Digital Detox

by Bzur Haun

Here’s how obsessed people are with their mobile phones: According to Time, 68 percent of users take their devices to bed with them, 20 percent check their phones every 10 minutes, and one third report feeling anxious when briefly separated from their beloved gadget.

“I still feel twitchy,” my friend Kristel Wills told me when she returned from a two-week retreat without her smartphone–and all the tweets, feeds and streams that went along with it.

As the social media manager at expense-management company Concur, Wills knows what it’s like to go to bed with her smartphone. Until a few weeks ago, she admits she checked her email before bed and then first thing when she woke up at 5 a.m.

“I couldn’t put my stupid phone down.”

She’s not alone.

The rates of addiction show no signs of abating. A majority of Americans own a smartphone and these numbers have increased each year. Though the stats may say we’re more “connected” now than ever before, the question we should also consider is: at what cost?

Overcoming Digital Addiction

Recent studies show that the mere sight of a smartphone limits how humans interact–impeding the development of “interpersonal closeness and trust” and leading people to feel less “empathy and understanding from their partners.”

Then there’s what happens when someone’s actually using a phone. “There’s a smart-phone gait: the slow sidewalk weave that comes from being lost in conversation rather than looking where you’re going,” writes Time‘s Nancy Gibbs. “Thumbs are stronger, attention shorter, temptation everywhere: we can always be, mentally, digitally, someplace other than where we are.”

Wills told me that after working with social media for the past six years, her brain started feeling really full and scattered. These feelings, and those of her peers, have prompted a growing call for a nationwide detox.

Lexi Felix has heeded the call. After years spent tethered to his technology, the 28 year-old launched Digital Detox, a company that hosts retreats in Northern California that require guests to surrender their smart phones and immerse themselves in yoga and healthy cooking. The start-up slave turned digital evangelist now spends his days helping others develop mindful relationships with their devices and their surroundings.

Whatever you want to call it–turning off, checking out, detoxing–ignoring your devices isn’t easy. But it’s crucial to our well-being, says Benjamin Robbins, co-founder of Palador, an enterprise mobility consulting firm based in Seattle.

“Call it mobile blasphemy, but I have no problem ditching the device and unapologetically spending dinner and weekends with kids and family, much to the chagrin of some of my mobile cohorts,” Robbins says.

Still not convinced? Here, Robbins makes the case for kicking the smartphone habit:

Why Employees Should Disconnect

Many employees have created for themselves an unfounded sense of anxiety around disconnecting. “The world isn’t going to end, you’re not going to screw up a business deal, you don’t need to be that responsive, people get it,” Robbins says.

Quite the opposite, disconnecting affords us time for the rest and relaxation necessary to restore the energy we put into our professional lives. Phone users rely so much on their devices to make decisions and to provide instant access to information, that they’ve lost the ability to plan ahead, their memories have suffered, and their creativity is stunted.

Wills reported a sense of disengagement with the people around her in the presence of her smartphone. When she and her husband decided to take a two-week road trip exploring Big Sky country, she figured it was the perfect opportunity for a detox. She deleted Facebook and Twitter from her phone, turned off her email and put up a hilarious and frank out-of-office reply about her whereabouts.

She and her husband took to the open highway, putting 2,000 miles on their car, turning off their phones and enjoying the honeymoon they never had the first time around. Her return to the real world was cushioned by the lessons she learned on her detox.

Why Companies Should Disconnect

Everyone thinks they’re great at multitasking. Turns out, they’re wrong. Multitasking actually hurts concentration and creative thinking, the lifeblood of any growing company. And there’s nothing more annoying, says Robbins, than standing before a room full of people hidden behind their laptop screens. His advice: mandate device-free meetings and encourage employees to meet face-to-face.

Similar to what Wills did, encourage employees to enjoy vacations or sabbaticals where they truly turn off and spend time with their friends and family. By doing so, companies will welcome home employees who are refreshed and ready to dive into their work with renewed enthusiasm.

Nobody’s suggesting a 12-step program–yet. Robbins, ever the optimist, thinks people will eventually rediscover the value of device-less interactions. Until then, try looking up every once in awhile–and looking around.

Bzur Haun: As president and CEO of Visage, Bzur leads all facets of the business, including the strategy and operations of Visage.

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