Digital detox

I can name what I was missing in the days that I was plugged in through every orifice to the personalized, customized, hand-tailored social media apps that have taken over the World Wide Web.

What I was missing is this: “Major” by Todd Balf, “The Chronology of Water” by Lydia Yuknavitch, “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov, “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, “Blood Medicine” by Kathleen Sharp, “Isaac’s Storm” by Erik Larson, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey, “Cry, the Beloved Country” and “Too Late the Phalarope” by Alan Paton, “The Anti-Abortion Movemement and the Rise of the Religious Right” by Dallas Blanchard, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson, and “The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles — Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone,” translated by Paul Roche.

Instead of tweeting my meaningless opinions about guns and Republicans and death and taxes, instead of facebagging each of my wife’s latest oven creations, instead of slapping up new profile details on LinkedIn, and most time-devouringly of all, instead of tracking every single turn of the screw on Strava, I’ve pulled the needle out of my vein and been killing time the old-fashioned way, with books and bikes.

Don’t get me wrong. I still lurk for an hour a day on Facebag; no one kicks a habit that monstrous in a month or two. And I still suit up and blog. But hours and hours and hours out of my day have suddenly been freed, in no small part because every single social media app (can I call it S&M?) has been deleted. Gonna have some down time today, Mr. Davidson? Better bring a book …

Now for the down side

The sad fact is that the less I Strava, the less I ride. Something about being strapped to that particular digital bull means more saddle time. Call it peer pressure, or the self-reinforcing nature of surrounding yourself with similarly minded addicts, or the S&M (that’s “social and media,” right?) pleasure of watching trinkets and trophies and numbers and statistics multiply, Strava converts desire to pedal strokes.

In the same way that counting calories helps you keep tabs on your weight, counting bike data helps you stay mounted. When you know you rode seven out of seven days for 23 hours and 350 miles last week, it’s really easy to make sure that you plug in an extra lap or loop or trip up the strand to make sure you match the previous week’s productivity.

Don’t lie to me. I know I’m not the only one.

Of course the questions bubbling around the edge are these: Was it really all that productive? Why does bicycling have to be productive? Isn’t productivity a work term? And don’t we bicycle to get away from the strictures of the workplace?

How it used to be

Before we were plugged in, bicycling wasn’t as fast as it is now. Hack riders are faster. Weekend warriors collect scalps. And the really fast riders? They are superhuman, and no, I don’t chalk it up the old whine that “everybody’s doping.” They aren’t.

What people are doing is using social media like Strava to harness the incredible power of data generated by HR monitors, power meters, and cyclocomputers. Riders who train without data are in the distinct minority, and even they are plugged into friendship networks like Facebag that provide amazing amounts of information about how to ride faster, how to train and race better, what to eat, and what equipment works best. Throw in the detailed nature of ride routes where you can tailor your workout to incredibly specific road and trail parameters, and you have a perfect storm surge of cycling data that relentlessly pushes almost everyone higher.

The beneficiaries of this data sharing in terms of speed and fitness aren’t just racers or elite riders. They’re the everyday person too, who’s a commuter or a tourist or a rider who likes to pedal with his friends in between bar stops.

A complete fred at the Starbucks in Hermosa on Sunday gave me a long lecture about how to use Strava from my iPhone. He was kitted up; I was wearing shorts and a tee. Ten years ago this guy and his wife wouldn’t have even owned bikes. On Sunday they confidently lectured me about how I could use my iPhone to be a better cyclist.

What happens when you pull the plug

My first response to my digital detox was a kind of frantic insecurity. “What’s going on out there?” The second phase was an attempt to revert to my oldest habit, reading, in an attempt to fill the vast void of newly available time, but it was terribly hard because I couldn’t concentrate for more than a few minutes. You can’t click “like” on paperbacks. Even as my concentration has slowly returned, I’ve likewise gotten used to rides that under the iron law of “Strava or it didn’t happen,” well, I suppose they didn’t happen.

Absent all that data and all those interactions on Strava and elsewhere there’s nothing to reflect on after I lean the bike against the wall except the internal reflection and what I can remember of the ride. There’s no leaderboard or virtual contest with people I’ve never met, or worse, people I’ve met but never ridden with yet who are my “competition” on Strava. All I’m left with at the end of the ride is, like reading a book, what happened during the ride or the read. That is, what happened on the battleground of the tiny strip of real estate between my ears.

And for me, that’s enough.


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Old School
Old School

29 thoughts on “Digital detox”

  1. “…what happened on the battleground of the tiny strip of real estate between my ears…”
    That’s every day in every way….really all that matters.

