#61 - Digital Detox 101 with Darren Whitehead, author of The Digital Fast

March 19, 2024
Darren Whitehead

Episode Summary

This week on The Aro Podcast, Aro Co-Founder Joey is joined by Darren Whitehead, the founder of Church of the City and author of The Digital Fast. Originally from Australia, Darren has spent over 25 years in the United States and brings a unique perspective to the impact of technology on our lives. In this episode, Darren and Joey explore the impact of smartphones on our lives, from the evolution of these devices to the effects of carrying them 24/7. The duo discusses the surprisingly positive response from teenagers who have participated in Darren's digital fast and the importance of giving yourself grace as a parent navigating technology. They explore the shift from play-based to phone-based childhoods, and Darren outlines his four-stage digital fast, drawing parallels between phone use and habits like smoking or eating fast food. You don't want to miss Darren's insights on reclaiming control over technology and fostering a more intentional family life.

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Episode Transcript

Darren Whitehead (00:00):

It's crazy how many of us, the first thing we do is we open our phone to see what time it is or to turn off the alarm and we look at our email icon and overnight 15 messages came in and it's just irresistible to not hit on it. And so you're barely awake, but with the opening seconds of your day, all of the problems of life have just opened up on you and you, you've barely even rolled over.

Joey Odom (00:47):

Welcome back to The Aro Podcast. Hey, it's your good friend, Joey Odom, Co-Founder of Aro. And hey, right at the top here. One of the things that I love most about The Aro Podcast is writing the introductions. I write every single introduction. I tweak 'em, I caress them. They're kind of my baby here and I love doing them. And today's I think is my favorite and I hope you agree. If you do agree, will you go give us a five star rating? Sorry to do that. I know that was a little bit cheesy, but if you love them, please give us a five star rating. We want to continue to bring you great content, great guests, great stuff that's going to enhance your life so you can live intentionally. Today's introduction is for Dr. Darren Whitehead. Darren is the pastor at Church of the City in Nashville.

He's a brilliant thinker. He's an Aussie, so you're going to love just hearing the sound quality of his voice. And he has, over the last couple of years within his church, church of the city, they've been doing digital fasts 40 days of a digital fast. And what's neat about it is they give you the full version, the modified version. So wherever you are, you can jump on the train. Darren's written a book about that experience. It's called The Digital Fast, and it's a 40 day guide to kind of detox you from your devices. And again, like I said, it gives you very practical tips on how to do it and gives you a full and a modified version. But I've found, and we talk a lot about this, I've found people really want to do this sort of thing, but there are two problems. One of them is you don't have people to do it with.

And then secondly, you don't really know what to do. How do I practically go through that? So the digital fast walks you through that. He gives you all the stats on how our phones are shaping us, molding us, affecting us, and then says, Hey, here's what you can do about it over the next 40 days. I love how he approaches it, this collective action problem and kind of a collective action solution that we can take. So he'll walk us through that and he has this brilliant, I think the most brilliant observation when it comes to our phones, and it's the way that our phones try to make us like God. So that's about midway through near the end of the show. I believe that is a brilliant observation. You're really, really going to love hearing what he has to say about that. For now, sit back, relax, and enjoy my conversation with Darren Whitehead.

A few years before the passing of the century, this Ozzy passed over the equator and experience the feeling that most of us take for granted. His toilet water started swirling in the right direction. He left his home near Adelaide and thought he had it made when he landed in the us, but it was just the beginning. Pretty soon he did his best looking glass impression when he sang Brande, you'll refine girl what a good wife you would be and that she has. And just like his homeland is surrounded by water, he is completely surrounded by girls. Violet makes him feel like a king. His heart is gone with the wind thanks to Scarlet and Sidney makes him sing like he's at the Opera House. His church of the city sits in the land of country music and instead of spreading Vegemite today, he spreads hope. He believes the greatest barrier in our world isn't a reef, but these little devices in our pockets, and even though he grew up near can bear, he can't bear a world where we're addicted to them. For now, even though I'm the host, I'm just going to get in his pouch like the good Joey I am and let us hop him through his new book, the Digital Fast. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in saying Ozzy with our guest, Dr. Darren Whitehead.

Darren Whitehead (04:29):

That was Magnificent Night. That was magnificent. That's the best intro I have ever heard ever, ever.

