Digital Detox – or Cold Turkey?

We interact with our smartphones over 2,000 times a day. Feel like a break?

It’s June. For us Northern Hemisphere dwellers, that means summer is finally here. So here’s a little question for you. How much of a deal-breaker would it be if your summer holiday accommodation didn’t have an internet connection?

For many the answer would probably be: no internet, no booking. How quickly times change! We used to mock the city traders and the politicos with their endless email checking. Blackberries, the business smartphone of choice (remember those?) were nicknamed ‘crackberries’ for their addictive qualities. But now you’re probably reading this on a smartphone and the likelihood is that you’ve checked it several times in the past half hour. We check it in the office, on the train, on the beach and when we should be giving our nearest and dearest our full attention. Our helpful little digital companion has become a hard drug.

So how bad is it, doc? In an innovative piece of in-the-moment research, Chicago-based Dscout Enterprise measured the physical interactions of 94 Android users through a tool that tracked every user interaction for five days, 24 hours a day.

The results were an eye-opener. A much-quoted report in 2013 by KPCB reported an average of 150 mobile sessions a day, but that was then. In fact, the real-time results from Dscout revealed that we tap, type, swipe and click 2,617 times a day. The top ten percent of heavy users doubled that figure to a scary 5,427 touches a day. That’s texts, Tinder, Kindle, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, WhatsApp…and maybe even the odd email from the boss about that report you were supposed to have finished.

Some commentators see this as evidence the human race is reprogramming its own neural pathways. The gloomier ones think we’re evolving to an attention span shorter than the average goldfish. But there’s a simple way to discover if, like the self-deluding boast of a hard drinker, we can ‘give it up any time we want’. And that’s to give it up.

If you want a fancy title for this, you can call it a ‘Digital Detox’. It certainly sounds better than telling your friends and colleagues that you plan on ignoring them for a week. There’s even a holiday company that can offer you a global choice of detox packages, tech-free accommodation (no Wi-Fi, no phone, no TV in the room) and even ‘Highly Disconnected’ retreats where your mobile phone won’t work either.

Alternatively, you can just do-it-yourself. It doesn’t have to be for a week. Just switch off the phone, go hiking, go camping, go cycling, or just sit on a beach and watch the world go by. For the first hour or so you’ll feel a bit fidgety, but give it time, relax and you might find your thoughts lazily forming and rising to the surface of your consciousness like bubbles of air from an ocean floor. Or maybe you’ll get around to finally reading that critically acclaimed novel you’ve been putting off in favour of the latest social media likes from your friends and acquaintances.

If that sounds good, or if digital detoxing is something you already do for the sake of your sanity, let us know. Sadly, you’ll need a digital device in order to post a comment – but you can leave that till you get back from vacation. Happy summer holidays!