“Hi, my name is Toni and Instagram is taking up too much time in my life.” This was how I introduced myself at Digital dependence, a data detox workshop.
I found it semi-comical that I introduced myself in that way. I almost felt that I was parodying people who suffer with real addiction as I sat around a table with 10 strangers and an academic in a safe space near London Bridge. Dr Zeena Feldman, a lecturer in digital culture at King’s College London, leads a project called Quitting Social Media and was facilitating the workshop that would take us through six steps to identify and curb our addictions to connection.
We discovered that in the 10 of us in the group we had two outliers: one person who didn’t have a smartphone and another who wasn’t on any social media platforms, apart from a YouTube addiction.
Feldman pointed out how ubiquitously connected we are to our smartphones and the internet by quoting statistics from surveys.
According to the Communications Market Report 2018 by Ofcom, Britons spend on average two hours and 28 minutes per day online on their smartphones and there is a positive correlation between social media use and anxiety.
The first step, Discovery, was a simple how-to on clearing your browser history and looking up defunct webpages with Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
Step two, Google World, enlightened me as to just how much Google knows about my life. Go to https://.myactivity.google.com/myactivity to see where you have been and what you have searched for in the Googlesphere and https://myaccount.google.com/privacycheckup to review and amend your privacy settings. Also, http://adssettings.google.com will show you how Google segments you by age, gender, location and interests. I found myself going over my web history mentally wondering what I had done to make the web behemoth think I liked cricket.
On Social Media was the third step, where we went on to Facebook to see how exposed or tight-lipped we were on that platform. No worries on the Facebook front, my account has been deactivated since March.
In step four, all about Searching and Surfing, we learnt that using web browsers in incognito mode does not make you anonymous and that by using Panopticlick we can find out to what extent our browsers are keep us safe against tracking.
At step five, we were advised to change the name of our smartphones from the default "John Smith’s phone" to something that does not give our names away to anyone in the vicinity and, in the final step, I was warned that the 80-plus apps on my phone mean that I have very high exposure to third parties. Perhaps it’s time I deleted a pane or two of unused apps.
So, am I addicted to dishing out my data? Probably. But I have accepted I have a problem and I am starting to change my behaviour. Mozilla Firefox is my default browser and DuckDuckGo is my go-to search engine.
Feldman said the 8-Day Data Detox by the Tactical Technology Collective is for those who are ready for the next step. I’m not quite there yet. Give me a couple of months.