Joey Odom (04:38):

Wow, that

Darren Whitehead (04:39):

Was outstanding.

Joey Odom (04:40):

I was a little nervous on the Looking Glass reference. Not many people know the song Brandy, I assume since your wife is named Brandy, surely you know the song Brandy by Looking Glass.

Darren Whitehead (04:50):

It's a staple. Yes. Yes. And you did a fine rendition too.

Joey Odom (04:54):

Well, a lot of people are saying it's better than the original. I've heard a lot of people say on that.

Darren Whitehead (04:59):

I can imagine that is true. The cover is better than the original. That's what

Joey Odom (05:02):

I hear. Darren, thank you. That was a little risk singing. That's our first singing. It's first singing introduction.

Darren Whitehead (05:10):

Listen, may it be the first Among many,

Joey Odom (05:13):

My man, it's so good to see you. I have devoured the Digital Fast. We're going to talk all about it, and it's just such a perfectly timed book. I mean, for this audience, people listening, this is an amazing tool and really an amazing guide for people to walk through, kind of kickstarting, maybe a change in their digital habits. And before we kind of get into what it is, you pastor, a thriving church in Franklin, Tennessee and throughout the Nashville area. But why has this topic kind risen to the top for you?

Darren Whitehead (05:49):

Well, thanks for having me on, mate. This is really great. I have three daughters, as you heard in that fine intro, three teenage, and there is always someone crying in my house. It's usually me. Usually you, right? Yeah. Well, I have seen, I'm a technology guy. The iPhone came out in June of 2007. I got one on the opening day. I mean, I didn't camp out. I'm not that guy, but I went to an Apple store, I wanted to hold one, and they had one in stock and I bought it. I begged my wife and she rolled her eyes and I had that thing. And honestly, we've been almost inseparable ever since. For 17 years I've had this glowing rectangle in my back pocket, and these devices have seeped their way into our lives. And they didn't start out being the oh, overly obsessive distraction apps, distraction devices.

They didn't start out that way. There wasn't social media on the first iPhones or first smartphones. There wasn't these games there. You weren't able to buy your groceries. There's so many things that it has evolved into, and I'm realizing I took each of my three girls out for a date several years ago, and I'm pretty close to my girls and I feel like my dad game is pretty strong. And so I took each of them out each to a one-on-one date. And I had this question that I was going to ask them. I was going to ask them, what's Daddy doing well that he needs to keep doing and do more of? And what's Daddy doing poorly that he should stop doing or do less of? And all of them had different positive things to say to me. And all three dates, all three girls said the same negative thing to me. I wish you weren't on your phone so much.

It was a dagger in my HeartMate. I was just like, people tell me that the childhood years are fleeting and they evaporate before your eyes. And my oldest daughter is 17, and I've got about a year before she goes to college and I'm now starting to talk backwards. We have this amount of time left and I realize how much have I given up? Because I've been looking at utterly wasteful doom, scrolling cat videos, you know what I mean? Just dumb stuff and I'm missing what I treasure the most. So there was that. I was thinking about the impact on the next generation on teenagers. I was feeling it myself. I'm a pastor, and I started thinking about the impact on people's spiritual lives. If their heads are just filled with clutter all the time, if they're pulling up at the lights and they reach for their phone and they start scrolling videos on Instagram, what is that doing even to their ability to pray or to hear from God?

So we decided that we were going to try doing something as an entire church, and I'd never heard of a church do this before, but Jonathan Het, whom I know you're very familiar with, he he's, he talks about the fact that this is what is known as a collective action problem. We all know that these devices, we all know that this obsession with social media is having a detrimental impact on our mental health, and yet we are as a society, we are continuing to take collective action in harmful ways because we don't want to be left out. You don't want to get off Instagram. You're not going to know your friend's birthday or what they're doing or the parties that you didn't get invited to. So we don't want to get off because of fear of missing out fomo. And I started to think a way that we could address this is if we did some collective action. So if we called lots of people to step back from their devices for a season, it would be easier than if you are just doing it by yourself. When I ask people, have you ever done a digital detox? Have you ever done a digital fast before? They say, almost everyone says the same thing. No, but I should.

Joey Odom (10:41):

That's so true.

