Can too much information drive you crazy? I’m about to find out. As we struggle to adapt to the mobile age, digital detoxes have become a trend. But I wanted to see what true toxicity feels like. So I’ve begun what I’m calling a Digital Retox, where I’ll be using high-tech devices during my every waking minute for a week straight.
The inspiration came from tales of detoxes like Baratunde Thurston’s 25-day #Unplug and Paul Miller’s year without Internet. They described their impetus for taking a break as a creeping feeling that constant connection was making them burned out, unproductive and emotionally vacant. Baratunde found peace and Miller found isolation in their detoxes, but neither seemed to consider swinging the other way — waterboarding themselves with full technological immersion.
That led me to dream up the Digital Retox, and wonder what it would do to me. So here I am, the guinea pig in my own sci-fi experiment. A few questions I’m looking to answer are:
- Will non-stop connection make me happy? Sad? Stressed? Stimulated?
- What will happen to my in-person relationships if I’m constantly distracted?
- What will happen to my online relationships if I’m constantly glued to people’s every move?
- Will I become hyper-efficient or drown in digital procrastination?
- And will there be any last effects? Will I become Internet-addicted or -averse?
At the end of the week I’ll spend a few days writing up my thoughts, experiences, some stats. We’ll see if I come away loving technology, or sick at the sight of it like I’ve been Clockwork Orange’d. Then I’m doing a digital flip-flop — I’ll be embarking on full digital detox with no phone at all for the last week of August.
Here are the Digital Retox rules. I’ll be using an Internet-connected device every minute I’m not asleep from 9 a.m. August 14th to 9am August 21st. I didn’t post this yesterday when I started so I’d have a bit of a trial run. I wanted to make sure it was feasible and I wouldn’t need to immediately abort.
Sometimes my usage of technology will be constant, like when I’m on my laptop for hours straight working. Sometimes it will be interruptive, with me stopping to check my phone or other mobile device while I’m out. To remind me to stay connected, I’m using the Alarmed iOS app, which lets me set a reoccurring alarm that goes off every minute.
No activities are excluded. I’ll pause in-person conversations to check notifications, and listen to dictated blog posts like those on Fred Wilson’s A VC while in the shower. How can you help? Annoy me! No seriously. @ reply me on Twitter at @joshconstine or tweet with the hashtag #digitalretox and I’ll see it. You can also distract me on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Some plans I’ve got for using my time include getting to some version of inbox zero, reorganizing my laptop, demo’ing a bunch of new apps, and writing a lot.
The Crisis Of Fractured Attention
Ultimately, my goal is to find out if information overload is as detrimental as people think.
The fracturing of our attention may very well be the psychological crisis of our generation. From our days hunting in the wilderness to survive, we’ve evolved to respond to changes in light, sound, and movement. It just so happens that’s what our phones emit. But not when there’s a deer to spear or a tiger to run from. Just whenever someone likes our Instagrams, sends us an email, or wants to plan something for later.
None of these are truly urgent, yet we interrupt our flow to check them. That can halt conversations, agitate us when we’re trying to relax, and keep us from noticing the beauty of the world around us at that very moment. Some believe we need periods of either meditation or recreation to unwind big, abstract problems, and that can’t happen if our minds keep flitting about.
This isn’t to say digital connection is bad. Applying a moral judgement on technologies or the future is rarely productive. But if our evolutionary psychology causes us to be distracted by our devices against our will, we may need to learn to moderate our digital connections.
But this week, I’m going to binge. Most people say goodbye when they go on a detox. With my Digital Retox, I don’t have to. I’ll be right here, at the other end of the Internet from all of you, always. See you now.
And by that I mean…