Most people long to be more present and connected. But we tend to be so busy with our devices that our longing for connection stays as just that: an unfulfilled longing. What’s called for is extreme, even strict measures, to make our desire for presence a reality. Abstaining from our digital influx for a set period of time, for example. As the author Pico Iyer says in his recent TED Book, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, “Many in Silicon Valley observe an “Internet Sabbath” every week, during which they turn off most of their devices from, say, Friday night to Monday morning, if only to regather the sense of proportion and direction they’ll need for when they go back online.”
The need to slow down, to catch our breath amidst the daily digital feed of our lives, is vital. When you hear that inner yearning, honor it despite the imagined cost of “getting behind.” It’s a way to make a haven out of havoc, to figure out your place in the constant stream of information that flows in and around you. You will actually come out ahead, because instead of drowning information overload, you will figure out something more critical—what exactly you already know.
It’s like this scene out of The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a book I just finished rereading with my son. Claudia tries to tell Mrs. Frankweiler she should learn one new thing a day. Here’s her gem of a response:
“No,” I answered, “I don’t agree with that. I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.”
How many times have you felt hollow after a session on Facebook? All those photos become the equivalent of accumulated facts rattling around in our brains. What’s so prescient about Mrs. Frankweiler’s quote, written by E. L. Konisberg in 1972, is that the days when our own inner lives can swell up are more apt to happen during a digital detox than the days we spent immersed in the Internet. On a side note, “digital detox” was first included in the Oxford Dictionary—but ironically only the online version—in 2013.
digital detox (n): a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world: break free of your devices and go on a digital detox.
Iyer points out in his book that the only time the word the adjective holy is used in the Ten Commandments is when it describes the Sabbath. Iyer says, “It is, as Abraham Joshua Heschel, the great Jewish theologian of the last century, had it, “a cathedral in time rather than in space”; the one day a week we take off becomes a vast empty space through which we can wander, without agenda, as through the light-filled passageways of Notre Dame.”
Although the heart is willing to detox, the calendar can be weak. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the unplugged world.
Expect phantom–phone feelings
Often we don’t feel whole unless our phone is nearby—it’s almost like a part of our body. Embrace the amputation from technology, but expect that there will be some lingering discomfort. According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 44 percent of cell phone owners sleep with their phones next to their beds. There will be separation anxiety when you leave the phone behind, but I promise you you can overcome.
Disconnect to reconnect
Replacing screen time with real time brings you closer to what matters most—friends, family, and the natural world. Conversations, not punctuated by ring tones and message tweets, can take on a different timbre. A walk not seen through Instagram, but through a wider lens may become seared in your memory even more vividly than a photo.
Instead of FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out, invite in the Joy of Missing Out. All those events, happenings, message streams that you opt out of add up to being in a flow that’s all your own. You may miss a few gatherings, but you’ll have done exactly what you’ve felt like doing versus crowdsourcing your day. What sounds more appealing to you?