Earlier this year, an analysis of London Underground users travel patterns from Oystercard records showed that contrary to expectations, a strike had provided an economic boost. It turns out that during an earlier strike, people had experimented with their journeys to work and had found new routes and were not reverting to the pre-strike patterns. Anyone in IT for any time becomes familiar with challenges to the status quo, ‘how we do things here’.

On Radio 4 this morning there was a man talking about the need to disconnect from the increasingly connected world. This comment is echoed frequently, with suggestions that in the future people will pay to not be connected, a digital detox.

Well I’ve tried it and the results are interesting, to me at least. I have just returned from three weeks in the South Pacific and decided that I would switch off while away. I did try to set up a channel for email in case of emergency. However, when I tried to log on to my email, it said I was logging on from an unknown machine in a new location and it wanted to confirm by sending me a message to my mobile phone.

Being on an uninhabited island at the time, I went five days without a mobile signal, so my detox was partially enforced.

In the week before I went I had 480 emails (excluding spam filtered stuff). In the three weeks away I had 1,200. Add to that various social media posts and I had 1,400 messages to act on, note or delete on my return. That took me a full day. Yet I had spent a day just dealing with the last week before I went. Based on that experience, I have rejigged my mailbox filters and reckon that I have saved myself three to five hours a week by changing my working practice. This is the longest time I’ve been without email since the early 80s.

One confession, I did break my detox to tweet from Pitcairn, so not perfect.

Interestingly, from a news perspective there were a lot of major stories while I was away, but other passengers kept me informed and we discussed important matters such as the Premier League results. In practice there were only one or two matters that I didn’t find out about till my return. Talking to people is actually a good substitute for endless surfing of news websites. Who would have guessed that?

The ingrained habit of responding to emails and other interruptions instantly itself generates traffic and activity that ‘needs’ to be responded to.

I also found that my reading speed went up while on my detox and it feels like retention also improved. Since my return and new changes to work, that benefit has stayed.

So, here is my first resolution for 2016! Each year I will take a one week digital detox to reflect on how I use my time, to see if I can be more effective, calmer and think about the real uses and benefits of the tech I use.

As with the Oystercard analysis, I hope I won’t return to past practise. So, for me, I would advise a digital detox for anyone considering it (not necessarily three weeks).

I actually appreciate what the technology advances have brought more since my return, but I think my relationship with tech is a healthier one.

Have a good break at the end of the year. I hope 2016 is a good year for us all. So, is digital detox the future? I’d certainly recommend it.

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About the author
Chris is a technology and policy futurologist. Chris has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He is a Fellow of the BCS and a Fellow of the RSA.

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