Infobesity? Time to Go On A Digital Detox

The first time I heard the term digital detox, I had the same reaction that you probably did. I rolled my eyes dismissively, thinking it was silly and somewhat insulting to equate internet dependence with something as serious as addiction.

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“They aren’t talking about me,” I thought as I tried to hold my fork and my phone in the same hand so I could eat lunch while reading emails. Then one morning, I dropped my precious phone in the toilet while trying to apply makeup. I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and said, “Yeah girl, I think they are talking about you.”

Information addiction is real, people. And it’s slowly and insidiously scrambling our brains. How many times have you jumped online to search something specific, then looked up from your computer screen 20 minutes later because you couldn’t remember how you went from reading a news article about your company’s stock to watching cat videos on YouTube? Or maybe you have what I like to call the itchy trigger finger. You’re just chilling on the couch, watching a little TV, but you obsessively and absent-mindedly grab your phone to check work emails, scroll through Instagram and play a few rounds of Candy Crush. For some folks, it’s FOMO (fear of missing out) that drives them to keep connected all the time. But for many of us, our jobs REQUIRE us to keep connected.

And it’s slowly and insidiously scrambling our brains. How many times have you jumped online to search something specific, then looked up from your computer screen 20 minutes later because you fell into the black hole of the internet. You couldn’t remember how you went from reading a news article about your company’s stock to watching cat videos on YouTube? Or maybe you have what I like to call the itchy trigger finger. You’re just chilling on the couch, watching a little TV, but you obsessively and absent-mindedly grab your phone to check work emails, scroll through Instagram and play a few rounds of Candy Crush. For some folks, it’s FOMO (fear of missing out) that drives them to keep connected all the time. But for many of us, our jobs REQUIRE us to keep connected ALL THE TIME.

Enough already. I’m putting you on a DIGITAL DETOX, and it starts today.

A digital detox is not some hippy dippy mess. The term is in the Oxford Dictionary, the concept is recognized by mental health experts, and there are reams of research written on the topic. There are a whole bunch of reasons to go on an information diet, but the top concern for me is tied to innovation. Taking a break from the frenetic consumption of information frees our minds to wander. That’s how great ideas are born.

It takes time to develop new, healthy habits, so a digital detox will feel weird at first. But start small and build from there. Pick one day a month and totally disconnect from your electronics. That means no devices, no social media and no internet. If you really want to go all-in, include television and Netflix in your ban. No CNN, no Seinfeld reruns, no Kardashians, no Walking Dead. If you don’t live alone, commit your spouse/kids/dogs/roommates to the process as well.

I know you’re exhausted (we’re all exhausted!), but please don’t spend this day sleeping or vegging out. Use it to explore your imagination and expand your senses. Take a walk and really pay attention to your surroundings, do something you enjoy that helps you recharge, or sit quietly and think about one problem you’re grappling with in a new way. With practice, you’ll find that a digital detox can help bring clarity to a cluttered mind.

Now build on your one-day success by committing to consuming 20 percent less information daily for the next 30 days. This requires a little math. If you spend roughly four hours a day connected, that’s 240 minutes. Cut that amount by 48 minutes and see what happens.

Admittedly, a digital detox is difficult to accomplish in our hyper-connected world. But there are tools you can use to help reach your goal. Before consuming information, stop and ask whether you really need it. Is it relevant? Can it wait?  Remember, knowledge and information are only useful if applied. So, if you aren’t going to apply it immediately, skip over it. It will re-emerge when you need it in the future. I promise.

Another way to digital detox is to take what I call “Everyday Getaways.” This involves disconnecting in small increments. Stop desktop dining and go out to lunch at least once a week. Brave the dirty looks from your coworkers and leave the office at a reasonable hour. And never, ever, ever look at your phone after 9:30 p.m. Nothing good ever came from doing that.

The truth is that most of like having access to so much information. Twenty years ago, if you told me that all the knowledge in the universe will literally fit in the palm of my hand, I would have thought you were talking some next-level, sci-fi nonsense. But here we are, with everything just a few keystrokes away. The saying that “knowledge is power” has never been more applicable than right here, right now. Information is the commodity that we trade in, and we can’t live without. I’m not suggesting that we even try. But when you find that too much information is crowding out your innovation, it’s time to focus and filter. It’s time to go on a digital detox. American social scientist and author Herbert A. Simon once wrote, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” I couldn’t agree more.

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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