Digital detoxing is about disconnecting from technology in order to reconnect with yourself and others.
It has a growing following: Arianna Huffington writes that we should ‘try unplugging’ in her book Thrive, Facebook executive Nicola Mendelsohn does it once a week and Piers Morgan recently declared a week-long Twitter break.
Daimler now deletes all staff emails when they’re on holiday to help them achieve a better work-life balance and people who want a facilitated break from technology can go on a Digital Detox Organisation mobile phone-free weekend.
Beauty brand Pursoma even produces bath salts that claim to give a digital detoxing effect, reducing the effects of prolonged use of smartphone technology.
Life without a smartphone
With great memories of the years before I became constantly contactable I decided to try a break from intrusions of today’s digital technology, and live without a mobile phone for 100 days.
Was I too tech-dependent? Would I lose work, credibility or friends? Would it be fun? Would it make a difference? I’ve been surprised by the results.
I had intended not to tell people I was without a smartphone to see if anyone noticed but after losing work I changed my mind and told everyone I could.
Five weeks into my digital detox and only one friend and one relative out of my 40 most regular contacts had noticed!
Most said they had sent me text messages in one form or another, but when they heard nothing simply assumed I was abroad or too busy to chat. I’ve always tried to respond within a few hours, so this was my first lesson and my first surprise.
A recent survey by the Wall Street Journal shows that 43 per cent of Americans never turn their technology off. I suspect that the percentage is higher in the UK and higher still in London.
That the assumption that we’re all accessible through smartphones and tablets is embedded in our culture, became clear from the behaviour of colleagues and friends.
Despite reminders from me, business contacts dashed off last-minute emails asking that I should call before arriving at a meeting or to say things that I was expected to read on the fly.
Even on a bike ride through the countryside I found evidence that truck drivers need a phone to navigate a level crossing. Meanwhile I was worried about telling clients I had no phone in case they judged me badly as a result.
That landline calls are now viewed with so much suspicion it was difficult to get my friends to pick up was another surprise.
Whether the lines were associated with unappreciated relatives or grasping creditors depended on the friends.
I managed to lose a second date completely (I was where we had agreed, I’ve no idea what happened to him) and another dating site contact disappeared completely when I told him I had no mobile phone.
Social media and email
I lost enthusiasm for social media and patience for email exchanges that could be replaced by a phone conversation that would take up less time. Increasing appreciation of the lack of engagement in written messages lead me to decide not to tout for business with ex-colleagues who couldn’t spare the time for a chat.
Despite these inconveniences, I preferred being without a mobile phone. Without the constant demand on my time and attention I felt more grounded, more relaxed and rediscovered a calmer, happier Carole who I hadn’t realised I had lost.
Being without a mobile phone made me take charge of my time, organise my work and social life better, and gave me so much more time that I revelled in having enough time just to think.
With no phone to use up my headspace, Tube trips transformed from rushed hassle into welcome events. I found I could write whole articles on the train and I even made new friends.
In the office I got ahead of my workload. I caught up with household tasks for the first time in more years than I care to remember and the kitchen seemed to clean itself.
But modern living demands a smartphone, especially when you’re a photographer and journalist like me. I gave up my digital detox on the 92nd day.
My bank charges had quadrupled because of no SMS reminders to transfer money from my bank. My mother’s borrowed satnav lost satellite reception so many times that it took an extra hour to drive to an important out-of-town meeting.
It took another 40 minutes to find a place to park that wasn’t exclusively pay-by-phone and then I had to wait in the boiling heat outside the meeting location until someone came out, because there was no way of letting my clients know I was there.
I’ve always been an early adopter of technology and hadn’t realised the insidious changes that the best, fun tech had wrought. I now know that I am so assaulted with attention-grabbing gadgets and the ever-increasing demands of instant communications that I need to make time to disengage.
My experience has made me believe our digital technology makes us lazier, less considerate and less efficient.
We substitute the quality of face-to-face or voice interactions with quantity, we rely on last-minute communications when a bit of thought would be better and we cop-out of difficult conversations through email, WhatsApp and SMS.
We kid ourselves that such behaviours don’t disrupt our equilibrium but the reverse is really true. Put together the trends are disturbing.
Do people avoid talking because they’ve become uncomfortable dealing with others without the deceptive intercession of technology. Is the lower quality of engagement of text messaging a symptom or a cause?
I’m happy to have a smartphone again. It means no more missed business opportunities, my diary and notebook apps are always with me and important data is saved in the Cloud.
I am determined not to lose the perspective and peace of mind I’ve recovered, and plan to take at least a month away from my smartphone every year. Now, where’s that digital detox bath product? I don’t think it’s going to help.
Digitaldetox.org is an organisation that helps individuals and people in business disconnect to reconnect.
Camp Grounded is a four-day summer retreat for adults and it also offers corporate retreats and employee engagement services.
Healthexpress.co.uk offers sound advice on how to combat the physical effects of too much technology such as general posture, wrists arms and shoulders, ears, eyestrain and sleep.