Digital Detox

Less distractions, more productivity.

When people ask Elon Musk how he learned to build rockets, his answer is simple, “I Read Books.”

He reportedly read about a book a day as a kid, from autobiographies about Benjamin Franklin to Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.

Elon Musk is only a few years older than me. I probably didn’t read enough as a kid, however since I was a bit of a geek, I read the complete Lord Of The Rings Trilogy during one summer break.

Now if you’re a kid of the internet generation, your introduction to LOTR would have been the film adaptation of the books — and remember how long they were?

Looking back on my 14 year old self, I wonder how I would have coped now, what with all the possible distractions that would have prevented me from focussing on getting through the whole book: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat…

Kids Are Getting Distracted

A study by Pearson has revealed that according to parents, primary and pre-school aged children spend three times as much of their time ‘onscreen’ activity at home as they are on reading traditional books. On average the study shows they might spend about 44 minutes a day on reading.

“….People who regularly juggle several streams of content do not pay attention, memorize, or manage their tasks as well as those who focus on one thing at a time” — Conquering Digital Distraction, HBR

Kids aren’t the only ones who are getting distracted, it’s everyone else too (yes that includes you). Research has also revealed that the human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 (or around the time the mobile revolution began) to eight seconds — that’s about the same attention span as a goldfish.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. The counter argument for the world being in an ‘Age Of Distraction’ is that society has always been averse to new things, even when books and writing was a ‘new thing’.

Socrates reacted to the invention of writing by arguing that it would weaken readers’ memory because it removed from them the responsibility for remembering.

“The experience of the past indicates that most of the troubles attributed to the internet and digital technology have served as topics of concern in previous centuries.” — The Independant

But even if we let this standpoint sink in, it still doesn’t feel right. We know we might be spending longer than we should on our smartphones, being ‘distracted’ when we could be doing something more productive instead…

Creating Healthy Relationships With Our Devices

Two friends, Levi Felix and Brooke Dean, once went on long trip to Cambodia. They worked on farms and volunteered for non-profits. One day on their journey they stumbled on a secluded guesthouse on a Cambodian island.

They ran it for 6 months and saw how device-free living affected their guests. Inspired by their experience at the guesthouse, they set up dining experiences when they returned back home at bars and restaurants where guests would need to hand their phone over at the door. The traction and interest these events received eventually expanded to the detox retreats.

‘By creating healthy relationships with our devices, developing new positive social norms and etiquette, and by changing the ways in which we build and design our digital technologies, we will shift the course of human history.’ — The Manifesto, Digital Detox

Tech Free Mornings

My friend Bill Tribble, a fellow UX designer practices tech free mornings. He’s been making a conscious effort to disconnect (or perhaps, ‘stay disconnected’) — from when he wakes up, to when he begins his commute or starts his work. His key tips for the morning are:

  1. Disconnection from the internet
  2. 2. Focused, intentional work, play or whatever you like

I’m a big fan of this habit ever since I got forced to send my smartphone into repair and went retro for two weeks. It brought to my mind the power of disconnectedness and focus.