Early pioneers of the digital detox imagined it as a holiday, where you shook off the shackles of your BlackBerry, the office and the boss who sends you emails at 10pm. Those days, like the lingo around them (who says CrackBerry anymore?), have long passed.
Our devices are now so close to our marrow that to take them away for a week leaves one not just with the sense of a removed organ, but something else – a sort of existential dread, or even terror. It’s Fomo, but through a glass darkly. We are afraid of missing out, not on the fun stuff but on some bleak piece of information about the world – another terrorist attack, the rise of some new evil group, another record-breaking gun massacre – that forms another strand of our central narrative.
Imagine what can happen to the world in a day: the wars that can be started, the planes that can be disappeared, the bombs and the coups and the leadership changes. Maybe after a week we will have a new prime minister. Maybe the rockstar we thought immortal will suddenly be dead.
Last week I went camping in the west of Cape York, Australia, in a place where you need a generator for electricity and a week can go by without seeing anyone except for road gangs. There was no phone or internet signal. There was no point even trying.
Now I am in the country in an internet blackspot, where to get even one bar of reception means walking to the top of a hill and holding my phone aloft as though I’m peaking at a Bon Jovi concert or Donald Trump rally. I have become marooned on a digital desert island.
It must be bliss, you say. Well actually, no. It’s filled with dread and anxiety, and a strange sense of being out of space and time.
This is what you think about when you have no phone or internet:
Because you cannot be reached, you assume something awful has happened; someone out there is trying to contact you to tell you that your family is dead. All week you imagine that first email, text or Facebook message informing you: your entire family – dead.
To assume that everyone you love is likely deceased because you do not have the internet is to ascribe yet another dark, magical power to Wi-Fi, as if the lack of coverage itself could be responsible. Relief floods you like a chemical when you get signal again: not only has no one actually died this week but now they will be protected from death – because you have the internet back.
The cycle of death and public mourning is so intense and fast these days that you could be without internet for four nights, return to Twitter, and not know that Madonna is gone. People will have changed their profile photos to shots of her circa-1980s and then changed them back again; they will have already posted the videos of Borderline and pictures of the flowers and the tributes, the conical bras left outside the dance studio in Hell’s Kitchen.
You’ll have missed the TV special and the Facebook tears; the radio stations will have played 24 hours of Madonna and then resumed normal programming. You will only find out that Madonna has died when she flashes up in the in memorium section of the 2017 Academy Awards.
That is what you imagine, anyway. But you don’t know, and there is no way of knowing, because you are away from the internet for a week.
In Cape York at night under a big sky, we sat around the fire. One of the traditional owners of the land, a stockman called Johnny, played guitar as dingoes howled from somewhere. We talked not about the music or the night, but about what if, like, September 11 was happening right now, and we didn’t know. What would it feel like when we got our phone signal back, and found out that while the world was ending we were singing Jolene by the campfire?
Later on when people ask, Where were you on August 20?, you will say, I had no internet! I had no internet that week, and I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THAT AUGUST 20 HAPPENED.
And they will just shake their heads, because they have no words.
Imagine flicking a hand-knitted finger puppet on to a football field and letting the most aggressive players in the league trample on it.
When you are offline for a week, your avatar – you, it’s really you, a version of you – is the discarded puppet. And left alone in the cagefight that is Twitter, it is unguarded.
Without you looking out for it, it may be subject to slights, trolling, abuse, mockery and/or a pile-on. This will cause initial anxiety – who is hurting me this week, when I am not there to defend myself? – but later, you may feel liberation. Maybe your puppet self is being torn to shreds on the interwebs, but there is nothing you can do about it because you are not there.
You could go all night texting him. You could lose hours on Facebook messenger, you could have the most emotionally charged conversation using only emojis, you could have mindblowing sex via Gmail chat. You could, you could, oh yes you could – if only you were online.
Offline, though, you are restricted to interacting with people in your immediate physical space using actual words and body language.
People who talk about the 1960s as the era of sexual liberation clearly don’t have a smartphone and Wi-Fi.
Facebook is the digital equivalent of attending a children’s birthday party while being lectured at by your most sanctimonious leftie friend and trolled by your rightwing brother-in-law, before you are door-knocked for a charity fun run while your worst neighbour brags about his promotion and children and forces you to watch slides from a horrifyingly successful friend’s holiday to Fiji.
So perhaps you won’t miss it.
There is a notion common to all detoxes that without the toxic substance in our life we are not only physically healthier but somehow morally healthier too.
But I found that being offline doesn’t make you a better person – it just makes you a more contained one.
You’re not leaking your energy all over the place with your likes and your retweets and your status updates, your signalling of your virtues and flagging of your disasters. While you may initially be more anxious at the removal of the stimulus, there is more space to focus on the things that are happening to you in real life as opposed to those online.
I felt the dead phone dance in my pocket like a phantom limb. I imagined catastrophes happening to the people l love best. I assumed the downfall of at least two or three civilisations, and one new war. I had killed Madonna in my mind.
But under it all lay a silence so beautiful and pure that the digital noise became like relentless waves roiling across the surface of a fathomless ocean. To not be constantly sending your signals out – the statuses and retweets and likes, the alerts and lights flashing like a boat in perpetual distress – to just sit and roll back into yourself, and to return home. Well, that feels good. Once you get used to it.
News Source TheGuardianNews