Darren Whitehead (10:42):

People don't get around to it unless you're a part of a community of some sort that says, Hey, why don't we all do it? If not now, then when? Right. So let's do it now. And so the book came out of an experiment that we did, first of all as a church and what we learned by doing it. And then lots of other churches, a lot of my pastor buddies were reaching out and saying, how do you do this? And could you give us some guidance? So the book was a response to people asking,

Joey Odom (11:17):

This is a really interesting thing that I didn't read in the book, and as I've heard you talk about it, I have not heard you talk about it. You're not even getting down to the, you're not talking like, Hey, let's go stop porn addictions or the things that the real nefarious stuff or this isn't a, I'm going to assume that you're against human trafficking, but this isn't you saying, Hey, let's

Darren Whitehead (11:38):

Strong assumptions.

Joey Odom (11:39):

It's a pretty decent, right, but let's go stop human trafficking. That's happening on the dark web. It's not like all the stuff that's happening in technology, you're just going to this the very surface level, the deep relationship that we have with this device, and let's just begin there. We can't do anything else till we start with that, right?

Darren Whitehead (12:00):

That's right. Yeah. I want to go upstream even from that, I want to look at the fact that these devices have become almost connected to our bodies at all times, like an appendage and of total distraction. And so what is the impact of these devices carrying it around with us all the time? So many of us, whenever we have an unpleasant feeling, so you feel anxious, you feel afraid, you regret something, you feel embarrassed, it's something you said or you feel ashamed, right? None of us like these feelings. So what do we do? We immediately grab our phone and open it and start distracting ourselves and we soothe ourselves by we don't want to think about these things anymore.

And what tends to happen in society is now instead of these feelings playing themselves out in real time, instead of you feeling that and then processing that and then dealing with that and then working through that, so then that feeling sort of works its way through your body. Instead you stuff it. And so we have all of these thoughts and feelings and wounds that we're just stuffing and sort of like a beach ball that you're trying to hold beneath the surface. At some point, this comes out and we're seeing this crisis of mental health. We're seeing a rise of panic attacks and we're seeing a rise of depression and people cutting themselves and suicide. And I think so much of this is connected to the fact that we are numbing ourselves through life and not feeling anything. And the unintended consequences of having a device in your hand all the time is wreaking havoc on us.

Joey Odom (13:49):

I mean, it's got to be, again, we talked about this a bunch, but I do believe, and you look back on the old cigarette commercials or the posters, it was like a doctor smoking a cigarette, but it's laughable, right? We look at 'em like, oh, that's not even, it almost seems like it's from a fictional story, but I believe we are going to look back and say, I can't believe that we used to do that. I can't believe we used to have them with us all the time. I can't believe we would at the dinner table. How laughable is that? And we even joke about there will be the screens or non-screen section like the smoking versus non-smoking sections and restaurants. So I do think that because, and I'd love to hear you talk about this because when it comes to the younger generation teenagers, now I actually believe, again, they're the first experiment. Unfortunately, they've grown up with parents who have had phones, but you've mentioned a lot of them in your church doing this. You would think that would be the group that pushes back most. Tell me a little bit about the response you've heard from people who are teenagers who have gone through the digital fast.

Darren Whitehead (14:50):

Honestly, it's been surprising to me, Joey, how positive the response has been from teenagers. Now, I will tell you that three years ago I started talking about the harmful natures of social media publicly, and I sort of called out TikTok and I just said, TikTok is like crack for these 13 year olds. This is insane that you would do this. It's lewd. It is just bringing out the worst in these kids and it's destroying their ability to pay attention. So I was talking about that. My daughters were absolutely devastated that I talked about this, and a couple of 'em were crying. They were like, our kids, our friends are going to hate us because their parents are going to make them give up TikTok and it's going to be our family's fault. That was about three years ago. Now we've done two digital fasts as a church and we get almost wholesale positive reactions from teenagers because they go, I know it's not good for me. And honestly, when their friends aren't all on it as well, it's like a momentary relief for everyone. My daughter once said to me, dad, I wish I didn't have a phone and I wish my friends didn't have a phone.

