I can’t turn my phone off, it’s a real problem.
It’s not that I ever aimlessly scroll through Instagram, or have an app for all 3 of my e-mail accounts, or rely on City Mapper to find my bus and the nearest stop whilst it calculates my ETA (though all of those things are true), it’s more than that.
It’s safety, for a start; a slightly limp technological comfort blanket that, should the worst start to happen, I can at least call someone (though they’d be likely too far away to do much about it).
It’s practicality. For reasons such as the fact that I like having TFL in the palm of my hand and because I’ve never gotten around to buying a battery-powered alarm clock.
It’s about being social, or so we are led to believe.
And, as a result of those things combined, it’s become engrained.
My life is easier, more connected. I can stumble across something on my phone and save it under ‘read later’, and it’s on my Mac for when I get back. I can screenshot or take a photo and it’s there on my laptop in real time. I can find the right bus stop in London. Although I’m confident I could survive without my technology, I’d probably still choose to have it on standby.
But it’s good to take a step away and realise that most of what it can offer is hardly life saving. It may save us time in the short term, but too often it’s by paying into new obsessions or bad habits which waste time or threaten our traditional skills in the long term. It’s the means to an end; an end where we share dozens of photos which nobody asked for, where we can always be interrupted or distracted and where we’ll miss the bus stop that’s right in front of us because we’re too busy working out which direction the compass wants us to walk in.
Last weekend, I made a change.
I turned my phone off. I felt a bit bad, in case an emergency happened but, largely, I still functioned like a normal human being. It lasted 12 hours, until I got home from my morning-run-turned-day-out-exploring and I needed to sort out the plans for the evening.
But in that wealth of head space (and in modern times, in a city no less, that’s got to be the equivalent of an entire week in the Cotswolds) I realised that notifications are probably designed as little red bubbles because red infers a sense of urgency. You’re compelled to scratch that technological itch.
I also realised that if you visit Portobello Road market, and you don’t Instagram it, it still happened.
Suddenly, you’ve nothing to prove, and you’ll see with your own eyes what fifty other people are missing because they’re establishing the rule of thirds whilst taking a smartphone photo one-handed and without actually stopping.
Most importantly, and sincerely, I saw a glimmer of truth in how a digital detox is truly good for you. Little things, you know, like looking forward when you’re walking down the road; giving your eyes a break from screens; not carrying in your pocket a device for which our generation will serve as guinea pigs of its long-term health and environmental implications; asking actual people – nay, strangers – for directions when you can’t pull them up in the palm of your hand.
By those standards, the benefits of a digital detox are equally to do with safety, practicality and being social. But its calmness can’t compete with the little red bubbles – there’s no sense of urgency as to how important this might actually be. And for that reason, I’m sceptical about the chances of regular digital detoxes becoming engrained in the way we live now.
Explore more on this subject:
- TED talk: Connected, but alone?
- BBC News: Facebook use ‘makes people feel worse about themselves’
- Huffington Post: Heavy Technology Use Linked to Fatigue, Stress and Depression in Young Adults
- Huffington Post Blog: My digital detox
- The New York Times: How depressives surf the web