“First Steps to Digital Detox,” The New York Times, Room for Debate, June 7, 2010
Click here for the entire article on the NYTimes site. Read my contribution below.

first steps to digital detox

The problem isn’t our iPhones and BlackBerrys, it’s how we’re using them. We’ve simply gone overboard, surrendered too much of our lives to our little screens.

Know why you’re withdrawing from your devices and make it a habit.

First, it’s essential to recognize that this is a completely normal human response to a powerful new technology. People have been addicted to connectedness since the dawn of time. We need it to get ahead in life, learn about the world beyond ourselves, find happiness and meaning. Some of the most accomplished figures in history have struggled with the challenge captured in Matt Richtel’s story, that restless inability to stop connecting.

Socrates was so hooked on the dominant connectedness of his time — oral conversation — he couldn’t bear to spend time outside the walls of Athens. Why take a quiet walk in the country when he could be where the action was, chatting up his friends? A friend showed Socrates that putting some distance between yourself and your busy, connected life does wonders for the mind. Today we just need to learn that same lesson.

Unplugging from one’s devices — turning off the screen, leaving the phone in a drawer for a few hours — provides instant distance, but it only works under two conditions:

1) You have to know why you’re doing it, and really believe in the goals. That’s why news stories like this one are useful. They shine a light on the enormous losses we incur by never disconnecting — in our relationships, our work and most important, our inner lives. When your mind is always skating the surface, never going too deep, you’re simply not as alive as you could be. Once you recognize that your life will really improve, disconnecting becomes a lot easier.

2) It has to become a habit. In one of the studies cited in The Times article, university students reported that going offline for a day made them miserable. Of course it did. They were in withdrawal. You have to turn unplugging into a regular ritual, one that has its own positive rewards. You’re not just taking something away, as a restrictive diet does. You’re adding something wonderful.

My family has been disconnecting from the Internet every weekend for three years now. It was hard at first, but once we got into the habit, it became effortless, and all kinds of amazing benefits revealed themselves. We’ve never looked back.