After an especially rough Thursday of 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. classes, the very last thing I want to do is homework.
In the past, I would lie down and let my brain rot to the sweet sound of YouTube video documentaries or dozens of Instagram posts, but when I finally shook myself from my stupor I felt not only more tired, but mad at myself on top of it! Though we as humans have always sought new and more effective ways to distract ourselves from work, pain, and the drudgery of daily life, it has increasingly felt as if our distractions are becoming maladaptive.
While seeking mindfulness about my own thoughts and emotions, I’ve found that my response to using YouTube Shorts or Instagram Reels is only negative. Though I go to these distractions to unwind and recharge after spending my energy all day, I always seem to come out of the experience more drained and less motivated than when I started. Though many are quick to blame short-form content, which certainly deserves some of its infamy, I also tend to experience similar reactions to watching longer videos or TV, or even playing video games.
After realizing this, and suffering from the consequences of my own actions for long enough, I decided to run an experiment where I tested what two weeks would look like without any digital entertainment — no social media, no YouTube, and no video games.
Practically, this looked like deleting unwanted apps from my phone and blocking the same websites on my browser. This small step made a big difference in my leisure time — you can’t waste time on what’s simply not there.
However, as anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows, you can’t just take away the junk — you also need to replace it with something better to fill you up. Following this principle, I replaced my screen time with better leisure time activities. These included:
Talking with my suitemates
Exercising or stretching
Practicing German on Duolingo, and, surprisingly,
I had never been a nap person before, but now as I lay in bed around 3 p.m. listening to instrumental music (because I wasn’t watching YouTube) I often began to fall asleep. An hour later, I would wake up feeling refreshed, positive, and ready to do good work. This change in habit was especially profound to me because it revealed that I was actually physically tired, and needed to recharge instead of distracting myself.
Apart from taking more naps, another side effect of improving the quality of my leisure time activities was becoming more productive — but that’s not the point! Hustle and burnout culture is what pushed me into the hole of short-form content in the first place, as I would come back from classes, extracurriculars, work and everything else too exhausted to consider making good choices.
More importantly, this experiment boosted my well-being in tangible ways. Because I wasn’t watching YouTube at night, I naturally avoided blue light before bedtime, improving my sleep quality. I talked more to my suitemates, strengthening our relationships and making me happier (they’re fun people to be around). I got a head start on my GER151 class because of the work I did in Duolingo, and reading Lord of the Rings repeatedly refreshed my mind while journeying through Middle-Earth.
All of the benefits I’ve experienced have changed what I think about leisure time. Now that I’ve actually done it, I believe that I really can live without constant tech distracting me. Now, I believe that I can make my life better by abstaining from it. Now, I have better responses to depletion of my mind, body, and spirit.
Is my mind tired of working? I let it rest by working out or following Frodo for a chapter of his adventure. Is my body exhausted by a full day of movement? I sleep and eat a piece of fruit. Is my spirit dragged down by the mundane? I listen to worship music, read Scripture, and journal about what God is teaching me.
I know all this seems a little trite, but I think we already know what to do. It’s just a matter of taking that step, having restraint, and doing what you know will make you more energized, more happy, and more like who you want to be.
During my two weeks, when I was the closest to falling into temptation and just turning my brain off, what kept me back was thinking of the future me. What kind of person would this choice make me?
George Eastman, the entrepreneur responsible for popular photography via the Eastman Kodak Company, worked a lot in his career. Nevertheless, he found that “what we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.”
What kind of person are your leisure activities making you?
After my two-week experiment, I decided to continue my life without digital entertainment. I’m not a Luddite; I listen to music and text my family — but my days of doom scrolling are behind me, for good. As of the publication of this article, I’m continuing without social media, YouTube, TV, or video games.
My two weeks taught me a lot, but that might seem like a long time. If you’re reading this as someone who regularly uses digital entertainment for leisure purposes, I challenge you to one week without it.
Find leisure activities you want to start like reading, exercising, journaling, or hanging out with friends more. Replace your scrolling with pursuits that bias you toward your ideal self, and you might just find yourself looking a bit more like that ideal.