Imagine only having internet access for 1 hour a day.
And when you did have access you could only view but not respond, reply, like or send a new message.
This is the self-imposed digital exile I have just enforced upon myself for one week. I did it to take a break from work for the first time in four years, and to practice a digital detox to see how it went. I should also add that I’m in the middle of writing a book, so some uninterrupted time to be creative and write was much needed.
Last Sunday (Oct 4th), after successfully getting tickets for Glastonbury 2016, I set off for Scotland with a car full of “stuff” and a determination to start work on my book and to get off-grid. Seven hours of driving later, I was in a different (yet familiar) world.
I stayed in a friend’s cottage in the Highlands (Perthshire) where there is no land-line, no TV signal, no mobile reception and definitely no broadband. A short walk up the mountain behind the cottage there is a weak GPRS mobile signal on O2 with which I phoned my wife most days.
And three and a half miles away in the village of Kinloch Rannoch there is a little coffee shop with free Wi-Fi (“for PAYING customers only”) where I went once per day for an hour. It quickly became more important to have the tea and Mint Aero cake (or Border Pie) than it did to let my phone do its thing.
I added in some other rules – I downloaded all emails, deleted all those that could be deleted immediately (generally from the title) and left the rest (no responding to emails with one exception). I allowed myself one or two Facebook posts per day with a picture to let my friends know what I was up to, but didn’t look at the news feed or timeline, did not respond to messages except from my wife and a very close friend, did not “like” anything and did not check anything else.
My Out Of Office (OOO) message explained I was off grid for a week – expect no contact and no response from me.
Because of the lack of mobile signal (and even the GPRS up the hill was variable), I didn’t get text messages or voice messages. No WhatsApp, no Skype, no LinkedIn either. I couldn’t access Google maps to plan a route, or check train times on Qjump. I didn’t shop on eBay, accepted connections on LinkedIn, check the BBC news, look at the sports results on SportingLife or “Google” anything.
On the first day I went exploring after doing a couple of hours writing – and discovered GPRS but no 3G – and that was 12 miles away!.
The first day was really hard – at least as hard as when I gave up smoking 6 years ago (after 35 years) and did it cold turkey – no patches or substitutes. I found myself picking up my phone to check for messages, twitching to know “what is going on” in the world. That Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) anxiety was very high. Whilst out driving around and exploring I sent a few txt messages, but after that I relaxed, maintained my discipline and didn’t drive out of the glen.
The FOMO anxiety served to demonstrate how much I needed this break, how my life was becoming dominated by all the messaging. It is indeed a drug. Just sit in a coffee shop in the heart of London (or anywhere else) and put your device down and watch. How much real conversation is going on, how many slack eyed people gazing longingly at their phone, picking it up every 30 seconds to check for their fix.
We truly have become slaves to the machine. We feed ourselves with irrelevant snippets of information and keep ourselves hooked.
I will most definitely be taking the digital detox self-therapy much more regularly now, and paying more attention to my behaviour and activities. We have been beguiled by the “social” in the Social Network into believing this is socialising. I promise you, it isn’t.
I learned that some people expect me to be ubiquitously available for their benefit, don’t respect that I wanted to be off-grid, and get impatient if they don’t get a reply one way and try another, and another and yet another (and remember – I had an OOO set).
My friends were positive and supportive (thank you) and so was my wife (she also benefitted from not having me a round for a while).
So, time to start some detox meetups I think. Getting groups of people together and turning off (not silent) all devices and forcing people to talk to each other; share experiences and opinions; agree and disagree with equal good grace and develop connections at a personal level without the benefit of technology. To be human beings again!
If you are coming to any of my networking events in the coming months, be prepared.
PS: I managed to avoid hearing the result of the GBBO Final until Friday afternoon, when a Scottish Hydro worker in the café commented on the result as he paid his bill!
PPS: Great progress made on the book, new structure and chapter headings, new sense of purpose, sample chapters written!