Digital Detox

Could you go 48 hours or longer without the internet, your smartphone, email & social media? How and why would you do such a thing?Man on laptop in field

Mindfulness is one of the wellness techniques that comes up a lot in my work with clients. Mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique”. There are many benefits to practicing mindfulness, including decreased stress levels, improved cognitive function and higher quality sleep.

In order to be mindful, we have to be focused on our “awareness [in] the present moment”, and that means limiting distractions. Mindfulness takes greater focus than ever before in today’s life-at-the-speed-of-internet, always-on world. With 24 hour news channels and social media on our smartphones, we are absolutely bombarded with an overwhelming surge of information. Or are we? How much do we need all of this information, and what value is it really adding to our lives? More importantly, who is really responsible for turning this flow of information on and dumping it in our lives?

On occasion, I take a break from the digital world for my own well-being; it’s far too easy to get sucked into the “I’ve got to check on a client…I’ve got to make sure all of my emails have been checked…I’ve got to see that article so-and-so posted…”. This past weekend, though, I took more than a few hours off from the digital world – I took the weekend off.

I’ve been working with the amazing BodyTalk practitioner, Heather Strang. As part of our recent work together Heather advised that I go on a 48-hour “technology fast”. Given that I’ve been spending so much time either on a computer or on my smartphone lately, this directive felt both exhilarating and, admittedly, intimidating. On one hand, I have been feeling really overwhelmed and limited by technology (more on the latter in a moment); on the other, how would I function for a full two days without access to social media (one of the life bloods of my Wellness Practice) and texting (the primary way I communicate with my husband and kids when we’re not together)? But I also know the benefits of stepping away from the digital world and fully into, as Heather refers to it, the 3D world. The internet is amazing, there is so much to learn, share and do in the digital world. Yet I also find it really limiting in that we often get sucked right back into the same places, doing the same things and not adding a lot of appreciable value to our real lives. As a writer and educator / coach, I also find my computer very limiting at times; I’m far more creative and open-minded with a big piece of butcher paper and a pencil than I am with a Word document and three tabs of social media staring me in the face. My creative world is 3D, and flat screens don’t always provide the best medium for exploring that world.

The digital detox started at bedtime on Friday night, and lasted until I awoke on Monday morning. Except for phone calls and essential texts, I wasn’t to use my smartphone or computer at all. This was made much easier by letting my family, friends and clients know how to reach me over the 48 hour detox period. It didn’t take long for me to realize how much time I normally spend looking at my screen – a lot more than I care to admit.  Yet I also started to realize how much I didn’t miss it. Sure, it would have been nice to send my husband a picture of the beautiful view from a restaurant where I dined with good friends, but it was even better to enjoy the view and the company, and to then talk with my husband about the experience later. I admit, it would fill the quiet gaps in my day to check and re-check social media, but it was much more enjoyable to hold my head up, take in the world around me and smile at strangers. And the digital detox reminded me of a few simple truths I already knew, and that I often share with my clients:

  • Life is short and tomorrow is guaranteed to no one. Live consciously, enjoy the moment and the people around you , for it may never come again.
  • Our priorities are reflected in how we spend / invest our time. If we’re spending more time on Facebook than with our children or ourselves, what does that say about what’s important to us, and what can we learn from it?
  • We are sponges who are “trained” by years of enculturation to absorb and react to stimuli outside of ourselves. We take on the drama, emotions and beliefs of the people around us rather than checking in with ourselves. We react instead of responding, we tune into the forces outside of ourselves instead of tuning them out so we can consciously decide if and how to respond.
  • When we make a change in our lifestyle, the dynamic around us shifts too. For instance, when I detached from the digital world, the digital world detached from me too. In a normal 48-hour period I receive about 100 emails, and I spend six to eight hours on social media. During my digital detox I received one important (but not time-sensitive) email and, as far as I can tell, I missed nothing of any significance on social media. My clients, my family and my friends were not neglected, and the internet was still there, waiting to suck me back in.

We don’t “need” the digital world and it doesn’t always make our lives better. There are advantages to technology, and I certainly enjoy them as much as the next person. But we do not “have to” watch social media while our lives pass us by. We’re only victims of technology to the extent that we allow ourselves to be victimized. Popular culture and advertising subtly train us to follow without thinking. But we do have a choice – we don’t have to buy into any of this. There is a power button on all of the devices that connect us to the digital world; turn it off occasionally, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

By Catherine Mason

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