So that's that FOMO thing. You don't want to be the only one that is left out. You don't want to be coming to school. And everyone's laughing at a nin joke that was on a text message, but you dunno about it, right? But what they want is they're wishing for 1995 basically. Yeah, that's right. Where they didn't have that. And so this is something that they're longing for what I've been talking to my church about because when it comes to teenagers, you've got the parent factor to all of this as well. All of us parents of teenagers we're like trying our best. And when your kid says, I'm the only one that doesn't have a smartphone, you don't want your kid to be left out. And so you're kind of like, all right, so then what do we do? You go to the junk drawer in your kitchen and you pull out an old iPhone and then you fire it up and you give it to your kid.

And that's what most of us did, and that's what I did. And what I'm trying to tell educate our parents is, first of all, I want you to have a ton of grace. There wasn't research. No one knew the impact of these devices and the way, as I said earlier, the way that these devices began and then what they've evolved into as different apps and things have been developed, it's really changed. And so these things have seeped their way into our lives with new updates and new apps and all that sort of thing, the whole dynamic changes. And so parents give yourself grace, but there is research now, and Jonathan, he talks about the fact that if people would rally around these similar norms and they're really specific, the first being no smartphones before high school, which is 14. If you're going to give your kid a phone, and that makes sense. Get 'em a flip phone, get 'em a light phone, get 'em something else, get phone. Next one is no social media before 16.

The research now is very clear that teenage girls, if they go through puberty with social media, is very destructive. So what's interesting is we've gone from not really knowing how these things impact us to now really specific a teenage girl from 12 to 15 or so, the dangers of going through puberty and all of the raging hormones and body changing and all of that kind of stuff with social media is terrible for a kid. And it's terrible for boys too, but it's disproportionately bad for girls. And of course after 16 destructive things can happen on social media too, but full grown adults can't regulate their behavior on social media. Do you think a 13-year-old can? Right? So that's the second thing that Jonathan Knight says. The third thing is that there should be no phones in schools. And then the fourth thing is that there should be much more outdoor, unsupervised play for kids. He says that they've gone from a play-based childhood to a phone-based childhood, and that is very destructive.

Joey Odom (19:53):

It's like when we talk about this, there are so many great parallels with smoking on this, and when we realized that smoking was hurting our kids, that's when the numbers really changed. That's one thing we knew it was bad for us, but when we found out it was bad for our kids, and I think we are to your point, and that's why I think this book is so important, and this is why I love it happening within the church, because I do think the church should be at the leading edge of this. There's no reason why we shouldn't. But oftentimes the church may not have the best. I think they do have the best intentions, but maybe not the best tools. And this to me, you said the collective action problem. One of them is the fact that people need others to do it with them.

So that's one thing. But I think the other thing, what this book addresses, it tells them how James Clear says, he says that most people think they're lazy, but they really just lack a system. You have given literally outlined a system here that says, here's exactly, here's a way to restart in those 40 days. But a question comes up for me that I kind of ponder myself a bunch. How much of this stuff, the technology, the relationship we have with technology and kids getting phones, how much of that is so baked in to what we're doing now and how much of it is this is the way that kids communicate that kids in high school do use Snapchat versus text, so this is how they communicate. So how is it, I don't even know the exact question, but where's the line there? How do we know what is embedded within culture and embedded within communication? Here's just how things are versus the stuff. No, we still need to push back on this stuff though. How do you decipher those two things?

Darren Whitehead (21:22):

That's a great question. So we've got to look at the apps that are on our phone as not all being equal, and we need a way of being able to distinguish which are the ones that have the potential to be destructive and which are the ones that are utilities. So the way I talk about it in the book is you need to ask yourself on all the apps on your phone, you need to ask, is this a distraction or a utility? So distraction apps are things like social media, surfing, the web games, things like shopping apps, YouTube or video apps, even email I would say is a distraction, right? Interesting. These are the things that you scroll on. These are the things that you find yourself looking at a glowing rectangle for 46, 47 minutes, and you don't even realize you're doing it right. It's a distraction.

