For close to a year now, I have been thinking about the potential power of “digital detoxing” – disconnecting from the anxieties, stresses, joys, and frustrations of information overloads associated with constant connectivity. E-mail, social media, television, radio, streaming music, my iPhone, my laptop.
Bored and Brilliant
This idea originally started when I signed up for the Bored and Brilliant challenge last year – a challenge arranged by the producers of a great podcast exploring the intersections of digital technologies and our lived experiences called Note to Self (subscribe – they are short and thought-provoking). I failed the Bored and Brilliant challenge since it aligned with the week I was defending my dissertation and celebrating my birthday. How could I be disconnected from social media during such a pivotal moment in my life – especially as a researcher examining and inquiring into the impacts of digital technologies on the lives of college students? So, I failed to participate, but the ideas stuck with me.
Brilliant ideas, insights, and meaning-making come in those moments when we allow our minds space to wander. For some, this means being “disconnected” in some way – sitting in silence, avoiding unnecessary distractions, or providing time to simply think slowly, carefully, and without end. This was the idea that the Bored and Brilliant challenge sought to test – whether disconnecting from or better managing digital technologies might lead to more brilliance and creativity. The aim was not to disown or demonize digital technology – but to take account for understanding the role of such technologies in our life. With that accounting in mind, digital technology “users” can attempt to wrestle back some time for creativity and brilliance to emerge. (“Users,” Episode 3 of the challenge discusses, is a term only associated with addictive behaviors – drug use and, in this case, some forms of digital technology).
I used Erik Qualman’s (2012) book Digital Leader: 5 Simply Keys to Success and Influence this past fall in the Leadership in Higher Education course I teach at Sam Houston State University. This idea of digital disconnection once again came up in this text:
Don’t waste time tweeting every little thing that happens to you in a day and remember that it is possible to alleviate some of the pressures of the modern world by unplugging from technology, grabbing a nap, or simply making sure you get enough sleep to stay on top of your game. (p. 174)
The idea that being a smart digital leader also means being intelligent about our use of digital technologies in ways that work for us emerged in the middle of my managing the transition into faculty life teaching in a largely online program. Thus I began questioning, again, how I might change my digital habits to be effective as an online pedagogue and researcher regarding digital technologies on our lives, while also continuing to seek the balance that was an important goal to my post-graduate school life.
How I will Digitally Detox in 2016
Though I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, I did decide to mark the change in year with the decision to listen to these disparate sources in my life from the past year and give digital detoxing a try. One day per week, for at least the next year, will be designated a Digital Detox day. Given my job, life responsibilities, and other realities, I realize this cannot be the same day every week, so it will fluctuate weekly based on my schedule.
Here are the rules: On Digital Detox days I’ve decided to turn off my phone (no texting, phone calls, Facetiming), disconnect my internet connection from my computer, and completely avoid all social media, e-mail, and to the greatest extent possible television, radio, and other digital distractions. I can still use my laptop on digital detox days – but solely for the purposes of writing.
What I hope to Accomplish
While I am not certain what this experiment will accomplish in it’s entirety, there are some goals I have in mind. First, I have a strong desire to be more present; my hope is that on Digital Detox days I will pay more attention to my environment, those around me, or the work I am doing without the desire creeping in to check my phone, social media, e-mail, or latest news headline.
I hope that Digital Detox days will provide space for me to be a more engaged reader – not just of academic work, but also for fiction and nonfiction I am reading, as well as other news and cultural sources with which I engage in print. I’m also facilitating this process by becoming more actively engaged in some book clubs here in the Houston metroplex.
I also aim to embrace those moments of boredom that occasionally come throughout the day to just sit and let my mind wander. Based on anecdotal evidence from the Bored and Brilliant challenge, such moments might indeed provide moments of clarity, creative insight, or brilliance. Or, they may just be moments for my mind, eyes, and body to rest. There are likely some monumental physical and mental health benefits to that.
What I learned Day 1
I conducted my first Digital Detox day this past Saturday, January 2. Friday evening before bed I powered down my phone (overcoming the anxiety associated with such an act) and awoke Saturday morning prepared for a day without digital technologies. Nothing earth-shattering occurred Saturday. I spent several hours quietly reading and note taking Saturday morning and early afternoon, uninterrupted and undistracted. I went to the gym – running and working out solely to the soundtrack in the overhead at Planet Fitness (this is a case of not being able to avoid all media). I enjoyed a long, quiet, relaxing shower, and eventually found myself bored – simply sitting, staring into space. No brilliance or creative insight emerged – but desirable and enjoyable moments of peace ensued, detoxing from the distractions of a noisy digital world.
When I awoke Sunday morning I re-engaged the Internet connection on my laptop, powered up the phone, and realized what I knew all along. I didn’t miss out (FOMO). I received no text messages Saturday, only a few minor and inconsequential e-mails, and social media was still working just fine.
If you doubt you can or need to digitally detox – well, maybe this post will just spark your interest to try one of the challenges from the Bored and Brilliant campaign, or to think about how digital technologies are impacting your life. If you do digitally detox, I’d love to hear about your ideas, experiences, and suggestions in the comments.
Qualman, E. (2012). Digital leader: 5 simple keys to success and influence. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.