The Blackout Week Challenge: 7 Days to Beat Your Cyber Addiction
A while ago I discovered something that might have been a no-brainer to most people: I hate Facebook. Now, I’m not saying that to condemn the social networking site. It’s well designed and does actually serve a useful purpose, which is to keep friends and family connected. But at its worst, Facebook is a virtual high school, prone to unnecessary drama, uneducated arguments, rampant advertising and is one of the biggest time wasters on the internet. I’ve known all of this for some time, but I kept coming back so I could contact family, play a select few games that I enjoyed and network with a group of people trying to revive a show I like. But it came to a head when I got into a political argument with someone who wasn’t even on my friends list. He was a friend of a friend and the argument occurred on that common friend’s page. It was a stupid conflict, prompted by a silly little cartoon, but by the end of it I hated this guy and I hated myself.
I try to walk away from most confrontations because it causes more stress than it’s worth, but by engaging in this one, I had seen a side of myself that I didn’t wish to see again. I didn’t want to be someone who started and/or participated in these kinds of heated arguments, especially not on Facebook, where I’m supposed to be coming to relax. And that’s really the core of what I realized; Facebook was causing more stress than it was relief, so why did I keep using it? It’s kind of like that moment where you realize you’re in a bad relationship with another person and you have to cut ties or risk losing yourself. At that moment I seriously considered leaving the site altogether, but the benefits I mentioned above gave me pause. So instead I decided to participate in what I called a ‘blackout week’. Essentially I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t use Facebook for seven full days, no matter how much I might want to.
Now you might be asking yourself, what is the point of swearing off Facebook, or anything, for seven days if you’re just going to come back to it after the challenge is over? And the answer is perspective. I wasn’t doing it to make a statement, and I wasn’t doing it to punish myself, I was doing it because I wanted to see if I could survive without it. And that’s what I mean by beating your cyber addiction; proving that it doesn’t have such a strong hold of you that you can’t live without it for a week. What I discovered was that not only could I survive without it, but I was more productive and generally happier during those seven days. It also helped me realize which aspects of Facebook were actually useful to me, prompting me to give up certain games and other time wasters when I came back.
Living in the technology age, we have a tendency to rely on various devices and websites to get through our day. This has become so integrated that many people have come to say they can’t live without their cell phones or live without their television. But people have been living without these things for thousands of years, why is our generation so weak that we can’t function without them?
Participating in the Challenge
Identify what you want to give up for seven days. Generally, it should be something that is causing you unnecessary stress, or something that you think you can’t live without. There is a great quote Yoda said in one of the Star Wars movies that goes “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” He was referring to loved ones, but I’m referring to our dependence on technology. Below are some examples of things you might try giving up, but remember, pick something that is causing stress or is wasting time where you could be doing something more productive.
- Social Networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, Pinterest, Google+, Twitter, etc.)
- Smart Phone/Cell Phone/Tablet/Television/Computer
- Specific Websites (Memebase, Reddit, YouTube, PornHub (yes, I said porn hub), etc.)
- MMO Video Games (World of Warcraft, The Old Republic, Runescape, etc.)
- This could also be applied to non-technology things such as: (Alcohol, junk food, coffee, cigarettes, etc.)
Make preparations so that the blackout week won’t interfere with important things. For example, if you’re expecting a business to call you about a job, that might not be a good week to give up your cell phone. Or, if you are coordinating an event with friends on a social network, that might also be a bad week to give up Facebook. It helps to tell people you’re going to do this so that if they try to contact you, and can’t, they will know why and not panic. If you have friends who would deliberately try to derail your progress, however, then try to do it on a slow week and leave certain people out of the information loop.
Exceptions to the rule. If you’ve sworn off of a website, for example, and you happen to glance over someone’s shoulder and see that website, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed the challenge. That was something out of your control. The whole point of the blackout week is to prevent you from seeking out and using these things. Now, if you sat down at your friend’s computer and started to use the website, then that would be a failure because you engaged it. Similarly, if someone tells you that it is very important you turn on your phone in order to get a serious phone call, then that wouldn’t be a failure either, so long as you turned it off after that call. Important, real-life events will always trump the challenge.
What to do in the meantime. You may find that you have a lot of time on your hands without your go-to addiction. This is a good thing. Think of all the stuff you’ve wanted to do over the past few months, but couldn’t because you didn’t have time. Things like reading a book, finishing a hobby project, cleaning your house, or visiting family/friends you haven’t seen in a while. Use this as an opportunity to do all the things you say you can’t do.
Ultimately how the blackout week helps you may be different than how it helped me. I viewed it as more of a vacation than a treatment for an addiction, but after doing it, it really helped me put in perspective what was a waste of time and what wasn’t. Hopefully it can reveal at least that much for you as well.