The other apps are utility. I open my garage door with my phone, I order Chipotle with my phone, I make calls with my phone or I send a text with my phone. What we encourage people to do is you've got to turn your phone back into a utility device instead of a distraction device. This is one of the things I learned when we did it the first time when we did it the first time, I was encouraging people to not use smartphone for 40 days and to get a different phone. I used a light phone for a month. But what happened is, to your point, our lives are so enmeshed into smartphones now. You control so many parts of your home on your device. These are doorways for us contacting one another and all of that kind of stuff. So what I've found is that you've just got to remove distraction devices, and the way that we walk people through this for 40 days is it's kind of like four 10 day movements. The first 10 days is to detach, so you get everything that is off of your device. I'm actually doing a digital fast right now and full disclosure, this is what I do without even thinking about it. Grab my phone and open it, and then I'm like, oh, that's right. There's nothing cool on it.

If I'm sitting at doctor's office, I'm not playing with my calculator. You know what I mean? There's nothing cool on it. And the other thing is I have my phone in gray scale, and gray scale is so powerful, dude. Oh, it's so terrible to look at. It's terrible. Oh, it's awful. But this is what flashes through my mind. The world is in color, the world is in color, and the world is beautiful, and this is gray. This is not the world. This is not the real world. Look around. The world is in full color and it's so much less seductive for me to get dragged into it. So the first 10 days is to detach, and I'm in this phase right now. I'm just detaching from, it's a reflex action. I just get it and I look at it all the time. The next 10 days is to discover, and what you're going to do is you're going to discover, it's almost like you reboot the senses in your body.

You notice things you've not noticed before when you're not numbing out looking at a screen all the time, you actually notice when someone's not doing well, when your daughter's not happy, or when your wife is not doing well, or you notice what a beautiful sunset is out there, or isn't the grass smelling so great? It's like your whole body reboots. You discover all of these things and you discover things that are negative about yourself too. It's kind of like, yeah, I feel anxious about something and I go to look at something on my phone and there's nothing cool to look at, and so I probably need to deal with what's coming to the surface here. So second 10 days is discover. So the third movement is to delight. And you get to this point where you've been removed from doom, scrolling and distracting yourself, this is a better life.

I remember my 13-year-old saying to me, come watch me on the trampoline, daddy. This is last time I did the fast and I walked outside and the sun was almost setting and I was barefoot and I could feel the grass under my feet and I could smell the air. And my daughter was giggling and squealing and saying, watch me, daddy. And I didn't have a phone to take a picture. I had this conscious thought, Joey, this is a better life. It's delightful. The final 10 days is to determine, and this is the idea of what do I want life to be like as I come out of these 40 days and how's it going to be different? And one of the things for me is I simply took social media off my phone permanently, and I don't feel FOMO at all. I feel as I told my church recently, Jomo, it's the joy of missing out. It's a better life. I don't feel like I miss some people's birthdays, and occasionally I miss the family photograph where everyone's wearing matching white shirts on the beach. I miss that and that's okay. That's okay.

Aro Member (27:23):

Something very interesting that I've noticed is before the box, even the kids didn't think that I was something outside of my phone. Now they ask me to put away, put it away, mom, can you put it away? We're going to go run a 5K. Mom, I just did this with my son. Can you leave the phone? I think before he didn't even think he had that choice because he thought the phone is always with you. Isn't it so crazy? Just there is no framework around this. So I just think we're in it. And when you're in it, you have to be open, you have to be curious, you have to be gentle with yourself because like you said, it's not like a fix. I'm not going to succeed every day. I'm not going to just be done with it and never grab it again. You just have to accept that it's this ongoing experiment.

Joey Odom (28:08):

We love hearing stories from the Aro community. The one you just heard actually comes from our Voices of Aro episodes where I sit down with Aro members and they share about their stories and their lives with Aro. Make sure to check out the Voices of Aro episodes, and if you're a member who would like to share your own story with Aro, please email us at stories@goaro.com.

What strikes me about that trampoline story is how available those moments are for us on a daily basis. Daily basis. Some version of that. This magical moment you just described was a mundane moment. It's just a moment that I, all of us have passed over a thousand times before. No. Oh, come watch me, daddy, I'm doing this. It could be important. Again, I think to our kids, whether it's the most important email in the world or we're watching cat videos, it doesn't matter to them, I don't think they just view it as that thing is in the way of me connecting with daddy. But that whole scene you described, that is available to us some version of that every single day, whether it's with ourselves exploring a feeling or our kids or our spouse. I don't know why. I don't know if it's just the digital cotton candy or what it is, but you're right, it is the better life and everybody would agree. It's a better life. I love what you say. A hundred percent of people would never regret doing it digital fast, the people who have done it. That's right. Yet it's just so easy to go back to that.

