Digital Detox: is it for you?



Doing a digital detox (refraining from using electronic connected devices like smartphones, computers, etc.) has become increasingly popular. And it makes sense. We have become increasingly connected. We call it going global, but what it really means is being constantly glued to a screen. You can see this is restaurants, when people are on a date (btw, it doesn't matter whether this is a first date or whether they have been married for decades). Their phones are on the table, and they stop talking to their date as soon as the screen lights up. Or they might just be on their phone constantly, not even looking at their date. It's depressing. Hell, one of the Black Mirror Episodes even featured the creator of a social network (Smithereens) locking himself away in a place that looked like the Grand Canyon, where he could not be contacted by anyone from the outside world, and could just meditate and stare into nature to his heart's content.

Now not everyone has the luxury to just pack up and go to the Grand Canyon, or any other cut-off natural reserve, but switching off our electronics should be an option for anyone. But is it? When I think of a digital detox, the idea of switching of all my devices for a day seems alright. Until I realise most of my work involves data analysis done via a computer and I come to realise that I cannot do this on a work day. Weekend then. Sure. But then, if I want to make any plans with people, I have to make sure they are all made in advance and that they are aware I won't be using any technology on the day itself, so they can't reach me (they will be unable to cancel on me, muhaha). To me, this sounds like a hassle. I would have to notify people when they can and cannot reach me. I am not too worried about the social media aspect of things. I do genuinely experience those platforms to be draining, so not checking them will not be an issue. But, the inability to reach, be reached and be notified of a change in plans is not a nice idea for a control-enthusiast like myself. Now the flipside is, that I can in fact imagine myself doing this when I am away for longer periods of time, for example at home (parental home). If I know I am going to digital detox for say, a week, I would just put this up on all social media, and just vanish. But there is a difference here: this to me would be a holiday and not a normal day-to-day period of time. And another issue would pop up: I would not be able to write, as I write on my laptop and directly into my site-editor, rather than in word (or with pen and paper). So there goes that. In that week of detoxing, if I were to feel inspired (which is one of the points of doing this) I would be unable to put it down. Unless I used pen and paper, or would modify the detox to only include Internet connected devices. Oh sweet Lord. But then again, all the reviews of the detox are so good. Like I mentioned before, people feel as if they are getting their creativity back (at least to their normal levels). People seem to feel more energized, less drained (probably due to not checking social media). And you know what? People suddenly seem to have more time on their hands, and spend it on, well not the internet. They go out, exercise, socialise, read a book, get creative etc. And there is good reason for that. The internet works as such that we are always supplied with stimuli. There is no break from it. I genuinely think, most people are almost always overwhelmed by the amount of stimuli they are presented with when being online. It's just too much. You can find news anywhere. You can find information, anywhere. You don't have to look for it, it will come to you. Ceaselessly. Can you imagine what the effect would be of cutting yourself of from something that is taking up so much of your cognitive capacity? Because it is. Right now, as I am writing this (on the laptop, of course) I have six tabs open, including this one. YouTube, E-mail, Google, Wikipedia and a Psychology Today article. And as soon as I stop typing, I have the urge to open Twitter. I just did open Twitter and the first tweet asked me if I was a scientist and whether I would mind filling in a survey on my confidence in my own research findings. I am now filling in the survey. I have completed the survey. Back to the Psychology Today article. Back to writing. This is insanity. The brain doesn't like this type of input, where we face new and different stimuli and have to switch between them continuously. It's tiring. And you know what has been designed to constantly fire new stimuli to keep your attention and keep you glued to it? Social media. I think the largest benefits from the digital detox come from social media avoidance. I really do. Now I can also get behind the fact that not sitting still behind a screen and doing different activities will be good for you (you increase the likelihood of doing exercise and going outside) and that limiting blue light exposure is also good, but to me its social media that is the culprit, or in this case the driver of digital detoxing being such a success. Why? Because of the endless notifications. Because of the endless need to be on it to be "in the loop." These platforms have been designed to invoke FOMO (fear of missing out), so you participate out of the sheer fear of social rejection. You bloody sheep. And there is no escape. There is always someone posting something cute (puppy videos), cool (achievements), great looking (holiday pictures) etc. And you like those things, because you do like them, but also because you want to be liked back. People have build entire careers around this, so we know it works...

So, an effective digital detox to me just means switching of the damn internet once in a while, just to avoid social media even if it's just for a few hours. Because I know that not using a computer or phone is just not an option for people who do their work using these devices. But if you can, maybe switch off internet for one of them. I can code without internet, so I should be able to switch it off. This will make sure I can't go on social media. No internet on your phone means no notifications for every fart that happens on Facebook, for every tweet, for every post on Pinterest or for every job status update on LinkedIn. It means that there won't be a constant influx of information, or just random stimuli that we don't need, nor want to know about. It reduces the amount of stimuli we are faced with. It will increase our focus, and re-energize us. As such we will become more productive at work, but also in the rest of our life. And maybe, just maybe, we will start leaving the house to go for a walk, or just see people, or just cuddle up with a good book (and wine). No screens allowed. Let's get back to the restaurant scene: a couple on a date. They talk, they laugh, they look each other in the eyes. They hold hands, really taste the food they are eating and are just having a good time. No phones, just person-to-person contact. Wouldn't that be nice?


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