Embracing the Digital Detox and the New Luxury of Switching Off
Once upon a time…
…there was an internet-addicted twenty-something girl living in London, working in the Tech industry and living her life happily glued to her iPhone predominantly for her calendar, notes, maps, social media, emails, messages and her to-do list. Her iPhone battery would last scarcely 3 hours before needing mains electricity, and the sum of the world’s knowledge was never more than a few finger taps and a Google Search away. Life was good. Life was intensely busy and exhausting, but full of distractions, entertainment and happy interludes from the internet on long weekends abroad and foreign trips, where the Data Roaming setting would remain firmly off. Attempts to switch off and step out of the internet bubble surrounding her were welcome breaks, but in the back of her mind she knew that a hotel wifi connection, nearby television or an imminent return to reality would keep her anchored to the digital universe.
Then one day…
…enough was enough. The to-do lists were never-ending, her email inboxes continued to grow and the prospect of a long cold winter of commutes ahead, huddled miserably on public transport glued to her iPhone (along with millions of London’s other zombie-like commuters) haunted her. Her life was so dangerously entwined and tangled with the online world that it had become a dependency. She took 6 months off work, left an Out-of-Office message in Outlook and boarded a plane to Nepal. Expecting to have zero internet and electricity only if feeling lucky, she was relieved to have a few more weeks in internet-land while being trained up in Kathmandu, before heading to the internet-less wilderness of Makwanpur.
To her surprise, the cold turkey passed very easily and she relished the absence of notifications and phone vibrations, as her iPhone remained on airplane mode, laying virtually forgotten. “Notification-free” – what an unexpected luxury! So drastic was the abandonment suffered by the iPhone, that its battery would even stretch to 3 whole days without a charge! Low and behold, the world continued spinning regardless of the cutting of her lifeline to the outside world: the sun still rose and set, and she occupied herself with project work, looking after her team of volunteers and socialising with real life people! Her fingers once again learned to adopt pen and paper, and post-it notes replaced her beloved Reminders app.
Two blissful weeks passed in this vein until one day, by complete surprise, a 3G internet dongle arrived, bringing with it a connection to the outside world. Initially intrigued and excited to see what had happened to the world outside of the Aambhanjyang valley in the previous fortnight, upon opening up the internet browser, she instead felt confused, stressed and she remembered many of the feelings and hassles that had repelled her from London in the first place. She realised that she didn’t need nor even want to use the internet. She had been perfectly happy in her analogue bubble, where the world was so small and where she hadn’t travelled by anything other than her own two feet in a fortnight. To her inner relief, just 7 days after the arrival of the prodigious internet dongle, the data allowance ran out and life in Aambhanjyang returned to previous levels of blissful disconnection.
To her surprise…
…she discovered that she missed only a very few aspects of the online world. She missed the creative outlet of her travel blog, and the conversations and discussion that her blog posts prompted. She missed Instagram as a storyboard for her daily life and all the fantastic locations, scenes, events and moments she was encountering in the village of Bhalu Khola. She missed hearing about the lives of her nearest and dearest, although she never really felt that far away from them, knowing that they’d be there to welcome her home upon her return. She learned that she didn’t in the slightest miss hearing about the lives of those she barely knew, which she soon discovered is the principle purpose of Facebook, whose glossy pages of carefully staged and edited highlights of other people’s lives brought her no joy at all, only feelings of envy, unfair comparison and an obsession with the future. She recognised that a certain ambition and eye on the future is healthy, but infinitely better for the soul is an intense focus on today, this afternoon and tonight, which her disconnected life in rural Nepal certainly provided. It became apparent that remarkably few emails are worth even opening. She learned that the world really doesn’t end if you miss a deadline for this or that. She secretly adored being disconnected.
But like any addiction (coffee, alcohol, gambling, fast food), there comes the inevitable point where you fall off the wagon. And this is when it hit her – the internet is the new addiction. Everyone is unwittingly hooked on the internet, just as millions were innocently hooked on cigarettes for most of the 20th century. It’s toxic and we all recognise the danger it poses to our happiness and wellbeing, but no one is capable of giving it up. The protagonist of this particular story included. When balancing which she’d prefer: a peaceful life in the here and now, without any internet in a tranquil valley at the foothills of the Himalayas, or on the other hand a life of stressful emails, unfair comparison but, crucially, access to limitless information and opportunities, she would of course choose the internet beast. But she did at least learn to cherish these few months of intermittent connectivity in Nepal, realising that she may never again enjoy such an extended period of luxury in her entire life.