I tend to be a fan of strange experiments done ostensibly for the aim of increasing one's sense of well-being, albeit some might say through the most torturous and haphazard means. I have fasted for days, not eaten carbohydrates for half a year, exercised multiple times a day for weeks on end and religiously taken cold showers through many winters. Nevertheless, I have not experienced such acute discomfort until I was working on my most recent experiment. I had been feeling very digitally overwhelmed, and needed a break. Within the wild seas of YouTube, I found a chance to get away from it all with scope for a good story to tell afterwards.
A “dopamine detox” was consistently being tossed overboard by YouTube's algorithm and I could not resist to do anything other than jump in after it and get as closely acquainted with it as possible, before grabbing it around the neck and swimming back to ship, smiling sardonically as yet another experiment was conquered. The idea behind a dopamine detox is that we all spend a lot of time in the day on tasks that perhaps are not the most ideal use of time. We procrastinate on our most important tasks by sitting on social media, browsing the news for the 15th time in the last hour, or clicking refresh on obscure searches for soviet memorabilia on eBay. Yes, we all do that. Here is productivity YouTube's 2020 answer: a dopamine detox. Before I hear all of the medical and bio students of Cambridge erupt into chorus, I know someone can not actually detox themselves of dopamine and nor does it deserve the reputation of a toxin. Without dopamine, it is my understanding that my fingers wouldn't even be able to type on this keyboard. A dopamine detox involves abstaining from activities which are repeated and reinforced through dopamine; a break from constant stimulation. No electronics, no noise, no music, no socialising. Depending on your dedication to the activity, this can range from not using your electronics for a day or to full isolation and fasting from food with the only activity allowed being sitting. I went for the latter. What does this look like in practice? One 24-hour period, typically done on the weekends, meditation and sitting being the only activities allowed. I chose my day and listed my no no's: no walks, no food, no exercise, no music, no anything. Perhaps, it would have be easier to list my yes yes's: sitting, meditation. Finally something I added of my own accord, no ability to tell what time it is. I hid my watch and took down the clocks from the walls. For extra intensity, I isolated myself somewhere in the Danish countryside alone in a summerhouse.
The day comes, I wake up and go to the bathroom. So far, to my knowledge, no excess dopamine. I brush my teeth and wonder if the minty taste, a psychological trick employed by dental companies to make you want to brush your teeth, has caused me to acquire too much dopamine. I decide no. I walk downstairs and after some deliberation, I resolve to light a fire in the fireplace for an extra deep smouldering photo opportunity lest someone break in with a camera for an impromptu photo shoot. I light the fire and tell myself to move on. Wait. Move on to what? A good question. The aspect of not being able to tell the time sinks in. I'm not sure exactly when I woke up but I guess around 8am based on my bed time and sense of sleep. I would look at the sun, but to make things even more dos orientating, it is incredibly cloudy. I can't even figure out where the sun is meant to be. I make a quick calculation of where East is meant to be, and trace myself round to that direction. No difference. I will have to check back later if the sun appears. I sit down with a glass of water. My day begins.
The fireplace begins to heat up and the cast iron surroundings begin to creak under expansion. The wind whistles past outside, was that a blackbird outside? Quick! The Sun! I see its footprint on the wooden floors, and quickly go to inspect the evidence to find the direction of the beast itself. I look up and see a glimpse of the Sun. Thankfully, it seems to be coming from where I thought. This gives me a reference point for the rest of the day. Very good. Why do I even partake in activities during the day? This really is a natural way of life, I say to myself reassuringly taking up my natural spot in my IKEA beanbag. Two hours, by my estimation, seem to pass. It seems to be around 10 am based on the activity of traffic and people I hear in the distance. No problem. Two hours, easy peezy. Thought deep thoughts, made grand realisations; a thought about the anchoring of meals in the day and the time they swallow arises. No time for that, dizzying productivity gains await.
More time passes. I look outside, the Sun can just be seen again, it has moved somewhat, but not as much I would have expected, but hey I'm no Kepler. Must be past midday now. I think about the fact that I usually have a post-lunch crash and inevitably always want to nap; I wonder if I will experience that today. I wake up. Clearly, my learned readings into the circadian rhythm have been proved right. What a excellent observation. Some more time passes, I fight sleep again, I wake up ... again. A total of 4 separate naps pass, each not longer than 15 or 20 minutes based on the progress of the fire which I wholeheartedly keep stocked with logs.