Darren Whitehead (29:40):

Yeah. Well, smoking is a very interesting metaphor for it. I think another one that works is simply fast food,

Because social media, digital devices being distracted, it's it, you're attracted to it and it temporarily eases a sense of discomfort, but then afterwards you feel sick or you feel ashamed. You just kind of like, what is wrong with me? I ate a plate of fries. I want to go take a nap now. Well, I'm such a loser, you know what I mean? So true. And so many of us are looking to our phones for relief, but instead we get regret after 47 minutes of scrolling videos, you kind of lift your head up and you're like, gosh, what am I doing with my life? You've ever been on an airplane and you're kind of watching someone who's between the seats and you can see that they're doo scrolling. Oh, absolutely. And you can't help but judge them. You're like, whatcha looking at bro? Except that I've done it a ton of times too. I probably had someone behind me judging me.

Joey Odom (31:04):

It's so right. I want to go back just for a second. You say something, I think this is one of the most insightful comments I've heard when it comes to phones is you talk about how our phones tempt us to believe. We can be like, God, this is one you told me this when we were together a month or so ago, and then it's in your book as well, and it's so, so powerful. Will you walk us through that?

Darren Whitehead (31:28):

Yeah. So in the Bible it begins with the Garden of Eden and in Genesis two, so the first book of the Bible is Genesis. Genesis two and three. There is this very consequential moment known as the fall in Christianity is known as the fall. And this is where Adam and Eve, first of all, Eve is tempted and this is the forbidden fruit. Some of you are familiar with this story and the lie, the temptation that was presented to Eve is that you can be like God. And if you want to look at the characteristics of God, it's sort of three main things. God is omniscient. That is His all knowing his omnipresent, which means that he's everywhere. He's omnipotent, which is all powerful. So his all knowing, he's all present and all powerful. What I think that these devices do is they augment the human experience in those three ways.

So they give us an ability to have more information than our brains can process. We are spilling out with useless facts. We, and social media has us knowing about what all kinds of people are doing. This person is vacationing in rome and this person had a baby and it's coming at you, right? It used to be throughout all human history, the relationships that you had to maintain are the people you lived with, either your immediate family or the village that you were in. That was the relationships that you had the capacity to maintain. Well, digital devices, particularly social media, has caused us as we move through the different eras of our lives, we accumulate relationships rather than exchange them. And so you just keep growing and growing and growing and you feel bad because you didn't say happy birthday to someone or someone got married or their dad died and you didn't reach out, and you're kind of like, but how can I keep up with 850 people or to some 40,000 people?

How do you do this? We don't have the capacity to be able to do that. So we become all knowing or we have this desire to be all knowing. The second thing is omnipresence, right? My brother lives in Australia. I can take a photograph right now, text it to him, and he'll get it immediately. It's like location has never been more irrelevant. Even now you and I are talking, we're looking at each other and we're not in the same city. So once again, we have this ability to almost be all present. I can watch security cameras from anywhere on my phone. I can peer in and see things. Finally omnipotence, to be omnipotent is to have all be all powerful. And these devices give us power. As Andy Crouch says, these things give us magic and ability to do magic. So we can control devices, we can buy groceries, we can buy a flat panel TV and it arrives tomorrow morning. But we can do so many things. We can start our car when it's not even there.

But perhaps what is even more profound is that we have power to cancel people. We live in a time in history now where the west is starting to resemble more of an eastern point of view in that we used to be a innocence, guilt framework of society, and now we are an honor shame society. So the people that have had great honor, it turns out that there is some hidden thing that we didn't know about them, and some whistleblower exposes them, and now we all hate them. We cancel them. And people go from honor to shame in an instant. And how does that happen? Some dude who lives in the basement of his parents' house writes a blog and they cancel some powerful guy. So I'm saying that these devices have given us that ability to have so much power that we didn't have. So the original temptation of man is to try to be like God, and these devices tempt us to do that. And guess what? When you try to be like God and you're not God, it's exhausting. It's exhausting having all this information. It's exhausting hearing so many sad stories. It's exhausting to try to be God when you're not God. We were made with limits, and when we operate inside of those limits, it becomes healthy, not exhausting.

