Dorothy Crenshaw September 16, 2010 | 01:10:59

Offlining: The New Digital Detox

I’ve known for a while that multitasking is a lie. I don’t know anyone who can truly spread their attention across multiple jobs with equal focus. Like most people, I tend to toggle back and forth among tasks – blogging, watching Top Chef, listening to my daughter, ruminating about tomorrow’s schedule. It’s like trying to eat a five-course meal by tasting everything at once. It’s possible, but the net result is less enjoyment, if not lower efficiency.

But readjusting your relationship with technology isn’t simple. Because we’re addicts. That’s the other given of our media-feasting culture. Take the sturdy, un-hip BlackBerry. The form factor isn’t sleek like the newer Android devices or even the iPhone. But, on top of every ‘Berry, there’s that red light that blinks when a new message arrives. Reports say that users actually become hooked on the light. It’s a Pavlovian response. We’re helpless. If not CrackBerry, it’s at the very least the Starbucks of digital devices.

And though our appetite is still huge, the human capacity isn’t infinite. There’s that famous Matt Richtel piece about the dangers of technology overload.  It describes how our always-on access to digital gadgets affects how we process information, and how quickly we become distracted…leading us to crave more stimulation, which raises our distraction threshold. You get the idea. Your brain on technology. Next stop, digital detox?

In a way, yes. It’s called offlining, and it’s meant to culminate this Saturday, September 18, for a national day of being unplugged. The idea, which was (of course) dreamed up by a PR guy and an ad guru, was officially unveiled on Father’s Day of this year, as part of a call-to-action for parents to spend more time in face-to-face interaction with their families.

If the offliners have their way, the solemn Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur will be not just the occasion for religious atonement, but a day of digital fasting. Cold turkey…without the turkey, the ‘Berry, the sweets, the tweets, or any of the digital soup we’re bathed in. So far, over 10,000 people pledged to have 10 “device-free” dinners between June and this Saturday. To help spread the word, you can send e-cards downloaded from the offlining website to a tech-addicted friend or family member.

It’s a gimmick, but I love the offlining idea for the same reason that I appreciate the Heart Truth  or Earth Day, or any other call-to-action in the public education model. It’s a terrific use of the power of public relations to raise awareness and even change behavior. For me, a one-day digital fast won’t be too difficult, but it’s symbolic, of course. There’s plenty of room for improvement in my relationship to technology, and every reason to find new ways to cherish my relationship with family.

And there’s one more person in this mix who can use some attention, and that’s me. I’m not Jewish, and, candidly, if I were, I probably wouldn’t mix religious observance with a self-improvement binge, no matter how worthy. But on Saturday, I just might stop the posting and the tweeting and the Facebooking and the Foursquare to have a more important check-in …with myself.

3 thoughts on “Offlining: The New Digital Detox

  1. It’s hard to imagine that when I was entering the workforce in the 1970s, fax machines were considered high tech! Yet somehow fortunes were made and business got done. Looking at the people I manage, I find that the technology is a mixed blessing- I can get people to answer emails at 10PM, but that same technology sometimes makes it harder for them to meet simple deadlines!

    1. Well, you’ve opened another whole can of worms by asking if technology has made or lives better and more productive, or more difficult? I think most people would say the former, at least in a work sense. But it’s the “addiction” aspect that fascinates me. When most of us unplug our devices, initially we can’t think of what to do with ourselves. (What did we do?) Which is why occasional offlining is a good idea.

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