Just how bad has our collective obsession with our gadgets gotten? So bad that a clever businessperson somewhere has figured out a way to make money off giving people some temporary relief. And no, I'm not talking about the latest concentration-enforcing app. This involves much more extreme measures. Here's the New York Times's Elaine Glusac reporting:
The adventure travel company Intrepid Travel has just announced a new category of Digital Detox Trips in which participants pledge, in writing, to swear off all digital devices including cellphones and cameras. They will receive a notebook in which to record impressions, and the trip leader will send daily email updates to loved ones back home on request. The new eight- to 10-day trips visit Ecuador, India, Morocco and Thailand (from $630 a person).
That's right, people are literally paying tour guides to confiscate their phones like grumpy high school teachers and force them to actually appreciate beautiful foreign lands. Because apparently, people don't have the willpower to enjoy immersive travel under their own steam anymore.
Or, in a twist on this theme, others are retreating to the few remaining rural spots, such as much of Yellowstone or wilderness Alaska, that still have poor cell coverage to get away from their chiming notifications and twitchy fingers. (NPR's Barbara J. King tried it but could only bear being partially disconnected.)
Are we really this addicted?
The scientific answer to the above question is definitely yes. A recent study found, on average, we spend an incredible five hours a day on our phones, broken up into many small chunks. That adds up to 85 interactions with our phones per day. And most of us wildly underestimate how much of our lives our gadgets are eating up.
But there are also longer, personal narratives that dig deep into the psychic toll of constant connectivity. The latest is a powerful article from one-time super blogger Andrew Sullivan on how his online obsessions nearly ruined his health, fried his brain, and stunted his relationships. He writes:
By the last few months, I realized I had been engaging -- like most addicts -- in a form of denial. I'd long treated my online life as a supplement to my real life, an add-on... But then I began to realize, as my health and happiness deteriorated, that this was not a both-and kind of situation. It was either-or. Every hour I spent online was not spent in the physical world. Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality.
In order to cure what ails him, Sullivan ends up weeping in the woods during a silent meditation retreat. He's not the only web obsessive to have taken such extreme action to counteract the effects of his online lifestyle. Fellow blogger David Roberts also quit his chosen professional to take a full-year digital detox, writing movingly about the experience.
Is an unplugged vacation the way to go?
Clearly, extreme levels of online immersion can cause extreme distress and require extreme cures. And while most of us may not update our online followers every half hour like Sullivan did in his heyday, fiending for a Facebook fix 85 times a day is still obviously a good way down the road towards online life crowding out real-world experience.
So is an unplugged vacation the right extreme measure to take? For some a short, sharp digital detox could just be the breathing space their minds need to re-calibrate their connectivity and re-energize their real life. For others, such a trip might just be an expensive (and probably uncomfortable) pause before resuming an unhealthy tech addiction. Actually confronting the balance of tech in their lives day to day and doing the hard work of building healthier habits despite the temptations of their gadgets would likely suit these folks better.
Does a totally unplugged vacation appeal to you? And could you manage to get through a week with no internet at all?