How Digital Detox can change your behaviour
09 december 2019 - I have a confession to make. I am an addict. A digital addict. I can’t do without my iPhone or iPad. I get up with it and I go to bed with it. It must be my never-ending urge to always be up to date. And ever since the digital revolution really took off, it took over my curiosity and then shifted gear. I can’t live without my whatsapp groups, my social feeds. Over 50 times a day I open a news site, 30 times a day I check my email, occasionally I play an online game and I make heaps of phone calls.
To get the picture straight, I am 50 plus, a boardroom consultant to many CEOs and founder of several companies. We have a strategy consulting firm, a creative tech agency, a serious gaming company and even a 2 Michelin star top restaurant in Amsterdam. A look inside? M&C Quarterly recently visited us for their section Bureau in Beeld. This group of creative companies is a perfect environment for me and my 250 colleagues to become addicted to our devices. I just feel very productive.
A few months ago my wife and I planned an Ayurvedic retreat in Sri Lanka. We decided to draw back for one month, just the two of us. At that moment I decided to use that month for digital detox as well. So yes, that means leave my devices behind. I told people – in every digital way – about my intention. People were surprised and impressed and they appreciated my bold move. I was all fired up and ready to go, so to speak.
But three days before our departure, I started hesitating and I said to myself: “You know what? I will take my iPhone and iPad with me but I promise myself to hold on to a mild digital regime.” I wobbled on until the evening of my Digital Detox departure. That evening I had the honour of
interviewing Jeroen Hoencamp who is CEO of Dutch Telecom company Vodafone Ziggo. He was excited about all the good things digital communication brings to society, but at the same time he is aware that too much digital consumption can lead to serious health issues and societal disconnection. With a lot of enthusiasm he told me of the programmes they developed and enrolled at Dutch schools to teach children to use their phones more consciously and for example spend less time making perfect selfies.
His story actually helped me to push through, keep my back straight and just leave without any device. What also helped is the fact that my affairs are in the best hands. I have great colleagues who I completely trust. I posted a final heroic message stating I would be offline for one whole month.
Take Digital Detox step by step … The next morning, I found myself in the first moment of my ‘new’ life. While waiting for our plane at Schiphol Airport I missed my iPhone very much. I didn’t know what to do with my hands and my mind was floating around the question whom I should call or text a message first after the detox. I wanted to be valuable and available and I physically felt the need to always be online. The first part of the flight was very good, but when we landed in Dubai for a stopover to Sri Lanka, I could only think of this continuous stream of messages and news. After taking off again, I was sure I felt my iPhone vibrating. My brain played games with me which reminded me of how drug addicts tell how they shiver while detoxing. On the second part of our flight I wrote this little poem, which describes my state of mind.
Sometimes I can feel her trembling at my side
I reach for her with my hand open wide
She lives in my subconsciousness
How I long for her kiss on my ear
She is so dear and feels so near
And now she had disappeared
What can I do to satisfy my curiosity
What’s the consequence of this no phone policy…
Well, keep in mind dear reader that I am a reasonable and hardworking man who is on a long vacation with his beloved wife. But at the moment I wrote the poem it felt a cold turkey detox.
Arrival in Sri Lanka. We touched down and while slowing down on the landing strip people took their phones and switched them on. Automatically, I reached for mine. But she wasn’t there. A short irritation that I could not see any messages and emails crept upon me. But it was followed by a feeling of relief that I was allowing myself to switch off for one whole month.
Our taxi driver was friendly calling us over and I realized: no more digital connection, but in the first place human connection.
The next days I started to change my mindset from missing my phone to enjoying the extra time to read books, have deep conversations with my wife and of generally not being distracted or disturbed. Real time to have introspection and thinking deeply about subjects that really matter instead of being concerned by the fluent stream of messages and emails.
I continued to be happy without my mobile phone and was realizing how lucky I was to be surrounded by such great colleagues whom I totally trust to run our business. At the same time I was also contributing to our company because I finally had time to think deeply about our strategy, our long term vision and how we should take a major step in reinventing our business and how to grow and lead our businesses in the next 5 years.
On day 7 I was reading Spinoza. This wise Dutch philosopher wrote that people mentally fly away from important issues by means of distraction. Nowadays the mobile phone is an ideal tool for this character weakness all humans seem to have.
In my diary I put down what a joy it was without iPhone and iPad. No more quick accelerations but finding the true depth of being. I could hear my thoughts and my heart much better. My thoughts became more profound, my insights sharper. I realised that the conversations with my wife became more profound and filled with love. Our we-conversations were much more valuable than my relationship with my iPhone. However I have to admit that my iPhone had prevailed too often. Addictions hurt others more than they hurt you. On day 9 I wrote what value comes from deep conversations without being interrupted by your iPhone. I asked myself how much thoughts one can have in 10 minutes without distractions from a phone and I think a phone decreases the amount of thoughts with 80%. Your phone is spoiling your deep thoughts and the interruptions keep you on a superficial level.
On day 16 I realized my need for my iPhone was gone. It felt that time extended in length and that space became much vaster. No curiosity about the permanent stream of updates from my favourite news- and sport websites. I didn’t have the feeling anymore that I was missing out on something really important. I became more and more curious about important matters that were presented to me by the wonderful books I brought along.
…And insights will come
One of these books was the Japanese best seller: If Cats disappeared from the world. In this book the main character has a conversation with the devil. He is in the process of dying and the devil can give him one extra day of life if he takes something away from all the people in the world. Guess what he takes to extend his life? He takes our mobile phones. He describes what the invention of the mobile did to his life:
1) His phone was always there; from waking up to going to bed
2) He read less books
3) He read less newspapers
4) He was always looking for the next series
5) At the train station or on the train he was only looking at his screen
6) While eating he was always checking his phone
7) He stopped playing with his pet (or others stopped playing with their children)
He was disgusted by these observations and he realised the iPhone had taken away his will power. People were ruled by the iPhone and over 20 years’ time it had become almighty and indispensable. The invention of the iPhone brought restlessness which comes to your mind the minute your iPhone is not there.
I completely understood Genki Kawamura. The devil had not taken my phone, I did it myself, but the feeling was the same.
Decrease of work and life productivity
One afternoon I had a conversation in the pool with an Israeli professor. He presented a more rational insight stating that technology leads to more productivity. I agree with that but I am convinced that too heavy usage of mobile devices can lead to a decrease of productivity. Too much information and too much distraction do not lead to better decisions and certainly not better and faster execution.
That evening I watched the stars and wondered: “What does all this technology do with our productivity in life matters?” Too much technology kills your emotions and spirituality. Had I entered the next stage in my digital detox and more open to God, or Buddha for that matter?” Maybe, but I held on to this simple thought of how technology can emotionally devaluate one’s personal life. I’m sure my digital detox has raised my productivity, in work and in life.
Our company has won the Great Place to Work Award several times. We are going to compete again next year. A few years ago we already gave bonuses to people who did not use their phone during their holidays. I am sure that a new digital policy based on lesser use of devices will give us an extra advantage to win and I am sure it will improve our productivity and profitability.
I will bring the same message back to the CEO of Vodafone Ziggo and challenge and help him to create a whole new set of programmes and tools to help all his customers use their consciousness more and their phones less. I am sure he will contribute a lot to the health of his customers and will create value for his company. After all, profit and purpose go well together as Fortune issue ‘Change the World’ stated in September 2019.
Meanwhile we are back from our wonderful vacation and I have started to work again. I will keep you posted about my post detox experiences. Last assignment for the reader: let us not point our finger at the younger generation but take an honest look at ourselves.