There is no doubt about it: we are living in a digital-driven world. From smartphones, to tablets, to laptops, to Fitbits, our eyes are constantly illuminated by an LCD screen. Technology adoption continues to grow rapidly as it becomes more globally accessible – an estimated 2.16 billion people will own a smartphone before the end of 2016. Similarly, social media has become just as commonplace. Facebook has such global ubiquitous influence that if it were a country, it would be the most populous nation on earth with 1.39 billion active users.
So, when it comes to technology and social media, humans are more connected than ever before. But, do we actually feel closer to one another? In an article for the Chicago Tribune about digital friends and loneliness, Jessica Reynolds poses an important question: “You may have 1,000 Facebook friends, but how many of them could you confide in about the worries that keep you up at night?”
It is easy to recall situations in everyday life when people sit next to one another – on the subway, in a waiting room, in a meeting – but their steady gazes are directed only at the phones in their hands. Reynolds accurately refers to smartphones as the “ultimate adult pacifier,” as they keep us from ever having to be alone with our thoughts or worries. As a result of these tiny, backlit distractions, people can often “feel alone even when they’re together.”
It is not just about loneliness, but about understanding and consideration. According to Dr. Lisa Strohman of the Technology Wellness Center in Arizona, digital communication is detrimental to human interchange. She believes that we lose patience and compassion when our most common model for communication largely involves only 140 characters. Agitation can certainly be a symptom of digital dialogue, but so can meanness. In his latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, award-winning writer Jon Ronson explores the phenomenon of the Twitter mob, as the social media giant provides the perfect platform for cyberbullying and anonymous trolling. Although he reports on the negative side of social media, Ronson considers himself a Twitter addict, and reveals he constantly checks his phone for notifications – knowing all-too-well the “sad feeling” an unnoticed tweet can bring to its tweeter.
With constant, new information about the detrimental effects of a digital and social media-heavy lifestyle, experiences that offer short-term freedom from technology are becoming more appealing. Digital detox events and retreats are popping up everywhere, aimed at adults who hope to reconnect with each other – the old-fashioned way. Digital Detox® is an American program that started when two partners decided to leave their “‘always-on’ digitally enthralled” realities and turn off their phones. Their successful program offers year-round retreats; “Device-Free Drinks” events; and Camp Grounded: Summer Camp for Adults, which now takes place in over 7 countries and 30 U.S. States. They even offer Corporate programs to entice organizations to encourage their employees to put their phones down and reconnect.
Canada has it’s own digital detox experience: Camp Reset is a Toronto-area, adult summer camp offering people the chance to switch off and enjoy time with fellow humans. The fun-filled, 3-night weekend camp imparts six principles that its participants must follow: 1.) You must only use nicknames, in order to truly let go of your “adult self”; 2.) You cannot talk about work; 3.) You have to give up all your tech devices when you enter the camp; 4.) You have to be open to new experiences; 5.) You must “embrace the unexpected” and say “yes;” and 6.) You can only take mental pictures. Follow these six rules and you will be sure to leave refreshed, rejuvenated and reset.
Travel companies are even joining in on the digital abandonment trend. Digital Detox Holidays has set up shop online to make it easier for travellers worldwide to source hotels and guest houses that embrace or encourage their guests to turn off technology. News outlets are even curating lists of digital detox hot spots for Canadian travel – places guaranteed to entice you to shut off your tech and reconnect with family and friends.
We need human interaction, not digital networking. American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy for human needs lists love, belonging and social interaction as fundamental to the psychological wellbeing of a person. Yet, the digital age we live in constantly offers opportunities for inauthentic social connectedness. In her “Connected, but alone?” lecture series, MIT Sociology Professor Sherry Turkle declares that “what technology makes easy is not always what nurtures the human spirit.”
In 2016, when the news of the world highlights humanity’s division and detachment, it is now more important than ever to make a conscious effort to switch off and find each other.