For a week this summer I took a vacation from digital, and I’ve never been happier. My wife Jan, daughter Marion, and I visited our friends Kevin and Robert in their home outside Quebec City for nine days, and incredibly enough, we managed to stay offline almost the entire time. We wrote, read, explored streams and hiked through the walled city of Quebec. To document how it felt to be truly liberated from technology, I kept a journal scrawled in pen on blank typing paper. What follows are excerpts from my personal journey. This is not my typical blog post commenting on technology, marketing, and entertainment. But I hope it conveys a commentary in its own way about the value of unplugging and focusing on the people who bring joy to your life:
Take control of digital technology before the digital world takes control of you.
That’s a key message of a July 16 Newsweek article by Tony Dokoupil, “iCrazy,” as well as an August 6 Forbes article by Kashmir Hill, “Beware, Tech Abandoners,” both of which warn that excessive use of digital is flat-out bad for you. Dokoupil cites recent research to claim that digital usage, when unchecked, can lead to disorders such as addiction, depression, and compulsive behavior. “The current incarnation of the Internet — portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive — may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic,” Dokoupil writes, noting that the forthcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will recognize Internet Addiction Disorder for the first time. Adds Hill, “We’re all addicted to technology now . . . we the users are starting to question how technology is changing us: making us fat, making us unhealthy, making us depressed, making us lonely, making us narcissistic . . .”
Those articles are just the latest in a series of recently published insights (such as a Huffington Post piece about social media addiction and a Haydn Shaughnessy column on saying no to social media) that should give digital enthusiasts a reason to rethink how often we use digital and to what purpose. Dokoupil in particular issues a searing indictment of the self-absorbed habits of digital devotees — and he doesn’t even mention the blatant narcissism prevalent among Klout users.
But it’s not just the articles that have me worried — my personal use of digital does, too. I manage 30 social media sites personally and professionally, and a few email accounts. It’s not uncommon for me to be online from early morning until late at night posting content or responding to someone else — usually via short, staccato-like bursts of activity. To be sure, the proliferation of digital platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest generates more opportunities for sharing content (such as my own blog) and has created a professional livelihood. I am better off for having digital in my life. But constantly bouncing across the digital world — whether I’m posting a news article on my Facebook wall, uploading a photo on Instagram, or following news breaking on Twitter — is a fragmented experience that creates stress as I process the information swirling around me in real time. Responding to other people 24/7 creates its own kind of stress (as well as a self-perpetuating cycle of activity).