5 lessons from my digital sabbatical

I was on a digital sabbatical from August 7, 2016 through August 15, 2016. No social media, and no emails, plain old text messages and phone. I said I would write about the lessons and share my experiences and then promptly forgot about it (as is my wont) till my memory was jogged by Deepak Chopra’s tweet (he is on a digital holiday!). Before I list the lessons, the reasons first (for the sabbatical):

  1. Decreasing quality and quantum of night-time sleep coupled with daytime sleepiness/exhaustion.
  2. A tendency to constantly reach for my mobile to see the “action” on Social Media (SM) and then jump in with my “reaction”
  3. Drastic decline in my reading habit, something that I have nurtured and loved from a very young age
  4. General lack of focus and a specific behavioural trait that I had unconsciously developed – checking on my phone even in the midst of a conversation with another human being.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list but summarizes succinctly the digital malaise I was suffering from.

Now for the lessons:

  1. Sleep: This is a no-brainer. If your mobile-screen is the last thing you stare at, at night and wake up to in the morning then you are (a) going to sleep poorly (b) suffer from insomnia (c) Wake up feeling like a truck ran over you. (d) be angry with the world. – If this was a multiple choice question the answer would be “All of the above” My sleep during the period of my digital sabbatical was markedly better, longer, and infinitely more refreshing. Nowadays my phone works to a timetable – it remains active from 8 AM to 7 PM and then goes to sleep so that I can sleep peacefully too. I have even banished my phone from the bedroom. Try it and you will not regret it.
  2. Reading: I caught up on my reading (the paper variety not the digital one). I am a recent convert and advocate of digital reading but I must say that the feel and smell of paper is something I did miss. Digital e-Readers still score on the storage front though – you can pack a lot more into your e-reader than you can into a 6 X 6 book-shelf. And, the search and glossary functions are great. Be that as it may, the biggest casualty of SM indulgence is reading, or rather proper READING (caps for emphasis). Here is an interesting article on this digital versus paper debate: The Reading Brain in the Digital Age
  3. Focus: I have always had trouble sustaining focus (the mental variety not the visual). Apparently I am  not the only one. The National Center for Biotechnology Information, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, reports that the average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013! That makes us worse than the goldfish!! You can read about it here: Attention span shorter than a goldfish. Putting the phone to sleep definitely helped me focus better, and single-task as opposed to multi-tasking – In short, I got a lot more done.
  4. Discipline: I think SM makes us a lot more impulsive and a lot less thoughtful in the choices we make. Reducing SM addiction and the need to be always “on” has a definite and positive impact on health, productivity, efficiency, and health patterns – I definitely found time to squeeze a little bit of exercise and fit-in a lot more of reading. Most importantly I spent a lot more “quality” (cliche I know, but using it for lack of a better word) with family – reading stories to my daughter for example…
  5. Mood: I sensed a definite elevation in mood. I think the constant barrage of information particularly of the 140 character variety can be a real mood-dampener given the propensity of SM to play-up news of the negative kind. I went back to listening to “The News” on AIR (All India Radio) and DD (DoorDarshan) and realized that what we get to see and hear on TV and SM is just “Views” and not really “News”

More than anything else the single biggest revelation is that there is so much more to life than the fleeting pleasures of the virtual world. To use an oxymoron, today the virtual world is a reality but knowing where to draw the line and not forgetting the simple joys of the real world is the way to go in an increasing smaller “digital-world” and an increasingly distant “real-world”