PRSA Portland Metro Chapter

How to Disconnect to Reconnect: Doing a Digital Detox

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Sep 13

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By Julie Williams

While I’m not a social media or technology “super user” by far, I am a super connector—I love relationships, along with connecting people, stories and ideas. Technology helps me maintain all of these relationships (especially long distance friends) and as a professional communicator social media engagement is a must.

Throughout the spring, I had many experiences of dis-connection and felt increasingly unfulfilled by my online and offline interactions. All the seemingly good communications habits of checking in, emailing, texting and calling left me feeling empty. Too much energy out, not enough energy in.
In her film, “Connected: an Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology,” documentary director Tiffany Shlain argues that “connecting widely can come at the expense of connecting deeply.” At the PRSA Portland Metro screening of the film a couple weeks ago, the post-film discussion confirmed people’s sense of being both overwhelmed by the quantity of connections facilitated by technology and underwhelmed with the quality of those connections.

Thus, technology poses conflicting priorities of staying connected versus actually being connected. This is especially true for PR and communications professionals, in both our personal and professional lives, which are often centered on relationships.

So, what to do?

Inspired by reading Baratunde Thurston’s July/August Fast Company cover article on #unplugging (in print, not online!), I decided to disconnect. I came up with my own combo digital detox and relationship reset plan that still accommodated working and writing without taking a full-on vacation, like Thurston did.

The goal: give my “gadgets a secular Sabbath; reveling in friendships and conversation of a kind that Facebook doesn’t do; being thickly in one place, not thinly everywhere,” as Anand Giridharadas described in his January New York Times column. Anand does this one day a month. Baratunde unplugged for 25 days. I would disconnect for one whole month: July 19 to August 19.

What I didn’t do

  • Make an announcement of my absence
  • Social Media posting or checking newsfeed (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Linkedin, except to fulfill my PRSA board commitments
  • Communicate much with technology (IM, text, phone call)
  • Reach out to people to make plans

What I did do

  • Kept using my phone as a phone, camera and watch
  • Turned off app notifications
  • Only used Email for work- or volunteer-related commitments
  • Internet searches (yes, it’s a gray area)

What I learned

I learned some interesting things about how we fill emotional needs through socializing – both in person and online. Things that I had suspected became incredibly clear (read some examples here.

While it’s hard to tell from talking to me in person or looking at my social feeds since Aug. 19, there are tons of ways that I feel the detox has reset my relationships, both with my devices and my actual friends. It has reminded me of what true connection feels like, using the senses not our brains. For instance, stopping to smell the roses, not just to take a photo of them.

But, you don’t have to do a whole “detox” to reset your relationship with digital.

Try these steps to disconnect to reconnect

  • Make sure your online and offline actions and choices energize you or “fill you up.”
  • Focus on connecting with people in your “village”, i.e.: people physically within reach.
  • Do things you love doing AND people love receiving, such as sending cards and postcards and giving hugs.
  • Figure out what you actually need from technology and then use it only for that purpose to enhance your life not detract from it.

Julie Williams is an award-winning strategic communications professional and owner of Versatile Creative Consulting, helping brands communicate with integrity. Julie is VP of Professional Development for the PRSA Portland Metro Chapter. Read the entire five post series, “Disconnect to Connect” on Julie’s blog.

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