How I Slowed Down Time with One Weird Experiment
“It’s only 9:30?” I said to my wife after a morning full of conversation, reading, and sipping coffee.
“Yes, it is weird, isn’t it,” she replied.
The oddities persisted all day – at 1:30, it felt like the sun should be going down shortly. And at 5 pm, it felt like it was more like 8 pm.
It was like time had slowed down. What was different?
Having just finished the book, Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, I decided to test out his hypothesis that we are all too distracted by our phones, the Internet, and social apps.
I didn’t feel like I was very distracted by these things – I thought they probably had a mild effect on me, but they were worth the distraction. I 100% believed that a digital detox wouldn’t impact me that much- but in the interest of improving my self-awareness, I wanted to give it a try.
So on Friday, I sent a few people I interact with regularly this message: “FYI – Tomorrow (Saturday) I’m going to have a technology-free day: no computers, no cell phones, no internet surfing, no texting.“
My 20-year-old son, who lives across town, wrote back, “I shall send smoke signals accompanied by pigeons.” The smart-ass doesn’t fall far from the tree.
So while Cal Newport didn’t expressly prescribe this 24-hour detox (he suggests a more extended period), I wanted some quick information about my current habits.
I was shocked: I was very, very wrong. I was constantly distracted by my devices. And those little, seemingly insignificant distractions added up to real time I was wasting.
Cutting out these few things had added an immense amount of time back to my day. You might think that it was boring – and that’s why time seemed to slow down, but it wasn’t at all. It was a productive day, full of reading interesting concepts, getting outside and splitting some firewood, having interesting conversations, and generally feeling much calmer and in control.
The other surprising thing was that only one of us did the experiment, me, and it had positive impacts for both my wife and me. She said, “It’s much easier to talk to you today.” Wow.
I did feel the pull throughout the day to check my texts, my email, and social media accounts. But they weren’t that hard to resist – I knew they’d be there tomorrow and I wouldn’t miss a thing.
Before the digital detox began, I had one exception: I am part of a 500 word-a-day writing challenge on the app ‘SPAR!’ and I needed to record a check-in video with my word count displayed. I had written over 700 words in my paper notebook earlier in the day. I enlisted the help of my wife to get my phone and open that app (so I wouldn’t see anything else), and I quickly recorded the video check-in. This quick check-in allowed me to maintain my near year-long daily writing streak.
The Biggest Challenge:
The biggest (and unexpected!) challenge came about 8pm. My wife and I were watching a TV show when suddenly the power went out, and we were sitting in the dark. We retrieved flashlights, and I wanted to grab my phone to see if the power company had posted an update for restoration. I’m signed up for text alerts – but of course, I couldn’t check my texts. The lack of information made me restless – I had a hard time maintaining focus on the book I had read effortlessly earlier in the day. I wanted information I knew was out there, but I couldn’t access it.
The next morning, I woke with the eager anticipation of seeing what gems awaited me on my phone. It was a similar feeling to being a kid waking up on Christmas morning.
However, my excitement was short-lived. I had 14 text messages, about 30 emails, and a couple of social media mentions. I responded to them all in about 15 minutes – and then it was back to normal.
Really? I trade hours of my day checking these various things – and it was all distilled into 15 minutes of responses this morning? WOW.
That’s how I learned to slow down the clock – put the phone down, keep email and social media closed – and be more intentional and disciplined about when I check them.
Today has been different – I’ve checked my phone, my email, and some key websites, but not nearly as often. I am okay with the tension of waiting – it will all be there for me when I decide to check.
If you’re like I was, and you think you’re not affected by these things, try a 24-hour challenge. No phone, no texts, no computers, no surfing. Set your own rules (and exceptions, if needed) and pick a day to try it.
You might be surprised how much time you spend. And learning the discipline of intentionality is powerful.
Remember, you’re in control of your devices. You get to choose.
I’d love to hear how it goes. Let me know! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.