  2. Everyone’s faster with Strava? They must be Premium users. The free version still leaves me off the back.

  3. Lol, I’m digital detoxing as well
    (deactivated), and HERE I am at 6:35am reading your blog on my digital device…

    1. Total detox is not possible, at least for me.

      Is there such a thing as partial detox?

  4. Enjoy your time off, we’ll be here when you return. Because who doesn’t enjoy a spirited S&M debate over whether cyclocross clinics serve as proper training grounds for >40mph road field sprints.

  5. Finally got off my ass and donated but hey I bought six copies of your book.
    Strava holds zero interest for me unlike the other 50 somethings I ride with that are fanatical about it and enslaved by it. Ugh.
    I did buy a Garmin 510 and heat rate monitor which has helped me ride harder longer, and faster, (thats what she said). I was hesitant to do this since years ago I used heart rate monitors and it made me push my self too hard. I guess at 54 I don’t care as much and sometimes I leave the thing off and just go for a bike ride. The Garmin 510 automagically transfers data to my iPhone and iPad where I can peruse it myself at my leisure.

    1. Thanks for the subscription and book purchases!

      There’s no perfect solution to data dilution …

  6. And here I thought I gravitated to Facebag and Social Media because I had lost my ability to retain focus on books.

    It would be nice to read again.

    1. Takes time to retrain your brain, no kidding.

      And I found that Kindle and e-reading has the same disassociation problems because you can actually interact with the text.

      1. I had gotten about halfway through The Pickwick Papers ereading. It was going fine for awhile, but then I stopped. I will have to make another go.

  7. Arkansas Traveler

    SM = Mind-numbingly mundane minutiae. But books are only for troublemakers…haven’t you heard?

    1. Books are dangerous. At least that’s what my bookmark from The Last Great Bookstore in DTLA says.

  8. Peter Schindler

    I quit S&M of this last year. In fact, I don’t even use a Garmin computer anymore. Now my guitar playing is improving, I read books and at work I am actually working. Well that might not be an improvement but everything else is better.

  9. Perhaps a tangential corollary to the digital detox and the accumulation of Big Data is the question of training vs. riding.

    Often I hear people describe “training” rides and I know that they rarely, if ever, race. Or have a look at how many advertisements or magazine pages are dedicated to “training”. If you’re a racer who pays money for organised events and is a member of a racing club then you probably train. But if you don’t, you’re probably just going for a ride and there’s no need to consider that any way inferior. It may be that you go for 50km or 500km a week but going for a ride is an end and reward in itself.

  10. “Worlds Enough and Time (Five Tales of Speculative Fiction)” by Dan Simmons. The best of these is “On K2 with Kanakaredes.” The author’s notes at the beginning of each tale are worthy reads as well. I’d be happy to loan you a Kindle for the K2 tale. Just let me know. (And I’ve yet to figure how Kindles are interactive. I just read. I do dislike that I can’t go back spatially, as I can in a physical book. I generally know about where in the book something I want to re-read is…. I’ve yet to figure out how to get there by “location” number.)

    1. With a Kindle you can tweet sections you like and you can interactively look up words in the dictionary. Sounds like a good book.

  11. I think strava technology is really freaking cool. All I use when riding is a cheap ass $30 hrm and the free strava app on my phone. I dont have to spend $500 on a garmin or 1500 on a powermeter to keep me engaged. When I pedal hard, it hurts…thats my powermeter!

  12. Ok, so have you heard the one about the chickens getting all that “free” feed and shelter? That’s facebag and twittering.

    I’m not sure why people are okay using social media and yet Facebag is the one somehow profiting off of my content. Ask some of those folks to work for free and the response would be quite different. Yet, facebag is okay profiting off of the content you granted them perpetual use rights. Right? You read the EULA right?

    That’s the “training wheels” speech I give about the Internet. You don’t want to hear the speech that mentions the NSA and CIA.

    1. Agreed. And I’d like to hear the other two speeches. But as a chicken, there’s some minimal addiction to the shelter and feed. There was also a great article called “Slaves of the Internet Unite” and it related to the free work we give Facebag, Twitter, etc. However, YOU can remedy this by subscribing to my blog! Link’s in the upper right hand corner (note clever sales pitch).

  13. Add this to your reading list:

    In Spite of Us: My Education in the Big and Little Games of Amateur and Olympic Sports in the U.S.

    Something that should suprise exactly no one, USAC (that means Thom Wiesel and his garcon Johnson were participating in USPS doping.

    And finally required bike racing reading:

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