Joey Odom (37:02):

Wow. That's also a good promo for the movie Bruce Almighty, by the way. Which

Deals, deals just with that. Okay, so as people are going into this, will you give us a couple? I want to leave enough for people to read the book. It is well worth the read. It's so good. Especially again, I know we have a bunch of pastors who listen to the show. I would highly encourage to get this for your church. You're doing it during the season of Lent. You can do it anytime. It's not like it has to be confined to the season of Lent. It's really, and again, to do it together as a group and you lay out a really practical way to do it. Will you give us a couple tips on how to prepare and then give us a couple tips on how to engage, which I love what you talk about there because that's the biggest question we get with Aro. People say, well, what do I do when I don't have my phone? So there's a little bit of, we don't even know what to do. So a little bit on how to prepare if you're going to go into a digital fast, and then how to engage once you're in that digital fast.

Darren Whitehead (38:03):

So to prepare, and as I said earlier, doing it as a group, doing it as a neighborhood, doing it as a family or doing it as a church, it's so much easier. It's disproportionately easier because it's a shared experience. You're almost gamifying the entire thing and you're encouraging one another. And if anyone's cheating, you kind of calling 'em out. It's a fun way to do it, to do so. I would encourage people to do it. The first thing, very practical thing that I would encourage people to do, you ready for this? Buy an alarm clock.

Joey Odom (38:43):

What is that?

Darren Whitehead (38:45):

Well, most people have the phone by their bed, and if you ask them why, they say, use as an alarm clock. And I'm like, gosh, that's a very difficult problem to solve. I encourage people to buy an alarm clock. So you are not using your phone to wake up in the mornings, which is why almost everyone has it. And that means that your phone is not the last thing that you look at before you go to sleep. And the first thing that you reach for in the morning, it's crazy how many of us, the first thing we do is we open our phone to see what time it is or to turn off the alarm, and we look at our email icon and overnight 15 messages came in

And it's just irresistible to not hit on it. And so you're barely awake, but with the opening seconds of your day, all of the problems of life have just opened up on you and you've barely even rolled over, and you've got an email from someone that you work with. You've got an updated credit card, you've got, it's all just coming at you. No one thinks that's a good thing. No one exactly, no one thinks that's a healthy way to start the day. And you know what? Most people do that. Yeah. So one of the reasons I love the aro box is that it is so deliberate. It is not by your bed. It is in a place. You have a station, you park everything away from it. So I would say the first thing you need to do is try to get people to do it with you. Then get an alarm clock, turn all the notifications off on your phone, remove all of the distraction devices. And as you are going through this, if you can take the 40 days and not watch TV either, and not everyone does that. The smartphones are infinitely more destructive than television, way more. But the more you limit screens, the more profound this experience is going to be.

Joey Odom (41:06):

Well, I love that in there you do give, in the book, you give, Hey, here's a full version, here's a modified version. So you're allowing people to kind of jump on the train wherever they are, right? That's and take it as long as you want. And it, it's just that beginning, right? It's just like that, almost like just a pause and let's give you a second to rethink, right?

Darren Whitehead (41:26):

Yes. So the book gives 40 days. There's a reading each day for 40 days, a devotional guide that will guide you through the four different movements. And so you'll read something new that's every day. It asks you a question every day, and then there's just a bunch of guidance of some different things that you could reimagine doing. Like I said, it's like a reboot for your senses. I encourage people to, this is a crazy idea, but to Monotask, monotasking is doing one thing at a time. I know it sounds insane, but if you practice monotasking, you're actually going to see things like you're seeing them for the first time, and that might even look like drive your car, but don't listen to a podcast.

What would that look like? All of a sudden, you're noticing your neighbors and you're noticing that someone mow their grass or it's practicing the art of being present. And we are so obsessed with productivity that monotasking, that multitasking, which is not really a thing. Multitasking is actually, it's switching, tasking, just your brain switching. You can really only do one thing at a time. You're just concentrating on that. But to actually practice Monotasking going for a walk and reading a book like a real book, that's pages being really deliberate about meeting with family members or friends. If you do the digital fast, you'll have some extra time and it'll probably be uncomfortable to begin with. It seems like we have raised a generation of people now who have an intolerance for boredom, and anytime they're bored, they just immediately have got to appease that unpleasant feeling.

