Do we need a Digital Detox?

When I’m doing boring jobs on my own, I like to listen to podcasts and radio programmes (usually Radio4. Contrary to popular belief, I am not 40+ years old). So yesterday, when I was patching holes on the seats of the Land Rover (affectionately known as MSV Pressure Drop) I plugged in, and stuck on some Digital Human.

Photo included simply because you ain’t gettin’ no other visuals for this blog post

I listened to several old episodes (the patching took a lot longer than hoped. Ugh) but the one that really stood out for me was “Detox“. In this episode, our enigmatic host Aleks Krotoski explores the growing phenomenon of technological addiction: our increasing reliance on gadgets in our everyday life, our very real anxiety when we leave our smartphones behind (come on, we’ve all been there), and even, yes, counselors and retreats for “switching off”, quite literally.

So what’s the deal? Can we be TOO connected? Yes we all like our gadgets, but is it really a big deal? Well yes, it can be.

The most immediate thing that springs to mind is the problem with being “always on”. This is particularly problematic for people who work from home, and struggle to demarcate their work- and home-lives. Successfully leaving work issues at work at the end of the day is difficult enough (not just taking work home with you, but also just worrying about work issues, known as “work-related rumination”), but with the addition of smartphones and superfast broadband (which, gods willing, I will have by the end of the week – there is life in Suffolk!), switching off from work is even harder. It becomes easier and easier to “just quickly check your emails” as soon as you wake up, or “accidentally” still be working on quarterly reports for clinical commissioning groups at 7pm.

And you know what else is really bad about being constantly connected? You can spend hours, and hours, and hours…. doing absolutely nothing. At least when I go on a reading binge or a knitting binge, I am still being productive. But tech? I could say that I browse Pinterest or Bloglovin’ or YouTube as “research”. But if I’m honest? I’m faffing. I’m looking at way too many pretty pictures and it hardly ever leads to anything, ever.

Tech has been blamed for a lot of things: poor attention span, deteriorating social skills, blurred work/life boundaries… But can it be on par with other pathological addictions? Well, the neuroscientists say: probably. Techno-addicts experience the same dopaminergic response that drug addicts get hooked on, and much like gamblers at the casino, faffing on the web offers similar interval reward schedules in casino payouts (which make gambling addictive). We browse a looooot of crap on the internet, but there are nuggets of gold in there, and if we keep browsing, we might come across another…

But tech has also revolutionised the way we live. I can talk to my dad in Kabul and it doesn’t cost me a penny. I can access all of my files from anywhere (as long as I have a wi-fi connection…) even if I don’t have my own laptop with me. I can connect with people all around the world, and I can look smart by linking to loads of other articles and sources with minimum effort. I can’t imagine a world without tech, but I can see how it is a dangerous beast that must be treated with respect. But digital detoxes?

What are your thoughts? Have you ever done a “Facebook Fast“? Do you think this talk of dialing down the digital is hogswash?

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