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It's time for a digital detox - Michael's essay

A day without screens - Michael's essay: It's tough to fight an addiction. Perhaps a digital detox is the solution.
(AFP/Getty Images)

A young man died in January, a young man I had never met or indeed heard of but who could have an important impact on my daily life. And perhaps yours.

His name is Levi Felix. He was 32 when he died of a brain tumour.

Mr. Felix was a high tech startup geek who mastered the wonders and riches of the digital world by working 70 hours a week. After a few years of this, he finally got fed up with what his job was doing to his life. He and his girlfriend set off to see the world.

Four years ago, they started something they called Digital Detox.

The idea behind the mission statement was to bring some balance into people's lives by temporarily weaning them off the umbilical ties to their smartphones, tablets and social media.

In every interview, he was quick to point out that he was no luddite. He said, "I love that technology connects us and is taking our civilization to the next level, but we have to learn how to use it and not have it use us."

Which got me to thinking. Are we now living in a time when, instrumentally, the technology is using us? Has our affinity for digital engagement become an addiction?

I remembered a conversation that I had in 2008 with the writer Nicholas Carr. I interviewed him about his essay in The Atlantic entitled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

He argued that he had lost his ability for what he called deep reading. His connectedness had reduced his attention span dramatically. Where before he could read for one or two hours at a time, now his mind wandered at around the 15-minute mark.

Whether that's an addiction is arguable. What I do know is that digital involvement is epidemic. When I ride the bus or streetcar I try to count the number of people who are on the phone. Many, if not most of the riders are staring at their phones, largely playing games.

The phenomenon is universal.

In the United States, fully 46 percent of Americans say they could not live without their phones and other devices.

An international survey carried out in 10 countries showed that a clear majority of students experienced anxiety when they tried to go without their devices for 24 hours.

A salesman checks a customer's iPhone at a mobile phone store in New Delhi, India, July 27, 2016. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)
A couple of years ago, some friends embarked on an experiment called a Digital Sabbath. In some countries, it's called the National Day of Unplugging.

The idea is that all phones and screens would be shut down once a week for 24 hours. 

No emails, no digital games, no Google, no Webmd. For 24 hours.

My friends found it especially challenging with two small children.

I keep thinking of Levi Felix and his central Quixotic quest: "I'd like to see more people looking into other people's faces instead of looking at their screens."

 "Despite an embarrassing history of past failures of good intentions, I'm going to give it a shot. I will pick one day, probably on a weekend, and shut down my digital life for 24 hours."-Michael Enright

So despite an embarrassing history of past failures of good intentions, I'm going to give it a shot. I will pick one day, probably on a weekend, and shut down my digital life for 24 hours.

There is no special training involved as far as I know. I will simply choose a day and carry on. It's not like a Quit Smoking day. Or perhaps it is.

I will report back in due course.

Click the button above to hear Michael's essay. 


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