Inadvertently I took a break from my phone for a week. On a holiday abroad, my phone decided to call it quits on me, and I was simply too occupied in getting immersed in new experiences to really care. I sent one message to my loved ones that my phone and I had parted company and gave everyone an emergency number where they could contact me if faced with a life and death situation, and simply put the instrument away. I was three days into the process, of what I later learnt was called ‘digital detoxification’ before I realised just how liberating the experience was.
No jangling, no vibration, no beeps and buzzes and reminders; no anxiety to see if I’d missed out on an update or had been left out of anything, and best of all, total freedom from the two blue ticks on WhatsApp ! I didn’t have to reply to tiresomely chirpy good morning messages; I wasn’t compelled to put a ‘like’ to posts, I did not have to update my pictures and I did not have to respond to or send festival greetings to all.
My phone camera was defunct anyway, so I didn’t take any photographs. I enjoyed the experience of travel as seen through my own eyes and not through the lens of a camera. I walked free of the fear of disapproval or approval, since I couldn’t post any pictures on any social app. I felt palpable relief, independence and a freedom from the pain in the neck. In short, I had a wonderful experience of a complete vacation
No wonder, globally, so many people are choosing to opt-out of their digitals. The aim is to restore work-life balance into their lives. Blake Snow, author of Log Off, recommends digital fasting wherein a person or family will spend a stipulated amount of time sans electronic devices, which propels them to connect with himself, engage with people around him and find experiences other than are contained in screens of the phone, tablets, computers and TVs.
People who opt for a complete detox say that a typical surrender from their phone should be at least of eight weeks. To begin with, there may be anxiety issues around how you would survive without it, and how the world would go on without you or you may be missing out in life. However, the real-life experiences that people had more than compensated for the virtual life offered to them by their compulsive phone habits. Life was lived in the present moment.
The over-utilisation of digital devices results in stress and anxiety of all sorts. It can lead to mental health issues like distraction, narcissism, expectation of instant gratification, and even depression and repercussions on physical health causing vision problems, hearing loss and neck strain. Tech experts like Virginia-based Shalini Misra have documented that “because it’s so easy to acquire so much information quickly, kids may not learn to think critically and creatively because of the constant passive consumption of fragments of information and communication”.
The “always on” connectivity that cellphones aid via countless apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are being identified as the major reason for the deterioration in mental health, depression and suicides, especially among teenagers. The selfie scares wherein many people hurt themselves, often fatally, while taking selfies has been another red flag in the use of technology. Many online games are said to physically endanger people, encouraging them to inflict self-harm and harm to others.
Parents, especially in developed countries, have become increasingly aware of the harmful effects of the excessive use of digital devices in our everyday life. Parents and teachers are concerned that such dependence can lead to anti-social, or at the very least, regressed social and interpersonal skills. Too much unfiltered, unnecessary and often unsuitable information at the click of a mouse or at the pressing of a key is available to children. Often the content is violent, causing high levels of anxiety among kids.
However, just how easy is it to distance yourself from your cellphone at a time when literally all a human being’s worldly business is done through it? “I don’t think it’s even possible” says Annu Sharma, a finance specialist, working in an IT firm. “Life would come to a standstill. Why, even entertainment is impossible without digital access. A couple of years ago, at the time of the arrest of Ram Rahim Singh, the administration had jammed internet connections. We had to stay at home. Initially we found it so difficult to pass time without access to the internet — No WhatsApp, no Netflix, no online shopping. We couldn’t even call a cab to go out. Family members talked to each other, played board games and re-discovered books. I don’t think we had actually conversed with each other for a long time before that.” After those two days, however, it was life as usual for Annu and other digitally deprived souls. “It might be easier for the older generation which was not still not so used to tech. We are a digital generation and grew up with technology, and life without it seems impossible,” adds Annu.
Contrary to this idea, “Older people” are resistant to being deprived of their digital gizmos. “What will we do with our days if we can’t watch online content?” demands a group of septuagenarian and octogenarian women, sitting in a park. “We connect with our children abroad on Duo and FaceTime and we watch serials on YouTube and Amazon. When electricity goes, the first thing we do call up the electricity department to ask for the restoration of power.”
Cashing in on the increasing anxiety around cyber-based information overload and demand for digital detox and fearing a technology backlash, phone companies have launched a range of stripped-down secondary phone. The USP being that these phones allow you to stay connected while “minimising digital distractions”. These phones enable the user to control what needs his attention, while staying connected with the present moment. Phone companies are now pitching products that allow you to “unplug from the world of apps” and whose functionality is limited to calls, text, and basic internet. These don’t work with mobile apps and have no camera. Tech giants, Google (android) and Apple (iOS), have integrated digital well-being features into their operating systems, encouraging users to examine the time spent on their phones and reduce time spent on their devices.