It’s been a summer of wrestling. Between me and my screens. How much is too much? Where is the balance? Should I be digitally detoxing?
The summer started with a 10-day trip to Canada, to send my kids off to camp, and to enjoy time with my family at our cottage on a lake. Canada sucks for me as an iPhone user. Enabling “roaming data” on my current plan instantly results in bills for $100s of dollars, and tweaking my plan every year is a sport that involves a cumulative hour on the phone with AT&T, and, I’m certain, the blooming of an ulcer. In year’s past, I’ve acquired a pay-as-you-go Canadian phone to use while I’m here, or I’ve swapped out SIM cards.
This year, I decided I just wouldn’t do any of that. Instead, I turned off my data altogether. When I was in the cottage, I could be on Wifi, and when I wasn’t… no searching, or mapping, or checking emails and social media. Texting rates are high: So I didn’t text much.
I think of it as a conscious uncoupling: Not a straight-up divorce, but rather a kinder, more selective pulling back from parts of my relationship with technology.
After the kids left for camp, my husband and I went to Cabo for a vacation that didn’t involve daily and nightly check-ins with anyone back home. It was quiet. It was sexy. Did taking iPhone photos of the ocean factor into the mix? I’m afraid it did. But was I checking email by the pool all day long? Not even close. I read a book (a real one, made from paper). I read a newspaper (a real one, made from paper). And I even missed a few important work calls while my phone was tucked deep in my beach bag (work waited, shockingly). On one oppressively hot day, I sat in the shade of my villa balcony and wrote part of this article on my laptop. Then we took a dip in the pool and later dined by the ocean, with no devices in sight.
Was tech banned from my vacation? Nope. But it was not my priority. Nor was using social media, texting or email to connect with the outside world.
Technology and I can’t be divorced from one another: My computer is a creative outlet, whether it’s by creating a layout in Photoshop, writing this blog, editing videos, reading the latest research, or writing lesson plans for my clients. That list of activities energizes me: It’s nothing I’m looking to deprive myself of.
For this reason, I take issue with the whole Idea of a digital detox. I think it paints technology with too wide a brush. I don’t want to “detox” from something that brings me so much joy. I can, however, consciously choose to disconnect with the parts of technology that deplete me:
— The never-ending mound of email that represents ambiguous tasks and lazy fragments of conversations that could be over quicker if addressed by phone, or in-person interactions.
— The avalanche of social feeds that create a feeling of “not-there-ness” that often makes me feel bad about myself.
— The coupons and sale notices driving me to spend… too much.
— The mindless surfing of Pinterest, Houzz or other such sites in the name of “drawing inspiration”, but resulting instead in dizzying overwhelm.
— The texting conversations that masquerade as real connections, co-optiing my attention and taking me away from the people whose presence I’m in.
I’ve recently spoken in various venues about how addictive technology can be. How smartphones have become (and, in the case of certain apps, are intentionally designed) to keep us coming back, again and again, through the shrewd use of brain science. Our phones can turn us into Pavlov’s dogs, if we let them. But I think we’re smarter than this, at least I think we are, at least I’m trying to be. Creating awareness around the facets of technology that empower and uplift you (video chats with faraway relatives) vs. ones that deflate you (Facebook feeds that spew bad energy, or Instagram feeds curated to make you feel crappy about your mediocre life), then choosing to “uncouple” from the deflating ones, at least some of the time.
I take issue with the idea of a digital detox. I think it paints technology with too wide a brush. The word “detox” itself implies an addiction, and yes, many of us have one to tech, but creating a healthier relationship with our smartphones, tablets and laptops doesn’t have to involve tossing them all off a cliff in some sort of Walden-inspired protest. That’s not realistic for most of us: Our technology is our lifeline to our families, our work, and a miraculous river of information that can teach us so much, and even save our lives.
Instead, I’m trying to minimize my exposure to the parts of my relationship with technology that bum me out. I talk about this with my kids a lot, especially my eldest: At 14, he is already an accomplished DJ, and a budding digital film maker. We frequently discuss how technology fuels his creative endeavors, and contemplate the other sides of technology that can a more discomforting effect on his life.
I’ve also written recently about how difficult it is to disconnect, because of other people’s expectations that you are constantly connected. People’s reactions to me on my computer are getting severe (they don’t know if I’m being energized or depleted, just that I’m not present), but they’re also equally severe when I am not reachable. I’m not sure what the fix is for this one, only that all of these rules and lifestyle choices are in their infancy.
As I write this, I’m back in Canada for another 10 days, getting the kids back from a summer away (the dirty laundry!), and enjoying the last days of summer before we return home and school starts. Again, I’ve refused to tweak my cellphone plan, so I’m limited in my ability to surf the web and check email at all times of day while I’m here. I also have been doing a lot of writing— for the blog, for an upcoming book, and for myself.
In Gwyneth Paltrow’s now-famous proclamation of her marriage break-up, she writes, “the idea of conscious uncoupling is to gain enough self-awareness… [so we can find] ourselves in a fulfilling, sustainable, long-term relationship.” I think this is a great mission statement for our relationship with the technology in our lives. I am in pursuit of a sustainable, long-term relationship, where sometimes we’re apart, and sometimes we’re together, and when we come together, it’s in a productive, mindful way.
What aspects of your life with technology do you need to “consciously uncouple” from? Share them in the comments… let’s talk it out.