Two Weeks in Cyber-Isolation: A Photoessay

By Chardonnay Needler

Tech cleanses were all the rage two or three years ago. Also called digital detoxing, this conscious disconnection from telecommunications enjoyed a similar level of popularity to juice cleanses or eating tide pods

Fast forward to today, it appears our physical and virtual lives are even more enmeshed. With Zoom education replacing classrooms, videoconferencing being a workday mainstay, and Tinder dominating our social lives, it's no wonder that 53 per cent of Americans have declared the Internet as “essential".


Image via rawpixel.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I began to contemplate resurrecting the once-popular tech cleanse. No better time than during a global crisis, I thought, especially with the world leaning more heavily on digital communications. Serendipitously, after falling off my bicycle and shattering my smartphone, I decided to bite the bullet and embark on a full-on Internet detox. This was long overdue, as my tech clutter was getting out of hand. On a typical day, I'd have 172 open tabs spread over four different Firefox windows, spanning five different desktops that also ran a swarth of dictionaries, text messaging apps, music apps and a hoard of other audio-visual accoutrements.

No wonder my Mac was always running a fever.

Here was my goal: For two whole weeks, outside of checking my email and fulfilling my remote-work responsibilities, I'd disconnect from the web. No reading of online articles, or using the Internet for calls or texting. I also disabled iMessages on my computer.

And thus began my journey into cyber-isolation.

Day #1

Whenever I’m bored, I instinctively want to check Facebook or the iMessage app on my computer to see who's texted me. Resisting using my computer is hard, but luckily I have a 270-part report to proofread.

I also get started on my new book, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai.


Day #2

I bring my guitar down to Paradise Beach, a small enclave where the American River meets the forest. There, I attempt to play some sappy songs modelled after JJ Lin ballads. Three hours go by in a flash.

Once home, I pull out a paleo cookbook and make the best ginger soba noodles I’ve had in years. 


Day #3

Today I read an old recipe book and experiment with various ways to make eggs. I discover that I can achieve poached-egg consistency by boiling them in their shells for five minutes.


Day #4

I go for a five-hour bike ride. It feels refreshing to cycle without my phone. I feel like a sentient sundial just watching the day pass.

bike ride

Day #5

I hang out with my dad today. I update him about my life in college—the crazy people I’ve met, the crazy person I’ve been, and the crazy sleep schedule I’ve unfortunately grown accustomed to. Not sure if 19 is too young an age to feel existential, but I realise I haven't appreciated my parents enough. My silver lining to this pandemic is getting to spend more time with my father.


Day #6

I buy a black sesame rose milk boba tea. Apparently the owner’s long-time friend went to Wharton. Connections don’t stop even during a global pandemic when I’m 2,500 miles away from the campus of UPenn.


Day #7

I spend most of today laying in the grass, just observing the violet-tinged sky, the glowing carrot-coloured ladybugs and the bustling bees. I start writing a few poems, trying to encapsulate the experience, but can't finish any of them. My mind keeps going back to those bees, and I wonder if I should be working too. It’s getting harder to resist typing “Facebook” in the search bar just to look at a quick meme or two. (And to check my messages.)


Day #8

I practise a lot of cello today—have been making some good advances on my Chopin in G Minor Sonata. Also received a letter from my best friend from back home. The urge to text her is strong, but she knows about my tech cleanse. I decide to write back to her.



Day #9

Am really starting to miss my buddies. Meanwhile, I start on a new workout regimen: stairsteps à la Rocky at the local college arena.

Suddenly think of my ex as well, but without my phone in hand that thought goes away quickly.


Image via Unsplash.

Day #10

Start reading an anthology of sci-fi short stories I plucked from my high school English teacher’s shelves after she retired. It's an interesting book.


Day #11

I've always believed the Internet creates opportunities for boundless knowledge. But I feel like I've learned a lot this past week, going to the arboretum and writing down things by hand.

Fun fact: Sacramento is called “the City of Trees” because it has the highest number of trees per capita of any US city. (Although it trails behind Singapore.)


Day #12

I get another letter, this time from my best friend at Penn. It's filled with inside jokes, expressions of longing, and a COVID-situation update.

Learn some maqams on the cello from stuff I’d heard but just hadn’t had the time to tinker with. I realise that I’m able to remember much longer pieces than before.


Day #13

Dad and I go for a walk through the rose garden, and after that we play a really good game of gin rummy. So many plays end with the Queen of Hearts, coincidentally. Not sure if I’m experiencing apophenia or if there really is a cyclical nature to coincidences.


Day #14

Today's a good friend’s birthday. On this last day of my digital detox, I break my cleanse a few hours early to send him a text. Strangely, I don't feel the need to check my social media accounts. After messaging my friend, I shut down my computer and get back to my book.


Looking back on my two weeks of cyber-isolation, I realise they've taught me to appreciate my friendships more. Additionally, this tech time-out offered the opportunity to develop my artistic potential. All in all, I also found that my stress levels were lowered and that my concentration improved.

The next few days after the cleanse, I had a slight headache from tech "overuse". My eyes wanted a break after only a couple of hours of free online courses.

Maybe these physical side-effects are a sign that the digital detox was effective. After all, a smartphone and a WiFi connection are no longer my pathways to amusement. Today, my go-to boredom-eliminators include my cello, my tennis shoes and a good book. 

How about you? Are you due for a tech cleanse? Give it a try and tell me how it goes!


Banner image via rawpixel. All other images courtesy of Chardonnay Needler unless otherwise stated.


CN Chardonnay Needler is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania College of Arts and Sciences, likely majoring in International Relations and Chinese. She is an editorial team member of Social Space's Overseas Student Committee, and contributing remotely from her home in Sacramento, California. In her spare time, Chardonnay enjoys singing, playing the cello and learning new languages. She hopes that by crafting engaging content, she can stir up new dialogue, bring new perspectives to modern-day issues and be one of the many catalysts for social change. Connect with her at