According to JWT’s 100 Things to Watch for in 2011, number 25 is digital downtime. Declaring that, “mindful breaks from digital input and multiple screens relieve stress and foster creativity,” the agency predicts that more and more schools, employers and media outlets will encourage powering off. Granted we’ve heard the argument before, but it will be interesting to see if DD, as a movement, goes mainstream.
Last week I spent less time online than in any one week during the previous two years. Most days I spent fewer than 30 minutes connected to anything. In fact there were days when I managed to leave the computer turned off entirely. Yes I checked Twitter every now and then and even posted a few links or responded to friends. But while I didn’t bother to count, I’m guessing my total weekly tweet count was lower than that of a typical day. I don’t recall commenting on any other blogs and I haven’t posted here for eight days. That’s definitely my longest gap of the last year.
So did it relieve stress and foster creativity? For the first day or two it induced a small amount of separation anxiety. What am I missing? Are people expecting me to post? Am I shirking digital responsibilities?
But my digital downtime most certainly had other benefits. It made for more enjoyable conversations. During brunch with a large gathering of college kids, 20-somethings, and their parents, we all managed to keep our iPhones off, at least for the first hour and a half. People looked at each other, instead of at their screens, as we talked, listened, caught up and shared ideas and projects.
It made reading more pleasurable. Online we’re too ready and willing to embark on those serendipitous journeys that links so often take us on. True we may discover sources and ideas relevant to what we’re reading, but our concentration is inevitably broken. Offline this week I read printed books — Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule. I found myself absorbed in the stories, transported to places and times that became far more engrossing when unencumbered by embedded distractions.
Most importantly I learned that my kids are far more responsive, engaging and fun to be with when I’m not compromising my time with them by checking email, Tweetdeck and the other 10 social networks whose apps fill the front page of my iPhone screen.
Of course when I did get online last night, the first thing I saw was a tweet from Conrad Lisco linking to the JWT deck on Slideshare. I instantly clicked on the link, opened the screen, scanned the predictions, re-tweeted the link, saved it to my Posterous, and exchanged a few back-and-forth comments on Twitter about its likely accuracy. Oh, and then I wrote this post. Ironic isn’t it? To get back online in order to talk about being off.
Photo by: Steve Rhodes