Film by Phil Lavelle
How is our need to be constantly connected impacting our lives and could a digital detox be the solution?
Al Jazeera’s Phil Lavelle is constantly connected, and can rarely be found without his face buried into one of his many mobile devices. He diagnosed himself as a digital addict – after researching the symptoms online, of course – but now feels the need to disconnect.
We follow him as he checks into a digital detox facility and attempts to adapt to a life without his devices. Along the way, we explore the modern phenomenon of digital addiction.
From the correspondent:
Would you – a shy Brit – spend a weekend locked up in a forest with a load of crazy Americans? Would you give up your phone, tablet and every other digital device you own? I did both this summer – and initially felt like I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
My journey started in a hotel restaurant in February. As I sat there, minus my laptop (which was charging in my room), I surveyed the table in front of me. There was a smartphone, a tablet, a pair of noise cancelling headphones and a Kindle, not to mention the fitness band on my wrist.
It hit me as clear as day: I was an addict, a digital addict. I hadn’t even been able to leave my hotel room and travel two floors without taking my swag along with me.
I discussed it with friends and realised that I wasn’t alone. A 10-minute walk to the station isn’t complete without a pair of white headphones; a dinner date isn’t fully realised unless we break off mid-conversation to talk virtually with a person in another time zone about something trivial.
So I went on a quest to find out why. Travelling across the US, I spoke to a psychiatrist who explained the chemical release that comes from being connected – it’s the same one cocaine addicts get; to a former Apple employee who revealed why their stores have ex-SWAT team members hiding in them; and to Randi Zuckerberg, who shared her fears about what all of this technology is doing to the brains of children the world over. The message was clear: we are hooked on a legal, electronic drug.
My next stop was a digital detox camp deep in the Californian countryside, where, along with all the other addicts there, I had my electronics confiscated. It is a place where all talk of age and employment is considered blasphemous. The logic is simple – when we meet people, we tend to ask a name and what a person does and instantly form a first impression based on that. The camp organisers wanted everybody – from whatever background and with whatever issues – to be on a clean slate.
I hated it at first. I really did. It is a place that aims to take people back to a point in their lives when they were truly happy and carefree: childhood. Hence the traditional American summer camp. The problem was that, as a Brit, I’d never been to a summer camp and just didn’t get it. On my first night, as I watched the campers dress up, dance on tables and sing Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know – but replacing every word with ‘miaow’ – I couldn’t think of anywhere I wanted to be less.
But I soon warmed to it. Perhaps it was the tranquility, the laughter yoga (Google it), the campfires, rediscovering the art of meaningful conversation or writing a journal with the aid of a typewriter, but four days later, as I sat with 300 strangers who’d become friends, I cried. I had just had one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, and I was dreading the moment when that paper bag containing the keys to my digital identity would be handed back to me.
As I left the camp, I pondered what would happen when I turned the smartphone back on. But, when I eventually did – three hours later – the barrage of notifications didn’t deafen me. In fact, I was surprised by how few people had tried to contact me during the four days I’d been off the grid. It was a testament to what I’d learned at the camp: that only a handful of interactions are really worth our time and emotions.
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