During January, Cheil UK's head of innovation Daniele Fiandaca gave up his mobile phone and internet access to embark on a digital detox. Safely reunited with his beloved gadgets, the self-confessed tech obsessive recounts how it felt to disconnect from the digital world...
My 17 days of digital disconnection as measured in ‘vital’ stats reads something like this:
• Total number of emails: 1,252 (389 work account; 862 ‘personal’ account)
• Klout score: 60 – a drop of 2
• Peerindex: steady at 69
• Nike Fuel earned (and unsynched): 59,321
In terms of my digital profile, detoxing had a negligible effect, certainly when it comes to the numbers.
Psychologically, however, the story is different, because turning off both phones when getting on the plane in the knowledge that they would not come back on for 17 days was weird. And also frustrating, especially since the Switch Off happened at a critical moment in time – half time during a crucial football match between Arsenal and Newcastle, with the score at 1-1. (It would be another 36 hours before I found out that we won 7-3 in a humdinger of a game - fortunately the Tanzanians are mad about premiership football.)
That first 10 days were easy – no one could get reception so no one was online. It didn’t feel as if I was depriving myself because I wasn’t – there was no digital action to be had even if I’d wanted it. The next seven days were more painful: as soon as everyone else, including my wife, got the first wifi signal, the fact that I couldn’t even peek at our wedding photos or whip out the iPad at breakfast to check on the news made me a little twitchy.
But it also made me far more observant of the antisocial and/or dysfunctional behaviour of others, which somehow seems to have become acceptable because of an unspoken acknowledgement that our relationship with that small piece of technology in our hands transcends basic civility to the person in front of us. Take, for example, the guy who was have a heated discussion with someone at work while clearly on holiday. Or the couple sitting there not speaking because they were both playing with their phone. Or the six people on a fashion shoot, sitting taking a break and all heads down, silently playing with their phone. Or the famous producer (I will not name and shame) who was aggressively telling his son off for wasting his life while texting someone else.
Here’s a snapshot of what I learned:
• It was good to make important notes on paper again. I don’t want to try and guess the number of notes I have on my phone that I’ve never gone back to. I know I’m far more likely to go back to the notes in my small notebook – and having physically written down my New Year’s resolutions, they seem somehow more real and achievable.
• Ironically, our expectation of instant gratification is taking away some of the enjoyment of living in the moment. We spend so long waiting to upload that great photo to Instagram, we lose flow of what we are actually doing. Just because it is called Insta, does it need to be instant? I am going to test this out over next few weeks.
• It was clear that most of the Cheil team respected the fact I was on honeymoon since I only had 389 work mails (thank you guys, for this and for the surprise champagne on safari!). But that did make me reassess how I encourage an always-on mentality when I’m working: I send emails late at night, and tell people off for responding to them at the same time even though they’re only doing as I do. So I’m making a point of leaving late-night mails in the draft box and sending them out first thing the next day. It will suffice until I work out a way to stop work mails being sent after cut-off time, in a bid to ensure we all enjoy some free time.
• Achieving work/life balance takes effort in the digital world too. I was shocked with the number of mails in my personal account, and closer inspection revealed that many of these are industry related. The upshot is that anytime I want to check my personal inbox, I am being sucked back into work even at weekends. Sometimes it is important to just shut off so I have now unsubscribed to all industry-related newsletters in my personal accounts, and only re-subscribed to those that I read regularly – including the Drum, natch!
In all honesty, it’s hard to say at this point how deep – or indeed, how lasting – an effect my personal digital detox will have on my behaviour. What I do know is that there’s an awful lot of digital clutter adding yet another layer of domestic admin to all our lives.
A digital spring clean that makes time for the here and now, not to mention real, can only be good.