Living the virtual life

Week 4: Unplug – I will turn off all my usual digital notifications.

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Of all the challenges this month, this one, I thought would be the easiest. Turning off my digital notifications would be no big thing. If people really needed me in an emergency they would call and would the earth really stop revolving if I did not answer a Whatsapp or text within 5 minutes? After all, no one else I knew did! Also, I am fortunate in that when I am not at work I don’t need to check my emails and so the likelihood of missing something of importance with an immediate deadline was pretty low. To top it off, notifications can get pretty annoying. My husband has one app that buzzes endlessly as it sends him up-to-date football scores of seemingly every game played anywhere in the world. I have never been a football fan and now…

How’d it go?

Well… it started off well. Along with turning off my notifications, I also decided to try and leave my phone at an inconvenient distance away from where I was spending the most of my time. Being a little bit lazy, the additional effort involved in having to get up would hopefully act as a further deterrent to me just ‘checking in’ to see if anything new had come in. Doing things this way, I did miss the odd annoying thing; my husband suggesting a take-away which I did not see until after I had slaved away in the kitchen, an impromptu play-date with my neighbour, but in the main, it was good.

However, as the week wore on, I realised my phone had magically relocated itself back into easy reach. So instead of joining in with my toddler as he built a castle out of the sofa cushions, I would sit there working my way through my Facebook feed while offering random sounds of encouragement. Instead of enjoying being outside in the sun as I pushed my daughter’s pram, I was back to scanning through news articles. Instead of talking to my husband about his day, I would chat on Whatsapp to my friends about theirs and then later berate him for being on his computer once we had all caught up!

Now... that sounds a little bit worse than it hopefully is but it’s not far off and you get the idea. Whenever I had a spare moment, the phone came out, despite, or maybe because of, having the notifications off, and as a result the majority of my chores, ideas or unexpected free minutes in the day were pushed aside by my mindless, compulsive, browsing on my phone. No wonder nothing got accomplished and my days felt wasted.

If I had to hazard a guess as to what drives my near obsessive need to always be interacting on my phone, it seems a bit extreme, but I do think it has its roots in fear. It is a way of hiding from reality, of not having to fully interact with ‘my’ now as I am too busy observing the ‘now’ of others. It’s keeping myself in my current safe zone by using up the time I could otherwise use to try and break-out. Basically… it’s an exercise in mass avoidance.

Moving forward.

This is one challenge that I am most definitely going to keep up. I realise things don’t change overnight… you first have to see the problem before you can fix it, and that is exactly what this challenge has enabled me to do by removing, ever so breifly, the distraction that is my phone



I currently live in London but having been born in Canada, lived in Nigeria until my early teens and schooled in Scotland, if you ask me where I am from, I will struggle for a quick answer. I am an excellent self-saboteur and use humour and a practiced laissez-faire attitude as a shield to having to address difficult situations properly. The ‘Great Wake Up’ is me, finally trying to step clear of my overdeveloped protective mechanisms, and to start to interact as closely and honestly to life around me and enjoy myself whilst doing so.


Go to the profile of Ellen Rowlands
over 5 years ago
Great to hear you're going to keep this up. It's terrible that our generation now sit scrolling through feeds, rather than engaging!
Go to the profile of Jobeda Khanum
over 5 years ago
...really enjoying all your blog posts to date...this one real resonates, I was recently at a friend's dinner party and there was a point everyone looked at their phone, and I had to grab mine otherwise find myself left out of the 'we are doing something useful'! I don't have a facebook account, and am extremely selective / sloppy on text & WhatsApp (and I am not offended if someone replies weeks later...but I do like to know they are still alive and well). I remember a NESTA conference (maybe 2006/8?) where the social media panel chaired by Stephen Fry (at the time a real figurehead for twitter) was asked by an audience member 'what can they do for better family chat when at home everyone is on their ipad / lap top / smart phone but as a family they don't really chat let alone 'connect'? Well, the panel noted all the questions thrown out at them...and this one did not even get any air time, of course they ran out of time. I do not have any answers to this question, but I know this, that life is better in person and I think we all know this really deep down...