Digital Detox: Disconnecting to Reconnect

This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend 2 nights camping on California’s central coast. I’d been looking forward to a relaxing Easter weekend doing something outside of the chaos that usually surrounds a major holiday. Upon reaching our destination, we set up camp and I embarked on a 48-hour digital detox.

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A digital detox is pretty much what you might think it is - a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones, computers, or TV. While there’s no doubt technology has made our lives easier in many ways (remember having to use MapQuest?), research suggests that our addiction to it is real. Every new notification or text triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that drives us to seek rewards, so you keep coming back for more. This vicious cycle is taking a toll on our health, mental wellbeing, and relationships. 

As a marketer and business consultant, my line of work is always-on, always-connected. My day is 80% spent in front of a screen of some sort, and filled with email, text messages, phone calls, video chats, and social media notifications. The idea of performing a digital detox came to me in the week leading up to my trip; I was feeling burnt-out and anxious, and needed to do something about it.

The idea sounded great in my head until the moment came to disconnect and be phone-less for 48 hours. Still, I soldiered ahead. I posted a notice on all my social media platforms so that people would know I would be unavailable (The absurdity of the fact that I felt I had to do this, was not lost on me). I sent a text message to my parents letting them know to contact my friend (who refused to join me on my detox) if there was an emergency. And then, I ‘cut the cord’.

Here’s what I learned during my 48 hours of self-imposed isolation:

Our devices and social media really are like an addictive drug. I found myself going through ‘withdrawal’ for the first 8 hours, or so. After the ‘drug was out of my system’ I was able to relax and just observe the world without needing to Snapchat, text, or respond to an “urgent” email.

Our smartphones are making us dumb. Okay, maybe not dumb - but having answers to everything right at our fingertips definitely affects our problem-solving abilities. I realized how often I reach for my phone to perform a Google search when I'm unsure of something. While it’s nice to have the answer to every question and directions for every process at your fingertips, it prevents us from using our incredible logic and reasoning skills. Having to ask another human for directions and figuring out how to set up a tent that was missing instructions on my own, were far more rewarding than asking Google.

We are incapable of being being fully present in this always-connected world. I can’t tell you how many times I instinctively wanted to mindlessly scroll through my Facebook feed out of boredom. I also observed how often others did the same thing. From sitting by the campfire to walking through town, people were glued to their phones. Having to find other ways to keep myself entertained wasn’t as difficult as I expected. I had better, deeper conversations with people than I’d had in months, I read an entire book cover-to-cover, and I remembered how to just sit and be with my thoughts.

We have become wired to overshare. There were so many moments that would have been Snapchat-worthy, Instagram-able, or Check-In gold. It’s almost become a requirement that we let people into every minute of our lives, and it was like muscle memory to want to pull out my phone and document the moment. But that keeps us from experiencing the moment fully and truly being present. It was nice to just experience and not feel the pressure to keep my followers in the loop.

Technology keeps us distracted. We miss so much of our lives, and the world around us, when we are constantly documenting the moments or checking in on what others are doing. I was able to sit back and observe people, nature, and life in a way that I don’t when I have tweets to retweet or texts to respond to. I also felt the everyday racing thoughts slow to a power-walk, and I was able to focus on the task or conversation in front of me.

Social media makes us anti-social in real life. Do you know how often we pull out our phones to prevent strangers from striking up conversation with us? Or how often we stare blankly at what’s on the TV in front of us so that we don’t have to look into the eyes of the person we’re conversing with? It’s more often than you might think. Without my trusty phone to fall back on in those ‘awkward’ moments, I was forced to accept the awkwardness or realize it wasn’t that awkward after all.

Monday came, we drove home, and I turned my phone back on. Notifications began to pour in. But one thing was noticeably different. Rather than react to each incoming text message, photo ‘like’, or email, I allowed myself to calmly prioritize what was important and what could wait. I didn’t feel a need to review every missed Facebook post or respond to every email request within 10 minutes. When I got home, rather than plant myself on the couch to catch up on the TV shows I had missed over the weekend, I calmly began unpacking, preparing for the week ahead, and started another book.

If you’re feeling overworked, burnt-out, anxious, worried, or disconnected, consider performing a digital detox of your own. Whether it’s setting aside an hour of time every day, or going a whole weekend without technology, the benefits can be incredible.

Stay tuned for tips and techniques to incorporate a digital detox period into your daily life.