Sunday, August 02, 2015

Have we reached digital obesity already?

I suspect that the idea of fasting happened upon humans when they worried that eating and drinking every day might make them forget the value and importance of food.  Further, the more they ate and drank the less they paid attention to their souls.  Thus, humans in different cultural contexts developed a system of fasting, usually within the religious contexts as well.

The cleansing detox programs like fasting, I like to imagine, date back to when humans began producing enough surplus for them to start building cities and creating what we refer to as civilizations.

As we materially progressed and prospered, the detox programs also took on different variations.  Food detox programs continue, of course.  Detox against shopping.  Against driving.  Against watching television.  Recall MTV's "Unplugged" program?  That was a detox of a different kind.

The latest along that is detox from social media and the internet itself.

There are now resorts that guarantee you that you won't be able to access the internet.  You hand over your gadgets when you check in and then for the rest of the stay there, well, you are on a digital detox.  The Travel Channel even suggests the best unplugged vacation places!  You prefer advice on that from the Wall Street Journal?

We forget that the internet and the digital applications are not the problem by themselves, writes this author at
We all know that social media is a mixed bag. Regular studies connect its use to anxiety, and episodes of depression. There are legitimate questions about its impact on our brains. But it has also transformed many tasks, made us more productive, and at times, helped us to feel more connected. Like any technology, it’s not the tool that poses the problem. It’s how we use that tool.
Even when acknowledging it, he writes about taking off from social media for the entire month of August.  He is off on a digital detox--his third annual treatment!

Meanwhile, over at the NY Times is this piece about "struggling to disconnect from our digital lives"
The first step for me this month will be to shore up and seal my digital borders. I have learned from too many failed experiments that there is no resisting the Pavlovian pull of a ping announcing a new email, the vibration of my phone or the seductions of the Internet once I call up even a single site.
The only way to avoid these interruptions, I have learned, is to turn them off completely. If something requires my urgent attention this month, my away message directs senders to a colleague, who knows how to reach me and also knows how much I hope he won’t try.
I’m painfully aware that letting go won’t happen easily. I’m a lab rat now, deeply accustomed to tapping that lever over and over for the tiny pellets of brief stimulation and shallow gratification that life on the Internet provides.
People have apparently been driven so much into anxiety thanks to being connected 24x7 that they are willing to pay money to get away from it all.  Or, they even sign up for the "Sabbath manifesto" and get away from all gadgets and technology on the "national day of unplugging."   I want to tell them all that they can run but cannot hide!  It is in your head!

I have my own routines to make sure I don't become a gadget zombie. But, I cannot imagine ever going on the detox route.  I have never been a fan of fasting; it is all in the moderation.  As they say in my part of the old country, "அளவுக்கு மிஞ்சினால் அமிர்தமும் நஞ" (the idea translates to "even the divine nectar can become a poison if one exceeds the limit.)  I buy European butter that is rich in fat.  The cream cheese that I buy is full fat.  I buy chocolates and gelato.  Because, I am convinced that it is in how much of those I consume and when.  Consumed appropriately the European butter is the best thing ever on warm sourdough bread.  There are few things in life more delightful than chocolate melting away in the mouth.  But then I don't do that every single meal.

That's the same with digital consumption too.  Yes, it is a consumption; as the author of the NY Times essay put it:
it’s as if I’m sitting in front of a bowl of Doritos or Hershey’s Kisses and compulsively consuming them, except in this case, it’s bytes, not bites. The more of them I take in, the more dissatisfied and hungrier I feel.
Perhaps moderation is not easy for us humans.  Digital fasting is, thus, merely the latest of the forced removal of self from consumption.  Who knows what comes next!


Ramesh said...

Yup; its all in the moderation. Couldn't agree with you more. I haven't been a fan of fasting either. By the way the antics during the month of Ramadan in many Islamic societies is a proof of why this sort of detox never works. Many fast during the day and absolutely gorge themselves during the night such that after the month they actually gain weight, not lose it.

Digital detox is to me a stupid concept, although I can perfectly see the need for it. Maybe humans, conditioned by millions of years of evolution, have to gorge themselves when there is plenty because famine was just around the corner.

Sriram Khé said...

I am amazed at the digital detox discussions. People are serious about this, which means that there are lots more folks who are suffering from gadget addiction than we imagine. I don't think our brains are able to keep up with the technology changes that are happening so fast ...
Maybe this evolutionary instinct to binge on bits and bytes will also be the doom? ;)

Anne in Salem said...

I think for some people, the need to be connected constantly feeds the ego. They feel important at work, loved by friends and family, validation, etc., when the phone vibrates or pings repeatedly. If they don't answer it, the one making contact may move on to another person, thereby reducing the non-responder's place in the world. Only by disconnecting will they realize that actual human interaction will boost the ego far more than any digital - lifeless - communication. Nothing can replace the hug, the handshake, the nod of approval or the peal of laughter that comes in person. (( )) just isn't the same.

Sriram Khé said...

"Nothing can replace the hug, the handshake, the nod of approval or the peal of laughter that comes in person" you write ... but the world is changing way too fast for us to hold on to some old-fashioned ideas, it seems like ...
Here is another evidence of the growing reality, from Ramesh's favorite country, China:

Anne in Salem said...

I don't use twitter so will have to pass on the China story. The world may be changing, but it will take a lot more than changing times to pry the pen and cute stationery from my hand or to stop me from seeing people in person. My kids are already certain I am a relic. Might as well prove them right.

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