Losing access to those tech toys can be traumatic …
I once gave up the Internet, and it was the longest 20 minutes of my life.
That’s the new spin on an old joke, and it really rings true for me.
It’s not so much the Internet, though. I don’t spend time gazing at cat pictures or whatever viral video is out this week. I go online with a mission in mind, and even then someone sure stole my watch. I mean time dissolves into a puddling mass. Kind of like dumping water on the Wicked Witch of the West.
I don’t even bother much with social media. OK, I’ll tweet a lot and catch some news trends on Twitter, but that’s about it. The others, particularly Facebook, are a waste of my time and brain cells.
Being mission-centric when I go online, I head for the news. This spills over from my journo years, when I read several newspapers a day. But now, instead of dead trees I’m manically checking my RSS feeds.
Yeah, RSS. That old-school thing that never really caught on except maybe with the geeky crowd. That RSS. You put all your online subscriptions in a feed reader and watch them pile up. Flip through your news from dozens of sources, scan the headlines, choose what to read.
Using that (allegedly dying) technology I keep up with local and national news, potential client leads, publishing and media news, material for this blog, and updates on how my L.A. Angels are doing. In a day at least 1,000 news items go through my reader, and I’m probably going to read at least a couple of hundred.
On July 1, Google Reader will shut down, leaving me looking for RSS alternatives. Like a true addict, I’m scrambling right now. But that’s just part of the picture.
On Friday I had some online time, so I spent that updating my laptop operating system while reading the news on my Android phone.
I understand the idea of shutting off all digital toys for one day a week is gaining some real traction. Supposedly it’s good for one’s mental health. Especially mine, as I am probably crazier than most and have the certification to prove it.
Despite that, sometimes I’m successful at actually going one day a week without the computer or anything else. One drawback is that I keep a reminder to take that day off … on my Android phone.
Of course I spent Sunday (my scheduled time off) at the computer again, hammering away like a deranged beaver, but I was doing the final draft of my latest ebook. Between that and those consarned RSS feeds, you know that whole idea was shot this time.
How prevalent is this addiction?
I’m not the only junkie around, though. I read that the average American consumes 100,500 words per day, a goodish amount. Considering a novel normally runs about 70,000 to 90,000 words, we’re approaching doorstop territory here. Now, you can bet most of these words are read from a computer screen and you know there’s an online connection involved somewhere.
But that’s the average American. With me, you can take that number and double it. Shoot, at that rate I can knock off Stephen King’s The Stand in less than a day.
Drugs have nothing on the grip technology gets on you.
So when I read a piece suggesting a digital detox of a week or two, my eyeballs slid back into my skull.
Sam Hailes, who wrote the article, cites an article from the Observer about a guy who did a two-week digital detox. His wife said he was more fun to be around. He cooked more, read more, walked more. I assume he even went outside.
Hailes wrote the article (for ReadWriteWeb, a tech blog from my RSS feeds) but admitted he’s no expert on digital detox.
“It’s no use asking me,” he wrote. “There’s only one way to find out. Are you brave enough to try it?”
Uhh, no. Definitely chicken. Clucka clucka cluck.
If one digital-free day is that tough for me, how could I handle a week or two? Don’t ask. Don’t. Even. Ask.
Enforced sabbatical, or going into detox
The closest I ever really came to digital detox was four days on the Appalachian Trail last year. That was because a) the backpack was already heavily loaded — sleeping bag and food weigh a lot when you’re toting it up a mountain, b) there’s no place to plug it in on the trail, and c) there’s not even enough signal to check my email. My hiking buddy is as much a phone freak as I am an online junkie, and we had to wait until we were on top of some mountain before he could make calls.
Can you imagine? I couldn’t check my news while drinking my morning campfire coffee. How Philistine is that?
So how was I after the hike? Besides tired, sore and smelly, that is.
Again, don’t ask. Itching to crank up the Android to see what I missed. Not a lot, it turned out. The news was still there whether I was or not.
The only reason I didn’t notice any separation anxiety or withdrawal symptoms was because I was busy climbing Mt. Sassafrass.
Maybe there’s something to this …
But really, I felt refreshed. Mind clear. Don’t know if it was the hike or being away from all that tech stuff.
I spent more time on the hike talking to real live people, getting their stories, enjoying the view, eating tuna for lunch and prepackaged rations for dinner, hanging our chow from a tree limb so the bears couldn’t get at it. The Android sat in a waterproof box, buried deep in my backpack, shut down the whole time.
But a real eye-opener was that I came back with a headful of ideas. I already scratched out some ideas for a future ebook in my notebook by firelight, and had another brewing in the cranium. It’s that second one that I attacked as soon as I got home. I outlined it and wrote much of the first draft in one sitting.
Maybe I’m still riding that creative wave. Hope so.
But I wasn’t taking chances on the hike. I mean, when you’re addicted to something, there’s always the chance of relapse. To that end, I kept spare batteries in the backpack. So call me a wuss.
A two-week digital detox?
Don’t bet the ranch on that, pal.
Sounds wonderful. Liberating. It might even drive me sane.
But don’t expect me to try it anytime soon unless it’s a long hike.
H’mm. Maybe I should take that digital day off next Sunday. But write the reminder down in longhand instead of keeping it on the phone.
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