Time for a digital detox?

By Caitlin Kelly


Great piece, from Outside magazine on one man’s year of digital detox:

At the time, I was a journalist covering climate-change politics for a nonprofit Seattle news site called Grist. I’d been with Grist almost ten years, and as my job had transitioned into full-time writing, I’d lived through—indeed, built a career on—the rise of blogging, social media, and hyperspeed news cycles. By the end of 2012 I was, God help me, a kind of boutique brand, with a reasonably well-known blog, a few cable-TV appearances under my belt, and more than 36,000 Twitter followers.

I tweeted to them around 30 times a day, sometimes less but, believe it or not, gentle reader, sometimes much more. I belong to that exclusive Twitter club, not users who have been “verified” (curse their privileged names) but users who have hit the daily tweet limit, the social-media equivalent of getting cut off by the bartender. The few, the proud, the badly in need of help.

It wasn’t just my job, though. My hobbies, my entertainment, my social life, my idle time—they had all moved online. I sought out a screen the moment I woke up. 
I ate lunch at my desk. Around 6 p.m., I took a few hours for dinner, putting the kids to bed, and watching a little TV with the wife. Then, around 10 p.m., it was back to the Internet until 2 or 3 a.m. I was peering at one screen or another for something like 12 hours a day.

Does this sound familiar to you?

We now spend — North Americans anyway — seven hours a day staring at a screen of one sort of another: laptop, phone, Ipad, desktop or television.

We now live in an era of CPA, continuous partial attention, a world in which we’re all one click away from the next cool thing, awaiting the next text or sending one while (yes) driving or sitting at the dinner table or (yes, even) shooting a selfie at a funeral.

Sherry Turkle, a psychologist, has studied our use of technology for decades:

She is particularly concerned about the effect on children. “I am a single mum. I raised my daughter, and she was very listened to.” Today our phones are always on, and always on us. Parents are too busy texting to watch their kids, she cautions. There’s been a spike in playground accidents. “These kids are extremely lonely. We are giving everybody the impression that we aren’t really there for them. It’s toxic.” This is what she means by “alone together” – that our ability to be in the world is compromised by “all that other stuff” we want to do with technology.


I have a horror of the fully-mediated life, one solely conducted through a glass screen, one in which full, physical attention from another human being is a rare commodity. (Now that I’m teaching college, I am acutely aware how rare it is for a room filled with young people to focus for two hours without sneaking a peek at their phone. I insist on it, but am also grateful for their attention.)

Because I now spend so much time on-line — like many others — I’m finding my ability to focus on one issue for long periods of time degraded, so I’m being more conscious about reading books, on paper, to rest my eyes and do one thing for an hour at a time.

I also make a point of meeting people face to face over a meal or a coffee, to read their facial expressions and be able to share a hug.

How about you?

Does the digital life satisfy you?

16 thoughts on “Time for a digital detox?

  1. I do the same, I try to make a concerted effort to disconnect. I put my phone on airplane mode when I’m reading a book so I can’t be distracted, and if I go for a walk, I do so without my phone. I really treasure meeting up with friends and family face-to-face, and keep my phone stashed away when I do.

    When I was on holiday with my mum in Kenya, there was only internet in our hotel for about an hour in the evening, and it was so slow it was barely worth the effort to connect – so most of the time, we didn’t. The ‘digital detox’ was wonderful!

    1. Ooooh, Kenya! Lucky you. I was there in my 20s and loved it.

      I admire your awareness of this. I find it sad and weird when people”walk” through nature — staring at a device. Or sit with others at a shared table doing this as well.

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  3. When I went to London in August for 6 days, I had no phone, no laptop, no tablet. I just had me and my camera. Same thing when I went to Italy in June. I find all that hardware terribly distracting. My idea of travelling is to pare down to the basic essentials and forget the superfluous stuff.

    Last week in Lille, I was having a conversation about the digital society we live in today with my ex and what I said to him was this – I’d like to write – or read – an article that asks “Did we live better in the 1980s and 1990s than we do now?” Because before the invention of cell phones, the internet, email and Facebook, etc., our lives were very good and fulfulling.


    1. Sounds perfect!

      My idea of a holiday, equally, is to get away from all of that “connection” and actually be with people in the same room. I’m pretty fed up with social media “friends” being people I barely know and never see.

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