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Turtle Time and a Digital Detox

19 August 2014

Allison read 7-Day Digital Diet in The New York Times by Teddy Wayne and decided to try her own digital detox while she was on vacation last week.

Tags: allison read, balance, creativity, social media, vacation

Last week, Joey the Wonder Dog and I took our second annual trip to Bald Head Island, NC. What makes this beach experience unique is that you park your car and ride the ferry 20 minutes to get to the island. Every rental property comes with at least one golf cart and there are no cars on the island. There are restaurants, gyms, a grocery store, a spa, and all the other services you might need, but you’re not getting to any of them faster than your feet, your bike, or your golf cart move. The posted speed limit is 18mph and everyone on the island fondly refers to the pace of life as, “turtle time.”

I haven’t checked email on vacation for more than five years. If you’re wondering how it’s possible to do that, read this post summarizing all my past posts about the importance of vacations and the steps you need to take to actually disconnect so that you can return to work rested and restored.

While I’m a pro at turning off email, I’ve still always checked social media, watched TV, and browsed news media sites when I was on vacation. I was a late and resistant entrant to the social media scene and only joined Facebook in 2010. I never thought I would enjoy it as much as I do both personally and professionally. And honestly, I’ve been a bit nervous that if I got off the train for a long period of time over vacation that I might have a hard time getting back on. It’s part of my job description to be our chief social media officer and I take the responsibility seriously.

And that’s exactly what made me realize I needed to try one of these digital detox experiments I’ve been reading about. If I think of social media as a responsibility, then that means I need a break from it, too. I wrote a blog post about how to "unplug” earlier this summer and in another post, I encouraged my readers to plan their days BEFORE they check email and social media. All summer, I’ve left my phone behind for Friday nights on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall and I look for opportunities to put the phone away whenever I can.

So I like to think I’m pretty good at disconnecting, but I didn’t know what seven days away from social media, television, and internet would be like. In his article, The 7-Day Digital Diet, Teddy Wayne, makes a compelling case for the importance of “detoxing” from time to time. What I admire about his experiment is that he did it while still in his normal life rather than during a vacation like my experiment. Read his article and you’ll learn what a working detox looks like and why your creativity might be greater and how you can minimize your, "...distractibility, wasted time and shallow '"sips of online connection'" as the psychologist and professor Sherry Turkle calls it."

There are all levels of detox and I recommned you remove things that will make for a meaningful disconnect for you while still allowing you to enjoy yourself if you do this on vacation. If you do a working detox, Wayne's article has a lot of suggestions for how to get your digital connection in very small doses throughout the period of your detox.

I still let myself text with family and close friends. I also watched movies, HBO Series episodes, and my beloved Atlanta Braves (with the commercials muted.) However, I didn't watch any other current television or check news media sites. I only used the internet when I needed to research something for my vacation like finding out where I needed to be on the island for a sea turtle nest excavation. Three days after a nest hatches volunteers are allowed to excavate the nexst and count unhatched eggs, dead turtles, and help any live ones make it to the ocean. This picture below is of one of the two living turtles in the nest. It was pretty exciting to see them make their way to the sea.

I would say I slipped twice. First, I heard on an Atlanta Braves radio broadcast that Robin Williams had died. I adored him and before I realized what I was doing, I found myself searching for articles to find out what had happened. Second, last year the Atlanta Braves radio announcers, Jim Powell and Don Sutton, read some of my Tweets from Bald Head Island on the air. I just couldn’t resist the chance to Tweet to them again and that’s the only way I have of getting in touch with them. However, I only sent the Tweet. I didn’t check my notifications or read anything in my feed.

Otherwise, I think my detox was a success and definitely a worthwhile experiment. For the first few days, I missed the connection with people as much as everyone said I would. I even experienced a bit of the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) syndrome I've read so much about. But eventually I got used to being really on my own and in the moment except for a few phone calls with family and friends.

It was good to notice how often I reached for social media in those first few days. On the one hand, that’s a good thing for me since it’s an important part of my job. However, as I return to work this week, I want to make absolutely sure that I keep looking for ways to unplug throughout the day. I don’t want to connect before I plan my day and I want to turn things off at least an hour before bed. I also want to see if I can check social media and email less often throughout the day and make myself work on other projects for longer periods of time before taking a “shallow sip of online connection.”


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