The idea of undergoing a “detox” has been gaining more and more popularity in recent years, so much so that we’ve dedicated an entire month to cleansing ourselves and emerging as entirely new, pure pictures of health and mental stability. Playing on our so-called addiction to technology, “digital detoxes” have emerged as a means to understand the extent of our technophilia and a way of learning to live without smartphones, tablets and computers; but most of all, the Internet.
As you might have already guesses, I’m not a big fan of the concept. Not because I find 5 kids sitting around a table fiddling with their gadgets a stellar example of human communication, but because I don’t believe in the concept of “detoxing” any more than I believe in miracle diets or Santa and here’s why.
A false promise
The promise of a detox regiment, of any sort, is that once you’ve completed a restrictive plan that requires considerable effort to go through, you’ll be able to flush your body clean of toxins. In the case of digital detoxes, you’ll learn to reconnect to the world and lead a happier, more meaningful life. Beautiful concept!
The sad truth is that detox diets are ineffective and digital detoxes aren’t much better. The reasons are deceptively simple. The human body is a very complex machine, the well-being of which depends on a balance of nutrients and behaviors. Just like drinking sparkling water with half a cucumber for 4 weeks won’t cleanse your body of the fast-food you’ve been chugging down for the past 11 months, not browsing the Internet for a few weeks won’t turn you into a social butterfly.
Ignoring the real issues
The biggest objection to detoxes is the fact that they barter drastic and immediate action in exchange for quick solutions and people just don’t work that way. Sure, going through any sort of dramatic change will force you to adapt to your new circumstances very quickly and can teach you to think twice before downing an entire cake or learn to compromise rather than spend time alone.
This is, however, a double-edged sword; because these can become traumatic experiences just as easily as self-discovery and learning experiences. We communicate an incredible volume of information online and we’ve grown accustomed to this exchange on a daily basis. For those on a digital detox, trying to connect with someone by virtue of sheer proximity and for the sake of not feeling lonely can lead one to believe that they’re poor communicators, rather than they simply haven’t run into that many like-minded people.
If you consult a doctor about wanting to be healthier, they won’t tell you to detox every 12 months. They’ll advise you on developing a healthy relationship with food. Much in the same way, a digital detox can’t fix pathological addictions to technology, self-esteem issues or improve communication skills through a 4 week journey of self-imposed self-discovery.
The people for whom these detoxes seem to work are the people who already possess the tools to control their perceived dependance on technology and online communication; with technological deprivation simply creating the opportunity to use and perfect them.
Not accounting for reality
No matter how much you criticize our social context, the reality is we live in a very connected world. Whether you like it or not, information is readily available at your nearest Internet-capable gadget, your friends are seldom farther than about two screen taps and entertainment is never more than a shortcut away. How exactly does having everything you’ve ever wanted in terms of connectivity and information constitute a bad thing?
Technology is here to make our lives easier and better. Thanks to the Internet there are very few things you can’t learn, while social networks tend to a myriad of needs from emotional connection to self-improvement and much, much more. The danger here lies in the disproportionate use of these tools. When one browses the Internet for hours in search of doctors who’d go through with the cosmetic surgery that’s been denied by 5 certified surgeons already; we’ve got a problem. If someone refuses to see their real-life friends anymore because they’re too busy playing video games, we’ve got an issue again.
Do you honestly think that disconnecting from technology could help either of these people? Perhaps then we shouldn’t criticize the tool, but rather provide those who are using them for escapism, to compensate for a lack of social skills or to mask deep self-esteem issues, with the tools they need to heal and use technology for their benefit and personal growth.
Statistics like people check their phones around 150 times every day, the fact that Twitter and Facebook have been labelled as more addictive than smoking or that 44% of cell phone owners sleep with their phones next to their beds can be quite scary. Granted, they could benefit from some context. Checking your phone 100 times per day because your clients or colleagues are asking for constant updates doesn’t mean you need to undergo a digital detox but rather get more organized or hire a personal assistant.
The Bottom Line
The truth is that anything in excess is harmful and finding balance is probably the most difficult exercise we’ll ever perform. At the same time, it’s important to remember that drastic actions can’t lead to gradual results and that removing someone from a harmful environment only to put them back in it after a while is going to do precious little to improve their lives. Considering all this, one must wonder if quick-fix solutions really are the way to go or if we shouldn’t, instead, take the time to discover the real issues behind the disproportionate use of digital tools and develop the means to encourage a healthier relationship with them and between ourselves.