For the hyper-connected among us, 2013 may well have been the year of the digital sabbatical. Many a media story hyped the benefits of multi-day technology cleanses, where analog, “real-life” experiences were touted as carrying the healing properties of a lemon-juice-and-cayenne shot, and our plugged-in, screen-addled culture was soundly critiqued.
While I’m a strong advocate for mindful use of technology, and for cultivating presence and focus in all areas of one’s life, there’s an undercurrent of dualistic thinking to much of the “digital sabbatical” writing I’ve come across: In an effort to rebalance the scales away from addictive and compulsive use of technology, advocates of digital sabbaticals seem to suggest that totally unplugging is the only (or at least, best) path to reconnecting with a good, meaningful life.
The implication is that good, meaningful lives can’t be lived online–or that good, meaningful lives require stringent use of technology. I don’t believe that.
I believe there’s a middle path, where we remain embodied, mindful, connected human beings who use technology fluently and fluidly.
And I believe that most of us aren’t there right now. We use technology to zone out, to escape from pangs of loneliness, to distract us from conflict in valued relationships. We allow technology to dominate our time rather than serving our highest aspirations. And when we notice we’re doing these things, we tend to overreact by shutting our tech devices down altogether and escaping in the other direction.
This is not to suggest that digital sabbaticals are a bad thing. They’re wonderful. But they’re not the only solution, and we need to be having more conversations about what this middle path looks like.
I’m thrilled to be convening one such conversation in Austin, Texas in a couple of weeks. I’ll be joined by two brilliant thinkers and rollicking conversationalists: Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, the author of The Distraction Addiction, and Rohan Gunatillake, the founder of Buddhify (and regular contributor to Buddhist Geeks).
We’ll be digging into how we can maintain our health, sanity, and relationships while using tech tools, as part of the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Our session, titled “Beyond Unplugging: How to Stay Sane Online,” takes place Saturday, March 8 at 5:00 pm.
Update: My follow-up post on our SXSW session can be found here.