Monday, September 13, 2010

Do You Need A Digital Fast?

There have been a lot of discussions lately about the addiction that many of us have to our email, PDA’s, Ipads and the like. Let’s face it – for many of us it is true – we need to learn a little about balance. My bride calls my PDA my binky because I don’t really go many places without it and am constantly getting some sort of validation from pulling it out and reading the lines that appear on it. We all struggle with life/work balance – but the “always on, always connected” world we live in makes it a real temptation for us to deal with.

So there are a few new wrinkles being talked about today. The “staycation” is the first – just stay home rather than go on vacation and truly get away. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that staying home and pretending that we are not working is the same as truly leaving home with our family to enjoy the sights of God’s creation in this unbelievable world we live in. Let’s call it what it is – a staycation is an excuse to not take the family somewhere – save some coin – catch up on all the honey do jobs we have made excuses about for months or years – and somehow deceive ourselves into thinking it is just as good as an Alaskan cruise or a trip to Mount Rushmore with a couple screaming kids in the back seat asking “are we there yet” a few hundred times. It just isn’t the same – certainly not for everyone except you.

The latest craze is a “digital fast”. We just unplug from it all – from the PDA, social media, the Internet as a whole – thinking somehow that will set us free. Here’s a news flash – what a digital fast does is pile up all the information into a bunch of places so when you come off the cleansing you are completely overwhelmed. This isn’t like a fast from eating where you don’t go back and have to eat all the food you avoided during the fast once you end it. Somehow it doesn’t quite work the same digitally. If people would quit sending emails, updating Facebook, stop Tweeting etc. this concept might have a chance at working. But they don’t – in fact – it always seems to me the intensity of the sending and updates ratchets up a notch when I am offline. No one seems to deal with all the electronic accumulation while I am away or fasting digitally. It just doesn’t work the same.

Alexandra Samuels wrote a great article on the digital fast on Harvard Business Review the other day. Check out her post and consider these things she wrote:

“I'm troubled by the underlying narrative, that our ability to unplug is necessary to prove that we're not Internet addicts. We're supposed to demonstrate our grasp of human relationships by our ability to relate face-to-face, as well as online. We're supposed to show that we can be present by being absent from the web.
 The very idea of a digital "cleanse" implies that our time online makes us dirty; the idea of a digital "fast" suggests that there's a virtue in going without.
 We plug in because we like it.
 When we're online, participating in social media -- we're meeting some of our most basic human needs. Needs like creative expression. The need to connect with other people. The need to be part of a community. Most of all, the need to be seen.
 It's the very fact that the Internet can meet so many fundamental needs, significantly if not completely, that gets people nervous. We are accustomed to defining our human experience in terms of what happens face-to-face:
 We can have meaningful emotional or intellectual contact with people that we rarely or never encounter in person.
 We're not sure, or we're reluctant to admit that it feels real, because we are trained on connection inherently requiring physical presence.
 But what most digital fasters describe the experience to be like is a realization of how online and offline lives are integrated.
 If unplugging needs to be a part of our approach to living and working digitally, it's through the daily practice of taking downtime, of opting for reflection rather than distraction.“

The real answer to all of this is still the same basic principle – balance. We will never return to the days of old where we are not connected everywhere we go. At least not without significant planning and effort. It is the mission of all the wireless companies to make sure that doesn’t happen. Can you hear me now? So it comes down to CHOICE. We have to make a conscious effort to put our digital connectivity where it belongs – getting our focus and attention when appropriate – or remaining in our pocket or turned off completely when it is not. Up to this point at least, we still have to interact with the device to have it communicate to us. We can’t blame anyone other than ourselves. It is a matter of self-control and discipline – like most things that matter in life. If you need some help figuring that out – check your PDA in with your spouse when you walk through the door. My guess is they won’t struggle to make the choices for you at all!

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