ATM | Logging Off 

I am addicted to my phone. I choke on those words but know them to be true. It’s hard not to be glued to a stream of messages, photos, opinions, memes. Devices that easily fit into the palm of my hand, where business and personal are completely intertwined: everything about them designed to capture time, attention, money. When things are tough, the scroll gets me through it. Easy hits of dopamine that make me feel like I’m doing something. Research? Connection? Relevance? Whatever it is that I believe it gives me, I know it takes even more away from me: time suddenly makes no sense, a minute becomes five hours and the next thing I know I can barely even sleep. I’m sure you can all relate. 

Our time is the most precious resource we have, so how do we protect it when our livelihoods and personal relationships rely on the very technologies that are mining it? It makes things that much more complicated. ATM sat down at the Soho House Toronto to hear from three women who have very unique experiences adapting to an online world that is always demanding something of them. 

Nike Onile, an artist and small space expert who runs 8OO SQ FT chose to stop producing online content for an entire year. Anupa Mistry, a writer, producer and host of the Burn Out podcast, left Twitter behind completely. Hima Batavia, a cultural producer, artist and co-founder of Reset, chooses to be a chronic deactivator. Each shared her own approach to mitigating the harm, while still enjoying the benefits that come with our interconnected world. 

The Good

“Through social media, you have the opportunity to claim space,” says Hima. “Even if there are barriers, you have the opportunity to create something that becomes eternal.” This is especially important for women of colour, who don’t have as many open doors through the systems that exist. Social media gives people who may not have access to mainstream resources a voice. The barriers to getting online are low and allow for an easy way to connect with people you may never have met. Being on Twitter in the early days helped Anupa build up her journalism career, giving her access to peers in New York City that she may not have met is based in Toronto. For Nike, the idea that she could self-direct her image and build her own platform was incredibly important. “I could touch my tribe and find my fan base, all on my own terms,” she said, “the fans could decide for themselves what they liked.” 

The Bad

With all the positives that the internet brings us, the constant connection has led to weird behaviours. We think we have a sense of closeness and know everything about the people we follow online. Nike experienced this first hand as some followers became entitled to knowing about her life, “people would get angry and offended when I didn’t post, saying they had no idea what I was working on at the time.” Everyone has a breaking point. For Anupa, it was while standing at Eglinton station as people rushed to get on with their lives that she realized just how little anyone cared about the [insert Twitter dramas] and 24/7 news cycle that seemed to be taking over her life. “I just kept thinking, what do I want to do when I’m 60? I had to stay true to my values and focus on producing quality over quantity. ” 

The body keeps the score

Anupa was overwhelmed by the echo chamber of validation she had created for herself online, she realized she felt disembodied from her own body and knew that she had to log off to heal herself. “I rediscovered time through yoga,” she explained, “the value of sitting with my feelings and energy, of being present inside my own body.” Nike’s body let her know right away when she wasn’t listening and she got really sick. Being constantly on display, on TV and online, meant she was building a brand around something she wasn’t sure she wanted to be known for. For her, she needed to log off to realign herself and after getting off social, she noticed that the language of her body became louder. She suddenly had the urge to ride her bike to the lake, jump into the water, felt a tingling in her hand that led her to take up pottery. Once the noise was gone, she could hear what her body was telling her. She reconnected with her senses instead of relying on her phone to satisfy herself. 

From tech-free to tech conscious

Attention is the main commodity on social media. The apps are designed to suck us in and keep us there. It’s up to us to decide how we use that time, online or off. Hima describes her journey with her phone as beginning to understand the value of her peace and what she’s willing to do to give up that peace. As co-founder of Reset, a tech-free adult summer camp, she’s learned that when there is a more fulfilling form of connection, the phone stands no chance. Time suddenly feels longer, the bad behaviours slowly slip away and remembering those motions can help you embody them moving forward. The final form is not going to be tech-free, it lives somewhere between the wants and the shoulds. How much time should you be spending online? How much time do you want to be spending online? The important part is finding the areas of your life that you can design. Where do you have the power to change things? There are things you can do now to make it just a little better:

Leave your phone somewhere else: Don't sleep with your phone in your room so that you can’t grab it first thing in the morning. Giving yourself that presence of mind when you wake up can change the course of your entire day.

Replace social media with what feels good and feeds your values: Sit and write in a journal, listen to a podcast, do a workout, watch a movie (with subtitles so you can’t look away!). 

Teach the people in your life to operate within your boundaries: Ask people for their preferred way of communicating and share yours. Set up a culture of no phones with some friends. Tell people what your expected response time is per platform. You know what your limits are, you’re allowed to set the tone. 

Be comfortable with consuming and not creating: You can be successful without having to show it online, especially if you are comfortable that opportunities and relationships will not pass you by. Sometimes you have to take a break and let go of the pressure of needing to show yourself or say something.

Question the technology: The platforms we use are not neutral, apps are designed just like slot machines at casinos, to suck you in and keep you there. Understanding the system is a first step in solving for it. Start here: when the product is free, the product is you. 

Written by: Maya Shoucair