Every year I have a digital free holiday. This time a few years ago I turned off my phone and travelled around Myanmar (Burma) for three weeks. There was no point in taking my phone with me as there is very little phone or wifi access.
I chose to have a complete break from emails, the internet and social media. I only broke the intention once, to send an email to my parents letting them know I wasn’t one of the tourists that was killed in a plane crash in the Myanmar mountains. (Fair enough I think!)
This year I went on a yoga retreat and decided to use the opportunity do a digital detox. Surprisingly, not only was I the only one who turned all of my devices off, I was the only one who thought to do it. Even the teacher openly used her phone.
Addicted to digital
Over 60% of people admit to being addicted to the internet and their devices. I really think it’s worth asking the question...would I find it difficult to not take my phone with me on holidays, to grab a coffee, to go for a walk, to go to bed, to...?
I spend every working day sitting in front of screens and I go home and have my phone and iPad nearby.
I check my email first thing and last thing in the day – as I do the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram twirl. Like most professionals, I spend up to 10 hours a day online.
Our constant need for new stimulation, endless access to information and social connection is changing our brains. It’s impacting our long-term memory as well as our mental wellbeing.
At times I wonder if our addiction to digital is making us to lead lives that are a centimetre deep, and a kilometre wide.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with digital. In fact, I love so many things about the internet and social media. But I do think there are very many valid reasons to step away from digital from time to time. And I think it’s so important to question our use of digital and digital devices.
What I missed
I crave time away from being connected and constantly available. I find it hard to do at home, but when I’m away and set my intention I find it oh so easy. I love taking photos of the sunset and sunrise, and at the retreat I couldn’t take photos of them and share them. So instead, I simply watched them.
At the retreat, I mostly missed “The Google” (as my mother calls it). I wanted to look up the chef’s blog and recipe book, I wanted to know the weather for the day; I wondered if my next accommodation was confirmed. I was halfway through an episode of Downton Abbey which I couldn’t finish.
I did the old fashioned thing and wrote stuff I wanted to look up later. Like on, you know, a piece of paper...
Focussing on one task
The average employee checks 40 websites a day, switching activities 37 times an hour, changing tasks every two minutes. That constant task changing is impacting productivity.
I used to have a million tabs open, plus email. Now I find them so distracting, I shut it all down when I’m working on a task such as writing. I didn’t use to find it a problem, but now with cognitive overload I find it much more productive to focus on one task.
I’m enjoying the process of diving deep into one task. For a multitasking junkie, trust me, I never thought I would say that!
Turning back time
We have seen noticeable resurgence in creating traditional crafts in the past few years and I think it’s a reaction to how virtual our lives have become. Maybe think about how you can incorporate a form of ‘slowing down’ into your life.
For me, I spend hours at a time sitting on my lounge room floor surrounded by leaves, twigs and vines, weaving sculptures. A practice I found, after searching for more creativity and less computers in my life.
Do nothing. Be bored.
Amazing thing happens when you are not constantly digitally stimulated. Your mind quietens down. When was the last time you experienced that? Noticing your breath, hearing your heart beat and really taking notice of your surroundings.
Walking down the street with your only view being the piece of glass in your hand checking Facebook means that you’re missing the moments in time that nature gifts us; a beautiful sunset, the sun through the trees or leaf drifting by in the breeze.
Be brave, and feel the sensation of being bored. Don’t pick up the phone. Just daydream instead. Even try meditation.
The internet is a significant part of my life. Without it I wouldn’t have a business. For me, it’s not going away, and I don’t want it to go away! But in addition to having a digital free holiday a year, I am working on creating digital free rituals at home. It’s a work in progress!
Latest from Catriona Pollard
- In politics or business, this is the one thing you should do every day
- How to stop people from copying you and your work
- Why solitude is good for your career (and your life)
- How to land speaking gigs and stop the all-male speaker line-up
- What happened when I stopped looking for balance and instead discovered my creativity