I got my first Smartphone in 2012, after finishing my graduation, as a reward from my family. Soon, I had got my hands on the most of the social networking apps. The very first thing I used to do upon reaching the office was to use WiFi to download the messages from the previous evening. WhatsApp was becoming popular among my social circle as a free messaging app so why not exploit it! Internet data packs had replaced free SMS packs in coming days. While retrospection, I see how blindly I was getting into the trap of digital life.
The Digital Trap
Smartphones make our life easy, but they tend to complicate it as well. I loved the convenience of accessing my emails anywhere and anytime, but the digital addiction had started taking over my mental health.
I could get a disturbing message anytime that would upset my ongoing tasks. I would pick my phone as soon as I heard a beep sound even while writing a super-critical email. In the course of one minute, if it beeped five times, I would pick it five times. I would reply to my friends’ messages even if they contacted me past my sleeping time. Sometimes, I would suddenly wake up to check if my sponsored tickets for the upcoming conference in Malaysia had arrived or not, the telex code for Russian visa had hit my inbox or not or if I had received any contribution in my Semester at Sea’s crowd funding campaign. Just imagine, if my situation was this worse in the night, then how merciful it must be during the day! Someday, if I arrived home early from work to engage myself in some recreational activity, I would receive a phone call that would never end. A 100 grams piece of hardware was undeniably dominating my life!
When I saw the trap…
I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘Digital Detoxification’ when I experienced it for the first time. It was in 2013 on an official retreat with my colleagues to mountains where we camped river side. The place lacked network reception and hence my phone rested in piece for that weekend. After a long time, I was feeling the coordination between my mind and body as there was nothing to interfere with my leisure time. There were no upsetting messages to agitate my current balance. I went to bed dead tired, forgetting that I own a phone.
A year later, I embarked on Semester at Sea voyage where we had access to educational resources only, using the internet available on the ship. It was quite a breakup from WhatsApp and Facebook. One day, I was working on an assignment sitting alone in my ship cabin. Thirty minutes later, I checked the time and was so overwhelmed to see that I had finished the work so soon. In usual life, it was a two hours job for me. I comprehended later that it happened because of my high concentration as I wasn’t checking my phone again and again.
After a series of similar episodes, I realized how badly digital life had trapped me. When we are in the phase of catching addiction to something, our mind fails to analyze the repercussions. We just feed to our fascination at that moment, right?
My Savior – Travel God
Travel helped me the most in cutting the digital addiction because it simply changed my environment without any compulsive tactics. While discovering some unexplored trails to the remotest villages of India, even placing calls to my family had become hard. My phone went from my hand to the least accessible pocket of my rucksack. I began to feel in harmony with the life as I had found my joy in connecting with nature. How I describe in words that I felt so rejuvenated when I paid attention to the music made by birds, the roaring of waterfalls, crackling dry leaves, air rustling through trees and the petrichor. I also had time to lie down in meadows to embrace the starry sky. As I didn’t have my phone to keep me occupied, I also began to strike conversations with indigenous people that made me learn their cultures deeply. Establishing a beautiful connection with incomparably hospitable people just melted my heart and made me feel a lot better about my life. Real conversations were much better than the virtual ones! Leaving all modern technologies behind, we need to establish a bond with the natural world because, at the end of the day, roots of all humans lie there.
Travel made me realize that even in usual life; my mental balance can be restored by spending minimal time on digital devices. Continuous engagement on social networks is killing my concentration and efficiency. It also made me understood the value of ‘real world’. Hence, by 2015 end, I began to make certain strategies to reduce my addiction to digital devices. One of the strategies was not to buy a data pack to control my urge of checking the phone continuously while interacting in the real world. I uninstalled many social networking apps from the phone. I started keeping my phone on silent while sleeping. I also prioritized my online tasks. The obsession was a sine graph. Every time I traveled, I vowed to curb the habit after going back home. It used to the continuous and forced unplugging chapters until it became a lifestyle. That’s how digital ghosts stopped haunting me. I have a dual sim phone, 4G data packs, all social networking apps, personal and official email configured in my phone, and also a good balance between online and offline.
After finding a balance for myself, we should spread the awareness and make more and more people find this much-needed balance to reduce their digital dependency which resulted in Digital Detox Retreats.