When did you last get away for a holiday, a proper break to rest, recharge and recuperate? It’s great to get away from work and the usual mad rush of life, but did you also take your tablet, laptop, smart phone, to be contactable ”just in case”, to keep an eye on your emails or to do some work?
When did work become so all consuming that we no longer give ourselves permission to take real time off?
Which might explain the number of holiday packages now on offer that provide the real deal when it comes to taking a digital detox. It's no longer necessary to grab your backpack and head off into the furthest remote wilderness to escape our technology. More holiday operators and tour guides are now actively promoting digital detox holidays as a means for people to get away from it all, either alone, with a partner or with family to destinations all around the planet.
Do we need a digital detox?
Many of us interact with our technology all day long at work and at home. The digital communication channel is always open. While fantastic to enable us to connect super fast to people, information and keep us up to speed with world events, the downside it becomes harder to choose to disconnect.
While we know we can always find the “off” switch it doesn’t happen. Every email we open, every ping on our phone, heightens curiosity and the increased release of dopamine in our brain in anticipation of the pleasure of a potential reward motivating us to repeat the activity.
Being “open all hours” leads to poorer sleep patterns, increased cognitive fatigue, poorer performance and reduced wellbeing. Over time this can lead to frustration and resentment, increased emotional lability and an increasing desire for that one “Powerball” moment to allow us to escape. No wonder we need that holiday.
Family time is getting lost in the ether. Busy lives and hectic schedules means spending time together is a rarity even to share a family dinner. What does your family do in the evenings? Chances are you or your partner may be catching up on work or emails, studying or even doing some brain training. People still watch T.V more as a break away from work orientated activities, but of course we are still tied to a screen. Meanwhile the kids are often holed up playing video games, watching Netflix, accessing the Internet for homework or messaging their friends.
Time away from the screen is now a premium.
Is it really that bad?
It can become an issue when the addictive nature of some of our games takes over. South Korea has the highest levels of Internet addiction in the world (affecting one in ten children) and provides boot camps and inpatient care for those with significant technology addiction. Other countries are not immune to what Joel S. Hirschhorn calls "technology servitude". If you are constantly checking your smart phone, is it because you have to, or that you have become trained to respond to it like Pavlov's dogs? Nomophobia is a real condition where loss of access to a mobile phone leads to heightened anxiety, fear of loss of connection and phantom vibrations.
Normal use of technology is not the issue it is about avoiding overuse. The question we need to be asking is when can we switch off?
Many parents wage battle with their kids as they seek to impose digital boundaries.
Telling our kids to cut down their screen time is one thing, but many parents use technology as a baby sitter rather than spending time interacting with their kids. The babysitter used to be the T.V. but is now the iPad or tablet. Take a look round your local children’s playground. The kids may be playing on the equipment, but their parents are often hooked up to their phones disengaged from what their children are doing.
The call to stay connected with who we are.
Empathy, compassion, our very humanity is on the line. We have to decide whether we are willing to trade this for our unremitting desire to interact with technology.
It’s a bit like choosing to disconnect from the grid and go solar. Our technology is amazing, accessible and cheap. But undertaking a regular digital detox is more than going green for green’s sake it’s about choosing to invest in what matters to us as humans.
Whether it’s a holiday, a daily appointment or a certain day of the week, switching off from our technology has been shown to reduce blood pressure and stress hormones, alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, increase productivity and increase overall happiness.
All it takes is a conscious choice to turn the technology off even for a few minutes to reconnect with the real world and the joy of being fully human.
Are you choosing to go “unplugged?”