I gobble data. And because I work in digital marketing, I’m a heavy user of technology. Still, when my sister gave me the heads-up that my dad wanted to have “the talk”—to suggest that my husband and I find our own cell phone plan—I was shocked.
“I can do better!” I assured my dad when we talked later. In fact, this data intervention was coming at a good time. I knew I needed a breath from the onslaught of negativity and outrage online. I wanted—and needed—to pull back from my phone and technology in general.
There was no grand strategy for balance, no seven-point plan for detoxing. I didn't even go cold turkey. My job makes that impossible. Instead, I made a few small, simple changes for a short period of time:
First, I temporarily switched off the data capabilities on my phone. I wanted to prove I could rely on Wi-Fi and use less data. I could still call and text, but I’d have to intentionally reactivate my data to use certain apps like social media or the internet. Next, I logged out of Facebook so I’d have to sign back in to return. And finally, I just closed my laptop and put away my phone. Sometimes. My “family data intervention” took place over Thanksgiving, so I focused on staying present during the holiday. Then, I shut my computer for a whole Sunday, a technology Sabbath of sorts.
I shut my computer for a whole Sunday, a technology Sabbath of sorts.
These three simple decisions seemed pretty painless for a temporary break. Still, even such minor adjustments taught me a lot about the role of technology in my day-to-day. There were a few key takeaways:
The big lesson right away was recognizing just how often I mindlessly grabbed my phone. The absolute best part of turning off my data was regaining conscious decision-making. Do I want to scroll through Instagram while my kids buckle their seatbelts or do I want to ask them about their day at school? Sometimes I chose the latter. And sometimes—when my patience was wearing thin—I chose to turn the data back on and return to scrolling. The point wasn’t that I didn’t use technology. For me, the real eye-opener was that I started choosing how I wanted to live out my values and spend my time.
We can all find small ways to find our breath in a world of constant notifications.
Another surprise was the pressure I had felt to be online all the time. When I was young, there was a popular Christian T-shirt with the picture of a tiny fish swimming upstream. Never have I felt more like that fish than when I took a step back from social media. In fact, Facebook itself started putting on the screws, sending me emails like, “Hey Sarah, your former middle school classmate just shared a photo!” When I logged in after a couple days, one notification read, “Your friend is waiting to hear your response about what she posted on your timeline.” No she wasn’t—I’d already seen her in real life.
Finally, I was surprised at my own guilt about retreating from the online world. I am passionate about staying engaged in issues close to my heart, and stepping back felt as if I was no longer involved. However, a conversation with a wise friend reminded me that when we are seeking to live a life that builds bridges across divides—a life that demonstrates Christ’s love—recharging is a vital practice so we can engage our God-given work.
Technology is a tool, and we have the opportunity to adjust its role in our life so we can be our most fully engaged self when it is most important. We cannot deny the real challenge of technology’s siren call, but we are not slaves to it. And even if long-term fasts aren’t an option, we can all find small ways to find our breath in a world of constant notifications. It’s not easy—I’m still working on it. I’m trying my best to stay mindful of opportunities to reinstate these temporary breaks when I can. The result of those efforts? I’ve noticed it’s really, truly possible to live with less data. And for now, my family is letting me stay on our phone plan.
Illustration by Jeff Gregory