Dr. Felicia Wang talks about in her book, restless Devices, that boredom actually stimulates a totally different part of the human brain. And that boredom piece of your brain is what is the pathway, is the gateway for creativity, for problem solving, for lateral thinking. It's like that certain part of the brain comes to life when you experience boredom. And so you wonder if people are not experiencing boredom at all, or they are immediately distracting themselves, what are all of the creative thoughts that they were supposed to have that are not happening or problem solving that are not happening? So interestingly enough, the idea to write this book came while I was doing a digital

Joey Odom (44:33):

Imagine that

Darren Whitehead (44:35):

I had all this time. I had all this head space.

Joey Odom (44:39):

That's no shocker. I mean, it is funny. I love that thought and on how Felicia puts it of all the creative thoughts you should have had or you would've had. It's a little bit of a scary thought, but again, this is a great opportunity and this is maybe where I'd love to leave it with you on. What about people other than going and buying the book, which I want to encourage everybody to do, what's the first step? If we can start small, and you talk about that starting small, what is everybody listening today? What's your next best step? What would be the one thing you should say, Hey, do this thing today. Don't worry about what it's going to feel like on day 40, but what can you do today?

Darren Whitehead (45:15):

Well, if you would only do one thing, I would say, do not have your phone by your bed. Do not have your phone, your bedroom. If you would only do one thing, that will have a big impact. So that would be the first thing that I would say. Start a conversation about what your digital media consumption is. This is really uncomfortable, I'll warn you, but have a look at your screen time. When I was first beginning this conversation with a friend, we're at lunch and he said to me, he said, show me your screen time. And he was showing me his too. We're having this conversation, but we opened it up and mine was like five and a half hours, and I just felt gross. And the average adult is five plus hours. The average teenager is between seven and nine hours a day. Wow. I mean, this is insane, bro. This is insane. The answer is not to take your hammer and smash it your smartphone. That's not the answer. The answer is that we have got to develop more intelligent and healthy relationships with these devices. That's got to be the way forward. And I would encourage people start talking about that and see where those conversations lead.

Joey Odom (46:37):

I love that, Darren. I really do think you're at the beginning. Something big here with getting this, especially equipping churches, equipping people again, who have very good intentions, but may not know that there are others around them, feeling it may not know that there are others around them who are willing to do something about it, but then giving them the tools here. Hey, here's how you go do it. So I want to encourage everybody to go get a copy of the digital Fast Again, especially if you're involved in a group, an organization, a church, this is really perfect because I can promise you your people are feeling this tension. So thank you, Darren, for what you're doing. Appreciate the book for you starting the movement here, man.

Darren Whitehead (47:16):

Thanks, Joey. I love what you're doing too, man. You're really innovating and I think the world to you.

Joey Odom (47:20):

Thank you, brother. You too.

So at the end of all of that, Darren gave us a next step. What's through your small next step? And it was simply don't have your phone by your bed. And I understand the alarm clock problem. I really do. You can get that. You can get, I bought a haptic alarm, so I don't like making noise on my alarm. So I bought a watch on Amazon. It's just a haptic alarm that you can set, so that will vibrate on your wrist, so it doesn't create any noise. Something I wear just at night. But there are many solutions to get your phone away from your bed. Darren mentioned Andy Crouch in the interview. Andy has a beautiful morning routine that I absolutely love. He won't look at his phone until he has been outside. So I have a challenge. I'm going to accept it myself over the next seven days.

What if we went outside? It's starting to get nice outside. What if we went outside before we looked at our phones? It could be five minutes, 10 minutes, it could be 10 seconds. But the point is, what if for the next seven days we went outside, before we looked at our phones? So there's your challenge. I accept the same challenge and I look forward to hearing about it. Send us a note. Send us an email to stories@goaro.com. If you had a cool experience about that, if you implemented that. Thank you for joining us today. Many thanks to Darren Whitehead. Please go get a copy of the Digital Fast. We'll link it in the show notes as well. We look forward to seeing you again next week on the next episode of The Aro Podcast. The Aro Podcast is produced and edited by the team at Palm Tree Pod co. Special thanks to Emily Miles for video and digital support, and to our executive producer, Aro's own, Katelyn Farley.