Monday 18 February 2019

Could you manage to survive the full digital detox?

Vicki Notaro rediscovered the pleasure of reading books and will be switching off her iPhone more often
Vicki Notaro rediscovered the pleasure of reading books and will be switching off her iPhone more often
Joe O'Shea, with his wife Holly, is planning further detoxes

Vicki Notaro and Joe O'Shea

A life without Google, Facebook or Twitter? Vicki Notaro and Joe O'Shea do the unthinkable and push the off button.

Vicki Notaro

To me, detox is never a good word. It screams of wheatgrass and suffering, and I'm not someone who likes to be limited when it comes to fun. However, something even more alarming than the thought of eliminating sugar from my life is the thought of eliminating my iPhone. I am one of those people almost umbilically attached to my phone, to the point where my right hand appears to be evolving into a more ergonomic fit around it.

I blame 'work' of course; as a magazine editor I'm constantly on email, tweeting from dual accounts and trying to keep up with the world around me via social media.

I like to be informed, even if that means spending evenings, when I'm supposed to be relaxing, scrolling through Twitter and Instagram like a maniac and refreshing my news apps. Of course, I don't really have to be switched on when outside the office, but it's something that I've become accustomed to - so much so I'm terrified to tune out.

However, I've noticed that this constant connectivity has been having a negative effect. I'm always wired, irritated if my 4G is patchy and feel enraged by a dead battery. I find myself thinking in 140 characters.

I open important emails practically in my sleep and then forget to respond. I am frequently anxious. It's been starting to worry me, actually. So when the idea of switching off digitally for a weekend came up in an editorial meeting, you'd think I'd have jumped at the chance of a free pass to tune out.

Not so. I became instantly defensive. "How am I supposed to do my job?" I cried, waiting for everyone to go, "oh of course, you are far too busy and important not to tweet and email on your days off!" Instead, I received quizzical, almost embarrassed looks from my colleagues. I sat there stewing, mortified at my reaction. I realised that not only was this a good idea, it was necessary.

I agreed to switch off my data and wifi from Friday evening until Monday morning. Being out of touch completely was not a good idea, so it was agreed I would use my phone as a phone only, not a handheld portal to the rest of the world.

No Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Email, Whatsapp, iMessage. No Spotify. No weather app. No adding 36 products (of which I might buy two) to my 'Saved For Later' bag on ASOS. No Sky Plus app and no ordering Dominos online. The last one turned out to be a blessing.

Vicki Notaro rediscovered the pleasure of reading books and will be switching off her iPhone more often

Friday evening was fine, a prearranged dinner with my parents and a night on the couch watching The Sopranos with himself. On Saturday I woke at 8am. Normally I would reach for the phone and spend the next two hours scrolling. But because this was forbidden, I actually went back to sleep for three more hours.

I spent Saturday in a sort of odd euphoria, bolstered by a good sleep and even better behaviour. I was very smug: When a friend rang around lunchtime, worried because I'd been "very quiet", I laughed at his concern. Hadn't he ever heard of a digital detox?

But then about 8pm, panic set in. What if I'd missed something major? What if there was a horrible email waiting in my inbox, or someone had tagged a hideous photo of me? I had a knot in my stomach. I knew it was ridiculous though and focused on cooking dinner.

On Sunday, I realised I had no clue how much money I had left but couldn't check the app. I'm going to New York very soon, and wanted to look at some restaurants online. No go. Then I wanted to check the cinema times, and couldn't.

I realised that the internet hasn't just been about work and social media for me; it has become part of my life to such an extent that it's unrealistic to expect me to go entirely without. I don't get paper bills or bank statements, nor do I own a set of encyclopedias to reference. I don't even carry that much cash any more because I pay for weekend staples such as takeaways and gym classes via app. And let's be honest, the fact that I was watching Netflix and Sky OnDemand meant that I hadn't fully been digitally detoxing at all.

So I checked my online banking - on my laptop so as not to cheat completely.

On balance, though, the digital detox was definitely worth it, to the point where I'm going to make a habit of switching off. I became enraptured by Donna Tartt's novel The Goldfinch, which had been gathering dust on my side table for months. I read the stack of September magazines I'd bought and ignored. I got more sleep, and I definitely rolled my eyes less. The world didn't end because I didn't post a picture of my dogs to Facebook, and I sort of liked not being able to google the answer to every random question that sprang to mind.

So the next time I'm frantically scrolling, I will remind myself that I don't have to know about everything as soon as it happens.

I don't need to tweet my every thought, or share every photograph. If I don't check in at that new hotspot, it doesn't mean I wasn't there, and replying to emails at 11.30pm on Sunday isn't good for anybody's mojo heading into a new week.