It must be close to 4 pm or so. I look out a different window. Across an overgrown garden to the left, and across the street, is a rural dentist clinic. I see patients in huge behemoths of chairs. People are still working. I don't think much of it. In Denmark, working hours are from 9 to around 4 or 5, with two hours for cake and a dance around the Danish flag (Danes have flags everywhere, don't ask – just feel). I digress, the teeth fairies will wrap up soon, I'm sure of it. Nevertheless, an interesting and more modern way of telling the time than the Sun. The sun tracks over the house and to the other side towards the west. I position myself at a windowsill seat facing westward ready for the looming evening and sundown. I note the position of the Sun as it peers between the clouds. A few hours pass. I look up. The sun has barely moved. Perhaps, my sense of time is off; no, I'm sure it must be evening, or very late afternoon at the latest. Goodness me, the boredom hits. A realisation I might not have this time thing all figured out washes over me. I begin to dream of the sound of music. Not the 1965 classic film, but the actual acoustic waves produced when music is played. The pull of the internet starts tugging at my mind, somewhere in the back. I have learned not to fight such impulses, and I let it burn itself out. Good, this whole thing must be working. I look up. I swear under my breath. The Sun has stopped moving. Should I tell somebody? Would the police care? Depends on whether its stopped during working hours or not, I tell myself with a chuckle. Surely, SURELY, the sun must set soon. By my initial estimations, its must be nearing 8 pm soon. At this time of year, the sunset is near 10 pm here in Denmark. I take myself away from the window to spare myself.
As much time passes as I can take, and I look outside again, and see the Sun has retreated into the clouds, but it looks as if it is somewhere within 20 degrees of the horizon. Finally. I'm ready for tomorrow and activities. Who knew there was this much time in the day. It is a comforting thought, as recently my days have felt perilously out of control, eaten up by the internet. It seems I do have a lot of time on this Earth, but I waste much of it. I decide in a rush of excitement to run upstairs and start getting ready for bed, I brush my teeth and wash my face from the hard toils of the day. As I am brushing my teeth, I take one final look out of the window. I made it, the day is almost... wait. The dentist's chairs across the road are still occupied and the dentists and nurses are still crowding around their occupants intimately and most likely, painfully. My heart drops. No. My mind goes back to the working hours of Denmark. Can this be? Perhaps this is a special dentist where they do emergencies and work longer hours. More realistically, it means that the latest it can be is probably 5. I take a deep breath in and out. I go downstairs, and resume my sitting position, this time with a view of the sunset through the window, but not before valiantly placing another log on the fireplace trying to time its demise to ember with my eventual bedtime of sunset. The fire burns out after 4 or 5 big logs. I go to the window to check my dentist clock. Okay, there are still people there. Must just be an emergency dentist, good to know. Probably around 7 pm. I check the Sun, it seems promisingly close to the horizon. I put another log on the fire, and another, and another, and another and another.
I've decided that the 25th May 2021 is all that there is and ever will be. It stands as the last day of time where the Sun moved, after which it was frozen in place. I wondered what had stopped the celestial path of the Earth? Lack of internet access? Lack of activity? An absolutely shocking sense of time? No, an astronomical event must have taken place to cause this. Suddenly, the light outside begins to dim. I think twilight is upon me. Based on the amount of logs and this beginning of dusk, I must have got ready for bed at 4 pm. Great. That would explain the dentists. I can't take this time nonsense any longer, I go and remove a tea towel that I placed on a clock with such serious effort that I found myself emphasising with King Arthur facing the sword in the stone. '20:40' blinks back at me. I really did get ready for bed at 4 pm. I really can't tell the time, and I really am detoxed of all human spirit.
There is so much time in the day without our usual fare. I think to myself, is this how prisoners live? After this comparison, I know I have reached true enlightenment by Silicon Valley's standards. I head to bed hoping I never have to do that again. I hesitate to dissuade others from trying. This experience is worth trying, if not just the once. It will be your anchor during the days that just seem to sail right past you. It will open your eyes to all the time you do have, all the time you must waste, and if you're anything like me, to how shockingly bad you are at using any natural cue for dealing with the passage of time.
My conclusion: disconnect often, make it a ritual. Perhaps Saturday morning, you don't check your phone or go on the internet until lunch time, and instead you go meet a friend for brunch, take a nice long walk, or read that book you've always wanted to read. Take it easy. We stress ourselves out too much and wear out our nervous systems with constant stimulation. Stimulation in moderation is good and necessary, but I know anecdotally, especially with the pandemic, it is very easy to cross the line into overstimulation without realising it until it has negatively affected your mental health and your well-being. Losing vast swaths of time is not a way I would like to live, and nor is, by my estimations, sitting doing nothing for 24 hours. Don't take our activities for granted, though sometimes overstimulating and overdone, they eat up our eternity, such that the Sun can keep moving.