Digital Detox: Finding Alternatives to the Digital World

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by Kevin Eagan

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived…I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish it meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Throughout this week, I’ve explored the pros and cons of being connected in the digital age. While the ability to collaborate as writers and share ideas as readers is an important aspect of the internet, shallowness and a feeling of emotional disconnection from the world around us can hurt our progress. If we are going to continue using digital devices, we need to start thinking of ways to use them smartly.

One solution that I presented in my last post is to disconnect completely for a long period of time. The Verge’s Paul Miller is doing this right now, and he plans to go internet-free for a year. While this approach might work for some, I advocate something simpler: short periods of time without the internet, or as I call it, digital detoxes.

I admit I’ve never fully disconnected from the internet in years. The only time I can remember being internet-free was during my last move, and even then, I checked the internet through free wifi at cafes when I had time. Today, even if I moved and didn’t have internet access at home for a while, I’d still be connected through my smartphone. I am finally at a point where the longest time I go (besides sleep) without checking something on the internet is an hour or two — probably the length of time it takes to watch a movie at the cinema.

Even though most of my work today depends on the internet, I don’t need to be online for more than an hour or two a day. I can get a lot of stuff done offline, then go back to the internet when needed. Yet I’m still always connected. It’s starting to annoy me.

This weekend, I have set aside two days where I will go internet-free. I will call it a digital detox. I want to go out and spend time with my wife, call my friends or family, or go on a long, smartphone-free walk with my dog. I want to spend time in books — paper and e-books — without checking my e-mail notifications or checking facebook or twitter. I want to write…on paper!

As of tomorrow morning, these are the rules for my digital detox weekend:

  • No internet. I will check my e-mail before bed tonight, then I’m turning the data and wifi off on my smartphone, kindle fire, kindle keyboard, and laptop.
  • The only computer usage will be limited to specific work stuff. However, I don’t have too many immediate work-related things to do this weekend, so I want to limit my time to about ½ hour of work on the computer, offline only.
  • I won’t use my kindle fire at all, and I will only limit my smartphone to calls and texts. However, I will use my e-ink kindle for reading only (with wifi off, of course)
  • I will use the extra time to do things that are meaningful. My wife and I plan a trip to the farmer’s market and to a park on Saturday, and I have some reading and writing to do for the rest of the time this weekend. As long as the weather is nice, I want to take my dog to the dog park, and maybe grill out.

These main points might seem trivial, but I think they matter. It’s not like I never get time to do these things; I do take a lot of walks and go running daily, and I have many deep conversations with friends and my wife. But it’s the idea of doing all of this without feeling the need to check my phone every 20 minutes, or get lost reading blogs all day, or watch YouTube videos for hours.

On Monday, I hope to post about how I did with this digital detox weekend. I hope to read some essays and finish some books that deal with this topic, so I will comment on those as well. Basically, I hope that being internet-free for two days will help me begin to piece together all of the stuff I’ve written about recently. I want to know that reading, writing, and collaborating in the digital age has meaning, and sometimes stepping away is the best way to re-discover its importance.

Kevin Eagan (@KevEagan) is a freelance editor and writer living in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. Critical Margins is his place to share his interests. You can also check out his professional website, KevinThomasEagan.com.