The pervasive nature of our digital devices is intense. Just a short time spent in a restaurant, on a train or walking down the street quickly reveals how absorbed we have become in consuming the content of our small screens.
With summer a wonderful time to take a breather from our routines and prepare ourselves for the year ahead, a digital detox could be just what you need to recharge.
Here, writer Madeleine Dore shares her reflections on a seven-day break from all things digital.
1. It was surprisingly simple to adjust
During the first night being internet free, I found myself reaching for my phone like a phantom limb, but it didn’t take long for such cravings to subside. By day three it wasn’t until late in the afternoon that I even remembered I had a phone. There was also a notable change in my general disposition – I felt lighter.
2. Being distraction-free creates a sharper mind
Without the distraction of my phone, I found myself more in tune with the people and happenings around me. Much of the time, we don’t even know what we are missing when we are absorbed in our phones or digital worlds.
A Princeton University study found that we process information better when taking notes by hand or reading in print rather than digital, and I felt that concentrating on real-world conversations and events had a similar effect.
“We often reach for our phones in moments of awkwardness or boredom, yet some of our best ideas come to us when we are unsure what comes next.”
3. Disconnecting created more connection
I predicted the most difficult part of switching off would be the loneliness caused by disconnecting from friends and family. This was far from being the case as I discovered I had more time and energy for real-time conversations.
Studies have shown the presence of a smart phone on a table can lessen the quality of a conversation. Not only was I getting the real updates from people – not the edited highlight reel we display on social media – but being phone-free meant I was more engaged.
4. You become comfortable with uncertainty
We often reach for our phones in moments of awkwardness or boredom, yet some of our best ideas come to us when we are unsure what comes next. Instead of skimming over these uncomfortable experiences and refreshing my newsfeed, I learnt to sit with it and let ideas and thoughts develop.
5. Hopping off the treadmill brings calmness
By the end of the experiment there was a notable decrease in my stress levels. Push notifications can be a source of stress, alongside the pressures to respond to email promptly, including nights and weekends. Constantly checking in keeps us on an endless treadmill of requests for our time and attention, but switching off taught me to slow down and resist the race.
6. The internet doesn’t miss you
Often it's a fear of missing out on opportunities or events that keeps us plugged in. But it turns out the internet doesn’t miss you when you’re gone.
No one expressed dismay that I hadn’t posted anything on social media, or replied to an email, or left several days between messages. As I wasn’t feeding the online communication beast, there wasn’t an onslaught of emails or messages to come back to.
7. The hardest part is reconnecting
The real hurdle wasn’t lasting seven days without checking social media or email, but in redefining my relationship with my devices post-digital detox.
It would be unrealistic for many of us to cut out email or social media entirely, but we can strive towards controlling it rather than letting it control us. It can be as simple as taking a book with you on public transport or switching your phone off during dinner or before bed.
After all, switching off isn’t a revolt against technology and social media, but perhaps a movement towards anti-escape. As Sheryl Turkle says, “We all need to focus on the many, many ways technology can lead us back to our real lives.”