When I was growing up overseas, TV only came on at 4PM with 30-minutes of cartoons for the kids; then it was an hour of news followed by a few American TV shows like Bonanza, Ironside and Rawhide or Gunsmoke all poorly dubbed in the native language.
Then TV shut down at 10PM. For those old enough to remember before cable was a thing, you had 3 major TV networks and that was it. Remember late night just before the networks shut down? An image of the American Flag popped up on the screen and the national anthem was played, then you got the ‘’color bars’’ for a bit with an annoying tone then nothing. It was beautiful blissful silence.
Today however, it’s a different story. Digital everything permeates every waking hour of our day. CNN was the cable network that brought us 24/7 news. Yes, it was uninterrupted, on demand, and most of it was nerve raking information.
In the Internet generation the advent of what was a wonderful invention linking computers to each other spawned a major distraction and consequently mental/social health issues. We have WiFi hotspots everywhere and constant 24-hr access to the internet; news feeds, weather reports, social media, email, text messages, phone calls all stealing private time away from each of us.
Twenty years ago, our wrists were adorned with beautiful timepieces we considered jewelry. Today we have ugly bulky smart watches that constantly remind us of our heart rate, how many steps we have taken thus far in our day, incoming texts and other non-essential distractions.
Now there is even a named clinical psychiatric disorder called nomophobia. This refers to the anxiety disorder of not being attached to your electronic device or digital service. Take away an iPhone from a teenager and they go bananas. Take away a mobile device from an up and coming executive and they fall apart.
We have lost our ability to daydream. Who has the time? Our attention span is like that of a goldfish. This can make folks slightly depressed. It seems like our marvelous technology is to blame for this. Today our life revolves around flat screens, digital alerts and attention demanding digital distractions. The effects on humans have not been good from a social or psychological and even a physical perspective.
When I was 12-years old, as soon as I got home from school, finished my homework, I was outside riding my bike, interacting with other kids my age in the neighborhood. I was moving. I was creative. Today kids that age are locked inside in front of a monitor; gaming; texting; and getting into trouble on social media. Sedentary and I would say not as creative in general, because everything is pre-digested for them.
Clinical trials of the effects of digital devices on the developing brain tend to show some detrimental effects of too much screen time. Whether it is social media or TV there is an increased level of depression in adolescents. This is likely the devices impact on reducing socialization with real face to face contact.
The stakes are pretty high for all of us with regards to being too dependent or addicted to our digital devices. It is time to return part of our day to an analog life. Time to take a few minutes or one day a week to remove yourself from the clutches of digital electronic devices. One can call this a Digital Detox. As much as I dislike the overused term “Detox” I will use it here to highlight the issue.
A digital detox is a period of time away from electronic digital devices; WiFi, Social Media, computers and videos including TV and movies. Getting away from Facebook and Netflix is a good thing for a bit. A constant diet of this is not good for our physical or mental health. I for one fell victim to this for about a year and it put me in such a rut that my creativity suffered.
I did not produce written content, write articles or even poetry. It all dropped to zero. My motivation sunk. I must say I was even blue for a bit because of it. My vice was not Facebook (because I inherently despise that medium) but it was Netflix, HBO and Hulu. I would spend hours huddled around a flat screen submerged in (often times crap) programs on those platforms.
The book “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport maps out a plan for taking a digital detox. The process of a 30-day digital detoxification plan is to eliminate the use of social media and non-necessary or mindless technologies. This should include binge watching streaming video services such as NetFlix or HBO Now and falling victim to the slippery slope of exploring topics on the internet. Is it really that important to know all the facts on the history of the band Milli Vanilli or checking out every detail of a “special alert” repeated over and over on news outlets such as Fox News or CNN?
Thirty days without the internet and social media may be difficult you say. However, after Hurricane Dorian when the power was out for four-days and there was no internet, let alone electricity to power up a CD player or a TV, it was a good short lesson. Going without social media, do we not shut down social interactions? One would argue that you are not getting quality social interactions from social media. The companies that run social media platforms are exactly the ones that are engaged in this type of myth that social media is good for society.
They are actually mind control companies. They are selling you. They sell you merchandise, a bill of goods, and also your personal information. Thousands of bits of data are the new commodity on the planet. It has now overtaken the petroleum industry as the highest traded commodity. There are those that believe software designers have engineered social media apps to be addicting as gambling slot machines.
The entire business of social media is much like that of big tobacco or the soda pop industry. The industry makes money off its users and is therefore incentivized to keep you addicted.
What is the alternative?
When you go on a 30-day break from digital everything, you need to put analog interactions at the forefront. For those in relationships, go on a date. If you don’t have a special significant other, this is a golden time to find one. If you have a family, plan analog activities, outdoors preferably, like a walk in the park. Even sit down for an old-time board game. Use a simple phone to “call” not text a friend or family member and go out for a trip to paint the town red. Remember those days?
It will be hard at first. Much like the first 4 hours without power. The first 2-hr were a novelty; hey breakout the candles. See how long you can go without opening up the fridge. After 4-hrs it was hard. But after 4-days it becomes easier to learn to live without your digital ball-and-chain. You can use the extra time you have to grow as a person. Read a book. Expand your horizons; be in touch with nature. Actually, have a face to face conversation with another human being. Once the detox is over you can then consider carefully and thoughtfully how to better integrate digital technology into your interpersonal life. You may find that you may wish to limit its re-integration in parts or in whole as it may be found to limit living life to its fullest.
If a 30-day detox seems too painful, try one week. If even 7-days is too much to start off with how about some baby steps like a weekend. Two days will certainly give you a taste. My four days away from the internet and sparing use of the iPhone during Hurricane Dorian was a breath of fresh air and I actually got into a book I started months ago but never finished.
A digital detox may seem extreme, but it creates a consciousness about how much technology is affecting us in our lives. It has been reported that countless folks who have done this find increased levels of attention, increased feelings of emotional wellbeing and more time for meaningful life experiences.