Deconstructing Digital Detox

Gioia–Time

We were recently asked to do a presentation on “Digital Detox”.  When we researched this phenomenon, we found that there was a tacit presumption that frequent exposure to digital devices interferes with our ability to connect with others and reduces the quality of what little contact we do have.  The recommended solutions usually involved some sort of restriction or withdrawal from digital engagement.

For example, one website suggested that one put aside one’s smartphones and digital devices at specific times such as at the dinner table, an hour before bedtime, or out in nature.  Others advised disconnecting for longer stretches such as after work or over the weekend.  Some advocated week-long and even month-long retreats from which one completely disengages from computer devices and reconnects with nature.

These interventions struck us as not only excessive but also unrealistic and even shortsighted.  Although it is true that technology can distract us from the here and now, it can also enhance our experience of the here and now.  In addition, technology is now intricately interwoven into our lives-cars, phones, appliances, shopping-it will soon be as difficult to separate ourselves from computer technologies as it is now for us to live without electricity.

So, we started the actual workshop with our usual “3 good things that went well this morning”.   We got common responses such as “glad I woke up this morning” and “I had a really great breakfast”.  We also got, as we always do, gratitude for loved ones and family members.  And, not surprisingly, several of these had elements of technology interwoven in to them.  For example, one gentleman had been able to Skype with his son and wish him a happy birthday “in person” even though he was on a corporate retreat.  Another person had had a heartwarming exchange that morning with a childhood friend who’d found her on Facebook.

Even though the workshop’s title was “Digital Detox”, we focused first on what benefits people get from technology.  Referring to their “good things” they identified, most importantly, access-to family, friends, colleagues, information, knowledge, learning opportunities, other cultures, etc.  Technology provides control over our environment, it can allow us to fine tune our experience, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg when we consider technological advances in healthcare, transportation, science, space exploration, etc.

Of course, the dark side of technology, especially with computers and smart devices, is that they can lead to distraction and superficial engagement.  People sometimes feel, for better or worse, that they are too connected-that they are always available and can’t detach and decompress.   In addition, because what is presented in the digital world is often exaggerated and stylized, it can also lead to distorted perceptions of normalcy and, as a result, unrealistic expectations and disappointment.

These hazards are very real.  We would agree that there are times when we need to put our devices aside and focus on the ground we’re standing on, the people in whose company we are, and the body we’re occupying.  However, we also think that technology can be used to help us connect with ourselves, others, and our environment more meaningfully.

Below we list just a few of the ways that we recommend managing technology to our advantage.

  • Practice balance between technological engagement and engagement in the physical world
  • Use technology to help you maintain that balance (e.g., timers to signal breaks)
  • Use it to enhance your self-care (e.g., reminders to drink water, take vitamins or medications; audio soundtracks that enhance sleep; exercise programs, etc.)
  • If you have to work on computers and can afford it, get a standing desk station or an integrated treadmill/computer station
  • Use it to be more creative (art programs, designing a home project, making music)
  • Use it to savor experiences (looking at photos and videos of pleasant memories makes us happier)
  • Use it to connect meaningfully with others
  • Use it to identify and facilitate your goals and aspirations

Positively yours, Rebecca and Gioia

Art Directive
Use your phone to take a photograph of something that matters to you.  If you want to take it a step further, use some of the photo-editing tools to modify the image.  Text your image to someone who would appreciate and enjoy it and/or it share it through social networking platforms like facebook or instagram. We’d also love to have you post it on our facebook page.