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Silence on social; how tuning out and scaling back my digital world gave me the space to live more fully

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Anna Brech

Could the boredom and slowness of a pre-digital era actually be good for us? Stylist.co.uk writer Anna Brech looks at how tuning out has helped her create thinking space in an age where instant news rules.  

I grew up in a house with no TV, so my tolerance for boredom has always been huge.

As I languished in a pop cultural hinterland – Drew’s tragic horse death left me cold and I had some vague notion that Ross ‘n Rachel was a chat show – a dormant personality trait slowly took shape.

Even as I berated my hippie parents for living in a place where no light switch ever worked and The Archers was considered the height of entertainment, I began to find comfort in monotony.

And with this came a quiet aversion to anything too technically sophisticated.

Fast forward 20 years and I am now the proud owner of my own TV. I’ve also carved out a career as a digital native journalist.

But my ambivalence towards the noise of digital continues, not least with the prospect of the new Apple Pay service.

It’s no doubt slick and brilliant. 

I can’t help feeling dismayed, however, by the way in which it feeds a relentless 24-7 digital culture that is as vital and inescapable as life itself.

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Anna's childhood; a digital-free zone

From instant email to social media and the world of apps, the cacophony of digital is deafening.

It chips away at every last moment of our so-called lives, from sleep to work and holidays.

But instead of turning down the volume on this marauding digi monster, most of us pitch ourselves headlong into its hungry jaws.

We wear our addiction to email like a badge of honour. Anyone worth their LinkedIn salt checks their email first thing, before brushing their teeth or even leaving the bed.

A catch-up drink with friends takes place amid a backdrop of compulsive scrolling, tapping and handbag-dipping for our phones.

Heading abroad? Getting away from it all now means we won’t see the beach for the Insta-fodder.

And when a development like Apple Pay comes along to facilitate this ever-burgeoning digital nirvana, we pounce on it with all the frenzied thirst of Kimmy K on Instagram.

Life beyond computers

Life beyond phones = not a bad prospect

Amid the relentless churn of this instant me-me-me now tidal wave and the pressure to be constantly ‘on’, I crave the space and boredom of my childhood.

With six brothers and sisters, things were hardly quiet – but at least the chaos was real, and flawed. Not intangible, Photoshopped and unbearably everywhere.

As a digital journalist, all these platforms and developments are my life source and I seize on them. But in my personal life, I slam on the breaks.

I’m not on WhatsApp, I only joined Instagram two weeks ago (for work), and I can count on two hands the amount of times I posted to Facebook since I joined in 2007. One of my favourite things to do is go for a day-long pub walk, with my phone left firmly at home. I'm basically my mum. 

Friends mock me but it’s my way of carving out the room to breathe in an increasingly loud and obnoxious digital sphere.

And it doesn’t mean I’m not in touch. In fact, my job means that I have to be.

I’m just choosing how and when information comes through to me. If people need to get hold of me, they can text. If breaking news happens when I’m offline, I can (and do) tune in to cover it. I do have work email on my phone, but I'm very strict about when I log-in to read it (only in emergencies). 

There’s a general assumption that if you tune out or scale back in this way, things will fall apart or you’ll somehow miss out. I can tell you now, it’s simply not true.

What you will do is reclaim control. 

Head space; a valuable commodity

Head space; a valuable commodity

The unfiltered normality and boringness of life as it once was is something that I think we need, and that we struggle without.

It’s no coincidence that more and more of us a seeking out a simple life, with a shift towards minimalist living, the countryside and doing instead of having.

Digital is running riot on our lives and we don’t even realise it.

I’m not saying the dawn of social media, apps and on-demand services is a bad thing. Clearly, it’s worked wonders for the world in many different and fabulous ways.

But it’s also a maelstrom, by its very nature intense and unpredictable.  We need to push back, before it envelops us completely.

By tuning out more often, we can making a move to be on top of this brave new world – instead of it being on top of us.

Photos: ThinkStock

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