Digital Diet Time – is it time to trim off some digital tonnage?

My friend’s daughter recently lost her mobile phone just as she was setting off for a weekend break with her girlfriends in Paris. Although my immediate comments were a sympathetic ‘what a nuisance’, my condolences for her loss were unnecessary as my friend added – ‘She said how relaxing it was, no texting, no Facebook to update, she had a digital free zone for four days and she loved it!’

A Digital Warning!
For every warm digital news story though (usually involving the lack of it!) there are a dozen tales of digital dangers and pitfalls. Trolling, internet grooming, bullying by Twitter, invasion of privacy and digital ignorance – the list is long. A friend’s son was recently ‘let go’ from his new job at a bank when they discovered that he had got a warning from tweeting something deemed ‘inappropriate’ about leaving his retail job. Even the funny stories should carry a beware sign for the rest of us.  I have a another friend who until recently was a Facebook virgin, now posting her son about buying him new underpants. His friends think it’s hilarious – but I doubt he thinks it’s amusing! But when my daughter called me to have a laugh about it – I suddenly realised that my messages weren’t private either – arrgh! Delete – delete!

Technology Overwhelm – digital diet time?
Looking around it’s clear that our digital lives are getting out of all proportion. When my daughter came home from University a few weeks ago, she sat nursing her laptop updating Facebook, hotmailing, Blackberry in hand keeping up with an avalanche of texts and BBM messaging and watching Come Dine With Me on TV at the same time. She knows it’s too much, but as media theorist Marshall McLuhan asked, “How are we to get out of the maelstrom created by our own ingenuity?”

Digital Addiction?

So is it digital diet time – only you can tell if you are addicted to technology? In an excellent book entitled The Digital Diet, author Daniel Sieberg lays out a 4-step plan to break your technology addiction and regain balance in your life. He suggests that as a quick barometer of your digital life, you ask yourself these questions: Do you sometimes feel the urge to pull out your smartphone while someone else is talking to you? Have you ever realized that you were texting or reading emails while your child was telling you about her day and later couldn’t remember her story? Have you ever felt that something hasn’t really happened until you post it online? Do you feel anxious if you’re offline for any length of time? Does a ringing phone trump everything else, including your dinner date?

It’s an irony that the very things that were created to keep connected can leave us with unprecedented levels of isolation and social anxiety. Both our work life and home life are becoming digitally overwhelmed and only we can say – enough!

Digital Mindfulness
Some more enlightened businesses are trialling banning internal emails on at least one day a week so that employees actually prize themselves out of their chairs and go and – wait for it – talk (!) to their colleagues. What startling innovation! Results have already shown a host of benefits such as an increase in employee wellbeing, with employees looking forward to coming to work much more, less absenteeism and maybe not so surprisingly an increase in work productivity!

Bringing Mindfulness (see Jon Kabat-Zinn) to our lives can help us to live in the present moment, reduce depression and lead to greater health and wellbeing and this practice can be especially useful with our digital habits. Sieberg suggests starting your digital diet with a brief detox – a day or two without your technology. Not as punishment but to instill an awareness of what you have been missing. An addiction to technology starts in precisely the same way as any other habit that seems harmless in moderation and then gets out of hand, and if you find your anxiety gets higher over your detox then well done – you are taking the first step to putting technology back in its place.

While diets of any kind can seem painful to begin with, you can quickly feel the benefits of regaining a sense of control. The Digital Diet is aimed – not at being tortuous – but in fact at bringing the pleasure of being connected in healthy way back in to your lives. Why not put yourself on it for 2013 and get ready to feel so much better.

If you want to regain your digital perspective, why not download the kindle version of Daniel Sieberg’s book The Digital Diet or even better get your hands on a real book. And enjoy.

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