’t get better than that.

Pay someone to escape from a “locked” room

I’m terrible at puzzles. Truly terrible. I think it’s because I don’t have much patience, and I get easily frustrated when there’s an obvious solution that I’m just not seeing. So when I went to my first-ever escape room last month, I was a bit, “Why am I paying for this?”

As it turns out, I had a great time. First off, the room “rules” required all participants to surrender their smartphones upon entering. Already, a forced “analogue week” was in effect—to put it in Lifehacker terms. Second, the escape room was super-geeky. The puzzles were a good mix of clever and fun, and I was blown away when a hidden door sprung open to reveal an entirely new section of room to escape from (as well as a giant ticking time bomb) when my team of smarties completed one particular puzzle.

I had a blast in my first trip to an escape room—not literally, since we made it out—and I urge you to give these a shot, so long as you do your research and find a local one that comes highly rated by other puzzle aficionados. Bonus points if you have friends who have already escaped (or perished) and can recommend some uber-geeky ones for you to try.

Also on my list—pub trivia. Since you have to put your phone away or else the team sitting next to you is going to punch you for looking like you’re cheating, it’s a great way to force yourself offline for a good stretch of time. Pack enough trivia nights into the week, and you’ll definitely wean yourself off your device; you might even learn something, too.

Buy your first bag of dice

While we can all be very, very excited about the new Baldur’s Gate game that’s on its way—except for that poor guy in the trailer who probably isn’t as thrilled—taking a temporary break from all things electronic gives you ample time to learn the greatest geeky hobby of them all. No, not soldering. Dungeons & Dragons.

Is it geeky? Absolutely. Will you have a blast playing it? It’s possible. At the very least, you’ll be getting your adventuring fix without staring at your screen for hours playing an isometric RPG (or watching people play D&D on Twitch). You might even make some new friends that you can have real-world adventures with.

Even if you don’t want to jump right into the deep end of D&D, there are plenty of other ways to get started in the wide world of roleplaying games. You can even fire up a quick, simple game at lunch, if you don’t mind adventuring while chewing. Isn’t that a lot more fun than watching your friends or colleagues pick at their food and stare at their phones, or spending your lunchtime with a random YouTube channel?

Distract yourself with a more time-consuming hobby, like writing

One of the best ways to pull yourself out of the digital world is to find a passion for a new hobby. I recommend trying out something as simple as writing. All you need is a pen, a journal, and a comfortable place to sit. Great handwriting helps too, but it’s not a necessity if you can read your own scribbles.

The tricky part is that writing is tough. It’s easy to get discouraged if you feel like you’re just churning out crap, and that’ll make your smartphone, laptop, or Netflix queue even more appealing. Resist the urge. The act of writing is easy to do, but actually writing something you can feel proud about is more difficult.

If you’re embarrassed about your writing chops, or you just want a little advice on technique, there are plenty of resources you can use to sharpen your skills. (Yes, that was a cliché you shouldn’t use.) And even if you find yourself turning to your computer (or tablet) to type—which is fine, since you’re using your device as a tool, not a distraction for the day—make sure you test out your writing app of choice before you start working on the next great American novel.

In fact, before you even type the first sentence of your next, best work, make sure you’ve unplugged from other unpleasant digital distractions as much as possible. You don’t want to waste daily pool of creativity on a Facebook conversation instead of a new chapter.


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