Tech Fasting

"I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency."

I once spent about 10 days fasting. Everyone has an opinion about fasting. Fasting is the magic cure for all your problems. Fasting is for Silicon Valley "life hackers". Fasting is for Joe Rogan or Gwyneth cultists. Fasting is trendy.

Except fasting is nothing new. Many interesting people believed in the virtues of fasting, including Plato, Socrates, St. Augustine, Muhammad, Gandhi, and Nietzche. It's a practice that goes back in time, like, all the way back.

Me? I didn't fast because of a grindset mentality or because it's healthy. I fasted to see if I could do it, yep… It felt great, though. I still remember the first bite of mango I had after my fast; it was the most delicious sweet and acidic morsel of food I've ever put in my mouth.

But let's forget about food and drink. What about the things we put in our minds? As far as I can tell, most people are worried about what they eat, but people will literally "eat" any type of content that comes their way.

The side effects of Doomscrolling

This is a confusing time to be alive, but one thing is clear, tech is intertwined with our life in a way that would seem unimaginable to your great-grandma. How strange that a large part of our lives is about dealing with ghostly digital entities. Is doctormonkee even a real person? Is the YouTube algorithm a tiny cartoon demon sitting on my shoulder nudging me to watch more videos?

As I reflected on this strange new world, I jotted down some observations that to help me understand what's going on, as presented below:

  1. One trillion emails and notifications can't all be that urgent
  2. I probably didn't need to buy that really nice looking frying pan
  3. Tweeting about Global Warming 5 days a week is not helping (maybe it's polluting more than anything)
  4. It seems like everyone is traveling to amazing places except me
  5. I should probably stop watching so many Tiktok videos
  6. Arguing with doctormonkee37 on Twitter didn't really add anything to my life
  7. That tweet I was really proud of got zero likes
  8. We all pop out our phones like a pacifier
  9. This guy traveling next to me doesn't need 2 phones, an iPad, a laptop, AirPods, and a pair of Apple Headphones
  10. Italians ARE mad at food
  11. Watching YouTube videos at 3AM is probably not helping me sleep
  12. That new pair of special edition Air Force One's won't fill the void in my soul (the last ones didn't either, no reason to believe this one will)
  13. Why is looking at my phone the first thing I do in the morning?
  14. Huh. I guess New York City isn't an abandoned post-Covid Mad Max hellhole after all

Reflecting on all these peculiar observations made me feel like I needed to disconnect soon. What would a "Technology Fast" do to me? I was putting way more TikTok candy into the system than I probably should, so I began a journey to answer this question. I would leave all my tech behind for approximately 10 days and. What follows is my report of what I experienced.

The Fast

I was going on a trip, the perfect opportunity to unplug 100%. I had one rule:Be In Reality.I wasn't going for the "be in the moment" vibe, which is a cliched western interpretation of many non-western philosophies. I wanted to simply avoid being pulled into rabbit holes of information. This meant I would leave behind all technology that took me out of my tangible physical reality and the immediate moment. No phone, no camera, no iPad. No digital media, games, or anything of the sort.

It took a while for the shift to happen. The first day or two, I still wanted to pull out my phone every time I was slightly bored. Slowly my mind became more calm and spacious. I had a few realizations, which I share below:

We are being stuffed with content. Once I plugged back in, it was easy to see that maybe 99% of the content pushed to me was garbage. You don't need to know about every strange happening in Florida or whenever the President does something funny. In short, you don't need to know everything.

I'm not suggesting that ignorance is good or that you should live inside an echo chamber. But you can be more intentional about what you consume. There's trash content, thirsty for your attention. There's content that appears informational but only provides you an avenue for outrage. And finally, there are things that matter—focus on those.

You are the content you eat Just like that one time I ate a whole pizza and felt terrible afterward. I saw that the media I was consuming had a considerable impact on my well-being. You might be happily strolling through your day when all of a sudden, a panicking news article pops into your feed. You're welcome, anxious for the rest of your day.

Many emotional states are triggered by forces that you might not have opted into. Of course, you can't control everything that happens to you, but this is one thing you can actually control.

**You don't need to have an opinion on every topic. ** As far as I can tell, nowadays we all have hot takes on every subject. More often than not, those opinions are just talking points we hear and repeat like parrots.

We are glued to our phones, news pipe in, we hear the correct hot takes and share them as if just having opinions was a kind of activism. It's cathartic, but what good comes out of this?

I'm not saying you shouldn't care about what's going on. I just think it's important to reflect on how our opinions are formed and whether engaging in things we are barely knowledgeable about is worthwhile.

Baby Steps

I suppose you could read all this and say, sure, but I can't be as ridiculous as you and leave my phone behind for 7 days. I suppose you could disagree with all my conclusions, but one thing you could do is try it for yourself. I have slowly allowed things to creep back in. For example, I'm very active on Twitter, but I try to unplug most weekends. It's easier than ever to do this (check out this neat little app: Opal).

We all know how annoying those people who announce they are quitting social media only to return a few weeks later are. You just need to start being more intentional about what you consume.

People inevitably ask me why I don't like their photos anymore; I say, "I rarely use social media." It's a shame they say, "You had really nice pictures" they say, "Yes," I tell them, "I still do."

More information on the side effects of constant engagement with tech

Makes the Trivial seem Urgent
According to the Center for Humane technology, alerts hijack our brain and make things like “Jesse liked your photo” urgent and important information that becomes your top priority. (How Social Media Hacks Our Brains, Center for Humane Technology)

Hijacks your Desire:
In the book Capitalism and Desire, Todd McGowan makes argues that our economic system uses your natural desire to present us with opportunities for fulfillment that can never truly satisfy us. I’d say tech is a superhighway to showcase and personalize these opportunities and remind you of all the things that if you had them would make you “whole”. (Capitalism and Desire, Todd McGowan)

**Produces Anxiety: **
A study found that people who consumed newscasts were more likely to report anxiety (Bodas et al., 2015). But, you don’t need a scientist to tell you it’s unhealthy to be glued to your screen while engaging on flame wars in Twitter threads.

Constant Comparison
Teens have reported lower self-esteem as they “upwardly” compare themselves on social media. (Monroe, 2019)

Sleep problems
There’s evidence that using light-emitting tech has negative impacts on your sleep. (Chang et al., 2015)

Poor posture
Sigh.. Even your posture, looking down at your phone puts a strain on your neck and spine. ([Applied Ergonomics], 2017)

Tagged: Philosophy · Tech