Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Digital Detox

How balanced is your use of technology? How often do you go offline? For a weekend? A day? An hour?

When parents set boundaries around their own use of technology they have more power to suggest and enforce boundaries with their families. Role modeling one’s own productive use of technology is an effective method for helping children and teens “use technology rather than let it use them.”

Technology free zones in the house work well, for example during family mealtime and during sleep time which would include all bedrooms, including the parents. If you, the adult, don’t use your digital device in the car, you can expect the same from your teens, who are very aware of their parents' compulsions to pick up their cellphones. In a recent study, by Liberty Mutual and MADD, “Nearly 91 percent of teens witnessed their parents talking on their cell phone, and 90 percent admitted to doing it themselves. When it comes to texting and driving, nearly 59 percent of parents were caught doing it and 78 percent of teens admitted they had done it, too, once they saw their parents engage in the behavior.”

Digital detoxes are a more radical way to unplug. My friend, Ritchie Perkins and his wife instituted technology detoxes in their household on Wednesday nights and Sundays until 5 pm. Their sons complained, and still complain, when they are asked to unplug, but it is now part of their family culture. Even when the boys say, “We’re the only ones who have to do this,” they know it’s for their own good, as most teens do.  The family has begun to see some of the benefits of such unplugging. In Ritchie’s words, “We spend Sundays having fun in real life, real time activities. We walk the dogs together, or we play a board game, or sometimes we go to the Huntington Theater. But mostly what I like about it is that we are hanging out together, talking about something (or maybe even nothing). It’s the simply hanging out that I like best about no-technology.” Ritchie’s family is in the minority because it takes energy and persistence to enforce these types of boundaries, especially with digital natives who have never known a life without technology. 

My response? I have spent very little time away from technology, even on yoga retreats where I journal and write. I’ve often used the rationale that I need my computer to do this since I write more fluidly on a keyboard. Of course, I am also connected to the Internet, so perhaps my reasoning is a little suspect. This past weekend I went to Omega Institute for Sustainable Living to see Pema Chodrun, a 78 year Buddhist Nun and “Rock Star.” Anyone who has read her many books or spent time with her will agree. Her teachings on presence, mindfulness, and meditation are the antithesis of the mindless distraction of unconscious computing. Though it was not a requirement of the retreat, I decided to leave my cell phone at home. I gave my daughters emergency numbers, put an away message on my Gmail, and went off the grid.

I was amazed at the results. Granted I was in silence for the first part of the weekend in a camp like environment where there was very little need for technology. Nevertheless, I noticed my frequent impulse to check my phone for texts from my daughter, emails about upcoming plans, and Facebook notifications. Gradually, the need to check my phone subsided. The most surprising observation was in the morning. After reaching for an absent phone, there was nothing to distract me from getting up and rolling out my yoga mat. I usually intend to meditate and practice yoga for awhile to start the day clear and focused, but often times I am distracted by my phone. With those precious early morning minutes gone, I spend time, while on my computer, with my teenage daughter before she heads to school.

As the weekend progressed I truly felt my mind settle, relying on my own thoughts and memories rather than googling questions I had about this idea and that. I didn’t look up the books Pema mentioned on Amazon, rather I found them in the Omega Bookstore. I found it easy to handwrite in my journal, and I came up with many ideas for this blog entry, as well as other creative musings. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of the book The Distraction Addiction, writes about balancing technology through conscious computing.
He says that when you go through a digital detox, “You might feel your mind slowing down a bit, but in a good way. Some of the cognitive sediment stirred up by juggling work, personal life, and virtual distractions is starting to settle. And the stillness that’s left, which people usually assume is a terrifying boredom that has to be filled with something, actually isn’t bad after all. It’s the feeling of your extended mind tuning up, your attention rebuilding, the balance between the human and high-tech parts of your righting itself.”

I plan to implement more of my own self-imposed digital detoxes, including a 5 day yoga training at Esalen later this month. October 6 is the kick-off for the TextLess, Live More Campaign I’ve written about in previous posts. My daughter and her friends introduced the campaign to their Rivers and Revolutions' Cohort, so they will be joining the other schools and colleges around the country. Hopefully, this group will bring it forth to the entire CCHS community, and set the trend for a more balanced digital life.