As if nowadays, people talk about going to a retreat in Bali to meditate, take a pilates class, drink green juices with one fundamental rule – that no cell phone is allowed. I recall watching an episode of 90210 back in 2011, when a bunch of teens swarm into a tented retreat only to be told they would not be allowed their phones. It wasn't easy for them...
It is alarming how glued we are to our phones, like a Siamese twin we feel a loss without it, like a piece of us is…missing? This is quite frankly, a sad millennial thought to behold when you truly think about. My mum recalls reading the works of Shakespeare in her free time at age 18. Like a mother of a child, it is as if our phones being out of our sight provides us with discomfort and unease. Any inch of silence or boredom, we pick up to scroll and marvel at pictures of people from our past who we haven’t engaged in actual conversation with in ten years, yet we’ll like their photos, one post at a time. I can even recall what they ate at their brunch date the day before.
There is a deep paradox with digital communication. Whilst I can visually stalk my old neighbours new life in America and feel so connected to multiple people at a time, we are so vastly disconnected from them by the same token. The ease of one-dimensional connection that digital communication serves, at the same time leads the natural three-dimensional human connection (the one that actually brings us happiness) to wither away. The ease at which I can visually capture what my old neighbours are up to, leads me to question: do I even need to reach out and ask them how they’ve been and how their life is in America? Well…no, because an Instagram post tells me 1,000 words.
There is something so strangely addictive to watching people’s life in a few pictures. Any space to step back and breath from all the other conflicting priorities we are trying to juggle in our modern life, we inhale through a scroll and exhale with a like. This seems to be what defines our oxygenic rhythm and ‘down time’ in the 21st century.
So, whilst we are so obsessive over our phones, and the plethora of social media apps that lie deep within it, why are so deeply desperate to monitor our screen time and talk about going to retreats in Bali where our phone literally gets confiscated to be detached for some short period of time? As if we’d deserve our phones by the very virtue that we had it literally confiscated by a superior for five long days? It’s as if we would be entering a rehabilitation centre, paying money so that we can get to a stage of digital sobriety. Only once you leave and complete the programme, you are awarded with the substance that made you check into the rehabilitation centre in the first place. I don’t recall a long-term alcoholic being awarded with a bottle of wine the minute they become sober and released back into society.
So, why do we need a ‘digital detox’? Well, this says more about digital communication (aka. people gazing) than it does about us. That it is literally, an addiction. According to verywellmind.com “A digital detox refers to a period of time when a person refrains from using tech devices such as smartphones, televisions, computers, tablets, and social media sites. Detoxing from digital devices is often seen as a way to focus on real-life social interactions without distractions.”
So, what does a ‘digital detox’ look like? Well our ‘desperate to convince ourselves we can be happy without our phone’ generation (in other words, millennials) are downloading apps that cut off our screen time, we’re googling digital detox retreats and embarking on “10 step guides to doing a digital detox”. But apparently the effects are wild - with digital detoxes comes greater sleep efficiency, better posture, deeper friendships (people report actually looking into one another’s eyes!), improved memory and new perspectives. Now that sounds like something I could jump on board with, but the FOMO would be way too much. And this my friends, is digital addiction. Better get myself some coconut water and sober up! Eat, sleep, scroll….repeat.
Now we don’t all need to check into a digital detox retreat, download a “10 step guide to doing a digital detox”, or even track how many hours we spend on our phones. That is creating a whole other layer of stress that we quite frankly don’t need. Yet what we can do, is take the time out to lift our heads above our phones - take a long walk by listening to a podcast, speak to friends, do something creative, and simply escape the shackles of our screens like the vortex it is. Turn the one-dimensional flat connections (with both yourself and with others) into a three-dimensional rubix cube. Small steps, big wins (and better posture…apparently)!