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One More Thing

Unplugging's a Beach

A digital detox can be as reinvigorating as an island getaway, but routine, short tech breaks can be even more refreshing.

Unplugging's a Beach

[Illustration by Stanley Chow]

A year ago, I shared in these pages the story of my 25-day digital "unplug." Since then, unplugging has become something of a cottage industry. There are now detox camps, digital diets, and unplugging-themed conferences, all of which go far beyond my personal experience. I've been honored to receive emails from folks who feel as if my piece gave them permission to take their own step back. It's great to know I'm not alone.

One of the biggest things I've learned since my initial unplug is that it's possible to maintain a better digital balance without resorting to full-time, abstinence-only extremes. So my last break was less radical. I fled to a remote island (no, I won't tell you which one, because that would make it less remote), and I was more lenient in setting the rules of my detox. I allowed myself a once-daily inbox scan for a group of five contacts whom I had put on a VIP list. I even granted myself the occasional social media post, though only to another small group on Snapchat. The ephemerality of Snapchat posts and the service's lack of a constantly rushing feed made it the ideal outlet for indulging in just a little social media.

Most significantly, as a veteran, I talked about unplugging far less. Rather than constant, pre-vacation public screaming of, "I'm leaving! I'm going! You'll never see me again!" I simply flipped off the switch the day-of and left. Now that I've proved to myself that I can unplug, I've become a little less dependent on taking vacations to restore balance. I try to avoid heavy screen time for most of one day every weekend. I'm still joining those "I Am Here" excursions where friends explore a neighborhood during a 12-hour day, no texting or tweeting allowed, prioritizing face time over FaceTime. And I'm filling my calendar a little less and taking more deep breaths on a regular basis, though achieving a consistent and true state of peace requires more meditation and kale than I've budgeted for.

New tensions have also emerged: My slightly-more-enlightened state often conflicts with the escalating demands of my growing company. Fear of missing out on business opportunities and the need to maintain contact with my partners—all of whom live three time zones away—draw me back into the notifications, updates, taps, pokes, and ever-present glowing rectangles of our networked world.

Finally, I remain frustrated by how much effort it takes to control all the digital interruptions. It's still too difficult to take short-term leaves of absence from our smartphone's beeps, buzzes, and pop-ups. Notification settings have been broken apart and scattered deliberately across menus and screens as if their unification would imbue users with unimaginable power. It's kind of like the myth of Osiris, the boss key in Zelda, or the U.S. Electoral College voting system.

We need software to manage our software, machines to control our machines, and some sort of master switch to control the alerts, communications, and public postings of various apps. For an hour or a month, it would handle auto-responses, temporary account deactivations, and the silencing of our services and devices.

I have neither the time nor expertise to create such a service, but that's where you come in: Go, innovative reader, go! Let's disrupt disruption.

A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Fast Company magazine.