Sorry boss, I’m on a digital detox
DISENGAGING FROM TECHNOLOGY
Digital detoxes, Mr Talks said, work by getting people to focus on the problem. They are a jolt rather than a full cure. His courses teach people how to weave breaks from technology into the normal working day. Tips include turning off your phone for an hour to make sure you can concentrate on work, curbing email communication with people working nearby, and standing up when taking a call or having a conversation.
Ms Lucy Pearson is a former advertising executive who co-founded Unplugged Weekend after meeting a like-minded soul on a retreat in the Sahara. After organising weekend “unplugged” retreats, the two are now working with tech companies to help their employees use their devices with “intention”. Digital detoxing advisers have the same purpose as personal trainers, she said: We all know what is good for us, but need help putting it into practice.
Ms Linda Stone, a former tech executive who studies the effect of technology on bodies, minds and emotions, coined the expression “continuous partial attention” whereby people pay superficial attention to lots of bits of information. She is not a fan of language that exhorts people to “disconnect” because she thinks it is more important to plan “to what and how we want to connect”. However, for some, she said it can help to make this type of commitment to turn off, to join a group and share an experience structured by others.
Ms Orianna Fielding, founder of Digital Detox Company, visits workplaces to assess the tech overload. There is no point giving employees advice if it will not work in practice in the office. She said she finds stressed and overstimulated workers: “It’s quite easy to unplug in a Tuscan hilltop, but people need to do it in a work context.”
It is easier for older generations to learn to disengage from technology, she said: “Digital natives haven’t lived without technology. They are terrified of being without it.” Yet after the FOMO (fear of missing out) fades, she finds they are hugely relieved.
As with most cultural change in organisations, the message that digital breaks are important needs to come from the top, Ms Fielding said. It would help foster an understanding that employees should not feel compelled to play email ping pong with their managers in their free time. She recommends, for example, setting up automatic email messages warning that you are unavailable and unplugged for a period of time. She also demonstrates time management apps that switch computers off and email filters.
The key discovery for most people, she said, has been that when they switched their gadgets back on “everything was just the same”.