Digital detox: The no-cost luxury retreat

Posted by Manisha Thakor.
Anyone who emailed me in early August would have received an out-of-office reply revealing that I was away for 10 days—on an adventure.
I went to Switzerland, and although the Alpine air and sublime scenery were a luxury in and of themselves, the real adventure was free of charge: Learning to live without technology, and reclaim the inner peace that I remember enjoying on vacations in a bygone era—before I started carrying a needy, nagging, digital companion everywhere I went.

Recharging your own battery

A 2016 study revealed that smartphone users tap, swipe and click 2,617 times each day, on average (while the top 10% touch their phones a staggering 5,427 times a day!). The amount of time we spend looking at our smartphone screens is 2.42 hours, with heavy users (the top 10%) spending 3.75 hours per day looking at their screens.1
Because the most-used apps are designed to be extremely addictive, the obsessive checking and compulsive tapping doesn’t stop even while on vacation—the one time we’re supposed to be disconnecting and recharging our own batteries. What is meant to be downtime can instead become a time of needling notifications, relentless status updates, and an insidious trickle of work emails.
Even after managing to avoid the lure of my work inbox on past getaways, I always slightly dreaded what awaited me when I returned to the real world. Unable to fully relax, I compromised by checking my emails intermittently. Vacations never really felt like vacations.

Finding refuge in the here and now

For millennia, people have retreated into the desert or woods or mountains to seek solace, if not spiritual enlightenment. The practice of silent meditation, finding refuge in the here and now, is more valuable than ever, in this age of continuous distraction. Not immune to this modern malaise, I boldly vowed not to check my emails for the entirety of my retreat. (My one cheat was texting photos to close family members).
Stop checking your inbox for a few days, and a strange thing happens: The wheat sorts itself out from the chaff, meaning you come backs to emails that require action, with a clearer sense of priority, only attending to matters that are important—kind of like when you move to a smaller apartment and need to get ruthless with all the junk you’ve accumulated. When we’re constantly checking our inbox, we are constantly attending to emails in a way that doesn’t make the best use of our time.

Treat yourself to a weekend retreat first

When friends and family first heard about my digital detox, the response was overwhelmingly positive. This craving to disconnect from devices really seems to resonate with people. But living without a device that many of us even take to bed, is not easy at first. If 10 days sounds like an eternity, perhaps try doing it for a weekend, to begin with, and see how that goes. 
Remember how blissful vacations were as a child? The joy of surrounding yourself in the natural, non-virtual world, the sense of being outside of time. You don’t need to return to your childhood vacation spots to partly recapture that feeling: To return to a lost Garden of Eden, you only need to click that off button—and keep it switched off.
1 “Putting a Finger on Our Phone Obsession—Mobile touches: a study on humans and their tech,”, June 2016.
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July 20, 2017