And irony of ironies? I collected more Twitter followers than ever by shutting the hell up.

Vicki Notaro is the editor of the Irish Independent's Insider magazine, which is out today.


Joe O'Shea

You are lying on the sofa, watching the TV with one eye, the other on the laptop on your chest, your right hand resting on your smartphone. As you check Twitter for the second time in two minutes, you think; "Hmmm… may be time for a digital detox".

Or, it's date night and you are sitting in a restaurant with your significant other, distractedly listening to how their week at work went as you wonder what's going on in Iraq, with Ebola, or the Mayo footballers. And as you try to focus on the conversation, your smartphone is buzzing away in your pocket, demanding attention.

This strange state, of being hyper-aware and yet totally distracted, more in tune with our social media sites, apps and news-feeds than the real life going on around us, is how many of us live today.

So how did it come to this? Maybe it's time to face facts and 'fess up: "Hi. My name is Joe, and I'm a Digiholic."

And I am not alone. The average person now checks their phone every six and a half minutes - that's 200 times a day. One in four of us admits to spending longer online each day than we do asleep.

I may be at the higher end of the addiction scale. Checking Twitter is usually the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night.

I was always an information junkie with a lot of opinions. Now Twitter, in particular, has amplified and fed this addiction to a point where I am genuinely worried that it may be rewiring my brain.

My other-half is driven to, well, distraction. I realise my selfish, slavish behaviour is unfair and anti-social but it is as if I can't help myself.

And I find it very hard to focus on the work I should be doing and the real life going on around me. I have actually started to "reward" myself. If I send this work email, I get a little Twitter or Facebook break. It's not healthy.

So I tried a digital detox, a total break from the online world, for the best part of a week. The rules are simple. No time online unless it is strictly work-related. My phone would be used only for making or taking calls.

Joe O'Shea, with his wife Holly, is planning further detoxes

And it was a small revelation. There is a buzz-phrase used by those who study this area, they talk about the "Heads-Down Generation".

We spend a large portion of our lives crouched over tiny screens, giving all of our attention to the virtual world. You see people on buses watching TV, catching up on the latest goals from the Premier League or feeding into their social media.

On a bus trip into town, I sat right at the front on the top deck and kept my phone, for once, in my pocket. I looked out on the world. I wandered into a newsagent to get my favourite classic car magazine and spent a lovely half-hour over a coffee, with the feel of glossy pages in my hands rather than the cold metal and harsh, glaring screen of a device.

I still buy a newspaper most days, it's a good habit I don't think any grown-up should get out of. And to be honest, I started to feel a sense of superiority over the poor, enslaved sheep around me, flicking away on their screens. The fools!

At home, I read a book or listened to the radio. Or just sat in splendid isolation.

Technology, however, is changing our lives in ways that we are only beginning to understand.

A new report by Public Health England found that excessive "screen time" -more than four hours a day - was linked to anxiety and depression in children.

Face-to-face time, actually talking to friends and family, reduced anxiety.

However, 70pc of those aged 16-24 surveyed say they now prefer to text rather than talk. The more "connected" we become, the less human interaction we have. We are building digital walls around ourselves.

I won't get out of the Twitter habit. For me, it's like a giant pub conversation, with all that this entails. You chat with the witty and the dumb, the interesting and the fascinatingly mundane. Like many, I have largely got out of the Facebook habit, but I still use it to keep in contact with the many who have left Ireland.

I'll always be an information and opinion junkie with lots to say. It's just the way I am wired.

But from now on, I plan regular digital detoxes. It's good for the soul and highly recommended. And I vow to go through life more heads up than down.

We're spending hours on our phones every day

The latest major study for the UK and Ireland found the average adult spends 43 hours a month online.


That may not sound like a lot. However, if you use a desktop in work, stare at your smartphone on your commute and then watch TV when you get home, you could be spending up to nine hours a day looking at a screen.


We are now multi-device users and the way we live our increasingly connected lives is also changing.


• Social Media is now the top internet activity. A survey of US adults who were regularly online found that social- media sites such as Facebook and Twitter consumed the lion's share of their time, with email trailing in second.


• Mobile - 60pc of social-media time is spent not on desktops but on smartphones and tablets.


• Facebook beats Twitter - Despite growing evidence of 'Facebook Fatigue', it still attracts seven times the engagement that Twitter does when judged on mobile and desktop usage per user.


• Smaller competitors such as Pinterest, Tumblr and LinkedIn still trail behind the big two, but are quickly catching up.


Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life