Thoughts on my first-ever digital detox

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By Kevin Eagan

I did it: I survived 2 days without the internet, and I didn’t explode.

Actually, I had a great weekend. On Saturday, I spent most of the day outside, including a trip to the zoo with my wife, a long jog with my dog, and a night out for thai food. On Sunday, I stayed in and read a plethora of articles (all downloaded to my e-ink kindle before the detox started), caught up on some writing, and started reading a book for pleasure (“The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson).

With all of my internet-enabled devices switched off, I felt like I had a lot more time to accomplish the things I wanted to accomplish. However, I knew ahead of time that this would be a weekend off, so all I did was add the digital detox element. My next goal is to try a digital detox on a day when I have a lot of work to do. In particular, I’d like to go internet-free on a day when I plan to do a lot of writing. I suspect this will be more of a challenge, but one that is worth trying.

Here are some observations I had this weekend:

  • Though I gained extra time by not going online, I felt the pull of the internet all weekend. In particular, I kept feeling like I would miss important emails. As it turned out, I had several emails waiting for me this morning, but only one was a high priority.
  • Even the high priority email didn’t need an immediate response, clarifying for me that I don’t need to check my email as frequently, especially on weekends.
  • I missed Wikipedia, IMDb, and Google the most. There were times when I wanted to look up something quick, and I couldn’t. At the same time, writing a quick note (on paper!) to remind myself to look it up later worked fine. I was able to keep my concentration on what I was doing.
  • As it turned out, the things I felt I had to look up right away weren’t important anyway! But I already knew that.

The most important observation that I had this weekend was that the internet is a helpful tool, but it needs to be used correctly. There’s nothing wrong with being connected to the internet as long as we are aware of how we use it. From my perspective, the internet can cause me to waste a lot of valuable time. That’s why I am attempting to create a digital lifestyle that is both productive and valuable to me, and digital detoxes will help me accomplish these goals.

I first thought about this idea after reading William Powers’s excellent book Hamlet’s Blackberry. In this book, Powers urges readers to create a balanced digital life. Reflecting on my own digital life, I realized that I had to create digital down-times, a digital equivalent of Thoreau’s escape to the woods.

And I’m not alone in wanting some refuge from the connected life. This morning, I read an article from Forbes, titled “The Rise of Digital Detox”, that cites some interesting statistics about our digital life. For example, “50 percent of Americans prefer to communicate digitally rather than in person” and “72 percent use their smartphones while consuming other media, and one-third are on their smartphones while watching TV,” which suggests both an attitude change about digital communication and a move toward information overload.

There are apps available to help promote a digital detox. On Android, for example, there are two that look really good: Digital Vacay and Digital Detox. Both help users block certain phone functionality for a set amount of time. Desktop apps that do similar things exist on both Windows and Mac. For readers, both the kindle and nook are designed to help you fall into books (when wifi is off), and programs like instapaper and longreads promote long-form, offline reading of all the great stuff found online.

For me, what’s next is to pick a day out of the week, each week, where I purposely go internet-free. This will help me reconnect with ideas, writing, reflection, and the power of my own mind.

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.