Escaping demented digital distraction
So it's 5 days after my first 'proper' Digital Detox a.k.a. Electronic Sabbath.
Last Saturday night, I turned 'off' both my laptop & iPhone & they didn't go 'digitally' on again until Monday morning. That's a whopping 36 hours or thereabouts.
Confession 1 - I Shazam-ed a tune before I even copped what I was doing. How deep does this digital-dependency-doom go...
Confession 2 - yes the iPhone was still actually 'on' as I use it as my clock/watch & timer for everything (baking, cooking, meditating whatevs).
Confession 3 - none of this was totally easy at all at first but golly, after a while, it was a breeze - yes really.
The prompt to finally try this came from “The 4 Pillar Plan – How To Relax, Eat, Move, Sleep Your Way To A Longer, Healthier Life”, a new book by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, the BBC's 'Doctor in the House' chap that I mentioned recently.
I'd actually sorta kinda done an unofficial Digital Detox when I last went to Cloona Health Retreat up outside Westport, Co Mayo a few years ago. The mobile reception there is brutal (this is not a complaint!) but also they specifically request no use of phones, laptops etc inside the house & grounds. Which actually leads to a quite funny little spectacle where some guests (yours truly included til she copped on) climb up this wee steep hill opposite the house to 'get some coverage'. This hill gives a stunning view out over the coast & yet there we are, the odd little humans, high up, blind to this beauty & heads & necks craned downwards towards the digital 'dummy'. I think it says a lot about us & our 'Adult Soother' attachment to these little electronic boxes in our hands & lives. I actually suggested to the lovely owner there, Dhara, that he should start marketing a special 'Digital Detox' retreat ;-).
Also unofficially, I'd plenty of digital downtime when I did the full 888km Camino de Santiago in 2014 but that was more passive - you're walking a lot, mobile coverage can be patchy sometimes & charging up the battery in some places wasn't easy but really, almost everyone is on their phones at some stage on most days, even on the revered 'get-away-from-it-all' Camino.
So this last Sunday was the first time I've deliberately detached, that I cut the cord of online comms & just went with it.
The funniest part of the whole experience was probably the first hour of so. The amount of mental hoops & justifications I went through to NOT actually do it that day were really daft; I hadn't told anyone, I hadn't confirmed some 'maybe' plans ahead of time, I hadn't looked up a recipe online. So I watched those thoughts come & go & then gently but firmly cast them aside. I asked myself to simply be curious about the process & try not & pre-judge. Or pre-panic!
What did I find? Experience? Notice?
Well first, after that initial morning-time disquiet, was a sense of SPACE. Space ahead in the day; space in my head; space in my mental 'schedule'. Sometimes when I first walk my dog in the morning, I might call a friend or family member. I try not to do this too much as I much prefer to just walk & be in nature but still, it happens often enough. If those calls HAVEN'T happened, then usually there are calls, texts, WhatsApp & Viber when I get in home over coffee. And then there's the automatic checking of Facebook, Insta (not so much LinkedIn in general & never on a weekend), e-mails (personal & work) & oh the Irish Times online & more. All usually done pretty mindlessly; there's hardly ever a 'I'll just look up X & Y & do A & B & that'll be it'.
So without that habitual mindless morning surfing, there was space in my head, my thoughts; for what I wanted to do that day (or NOT do). Like buying the Sunday Times & really reading it, slowly & pleasurably. Like listening to music while I baked two loaves of bread & a batch of muffins, made soup & did a little kitchen cupboard cull but in a really cruise-y chilled way - what I'd call 'active rest' (this is MY idea of non-fitness active rest, not saying it's for everyone!).
Like finally sitting down & listening to a Conscious Breathing set of exercises that I'd been 'meaning to' try for weeks. Like using the antidiluvian landline to have a yak with family & friends. Like reading a book for longer in bed & going to bed a bit earlier too.
By quite early on that Sunday afternoon, there was no more 'itch' or desire to go online. And by Monday morning, there was actually a distinct reluctance to 'plug back in'! What I also noticed is that I was much much more discerning for the next 2-3 days about what I looked at online & for how long.
I am actually quite perturbed now to truly properly consider just how much of my time this 'digital detritus' is really taking up & what it's taking away from me. I know I am by no means the 'heaviest' of 'users in my circle of family & friends but that is little comfort - what use comparison; too much is too much, for each of us, at some point & level of usage. I also know there are apps a-plenty to monitor & help manage this 'technology over-use' but for me, that sort of defeats the purpose. Why have to rely on MORE technology to get away awhile from technology?!
In great timing the day before I did this, David McWilliams wrote about his recent abdication from smartphone-land, his reverting to a Nokia (i.e., a non-smartphone mobile phone) & the acres of time his freedom from the 'attention economy' is giving him. He is self-employed, like myself, & makes a pertinent & very timely (pardon the pun) point about the need to better self-regulate our use of these devices - time is literally money. But also, crucially, too much online time can sap our creativity & focus. Our mojo. Our sheer enjoyment of REAL life.
The desire to repeat & continue this exercise is very strong for me now. I am going to carry on each Sunday as best I can (I am of course going to allow for events that necessitate being in contact) & see where this takes me. Give it a go yourself. You just never know - you might finally start that drawing, painting, pamper-session, book, DIY project, home Yoga practice, piano-playing, macrame (!), whatever it is you've been 'meaning to' do, OR equally vital, you might just truly, deeply detach, rest & relax. I'd love to hear from anyone who has tried it or tries it soon. Strength & digital resistance in numbers...
Have a great weekend, stay well, stay warm & keep Yoga-ing on