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Internet Detox: How To Escape The Addictive Nature Of Social Media And Reconnect With Reality

The Maldives was a good choice of location for my digital detox because there are a plethora of activities on offer, each of which helped distract me from my addiction to the connected world LEE BELL

Disconnect from your electronics

Original Source: forbes.com

We’re constantly reminded of late that the perpetual influx of new technologies in our lives and the information that we consume on a daily basis is making it more difficult for us to “switch off” from the devices in our hands.

We hear it so much that it’s almost become something of a cliche. Despite the advantages of technology, it seems we are now so aware of the negative impact it can have on our lives – take for instance social media and its ability to distract and consume us – that we are increasingly being told how we need to escape it and give ourselves time away so we can disconnect.

But what does it mean to disconnect in our digitally-dependent world? A way in which people are exploring this idea is through something called a “digital detox”. If you haven’t heard this term before, it’s a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, and is regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.

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A lot of people find it incredibly difficult to commit to a full-on digital detox. An Internet detox is more accessible for most LEE BELL

However, a lot of people find it incredibly difficult to commit to a full-on digital detox, mainly because their phones do everything for them now. Today, a smartphone is a camera, it’s an alarm, it’s a calculator, it’s a notebook. Even without the internet attached, a smartphone is still something most of us rely on daily. We need these devices for everyday actions. There’s also the issue that most watches these days are digital, so moving away completely from digital devices would be almost impossible for many people, and thus harder for them to commit and go through with a detox experience.

So instead of going to the extremes of doing a full-on digital detox, I recently decided to do an Internet detox.  I’ve done a digital detox in the past, but as smartphone cameras are now capable of replacing even premium cameras, there was no way I was going to take myself off to a faraway land and not document any of it. And in my opinion, it’s the internet connectivity that’s the problem with our digital lifestyles, not the digital device itself.

So I completed an Internet detox for the first time recently to see – not only if it was possible, but more importantly – what advantages it had. I booked myself on a trip perfect for this kind of escape at Coco Bodu Hihti in the Maldives, committing to the surrendering of the internet for almost a week.

Here’s everything I’ve learned about doing an Internet detox: how, where, and why.

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An Internet detox works well when you escape somewhere you can relax and have the chance to completely disconnect LEE BELL

How to do an Internet detox

The hardest thing about doing an Internet detox isn’t necessarily the detox part, but the planning and deciding how, where and when you’re going to do it. There are plenty of places that specialize in providing these kinds of technology-free retreats, and while you don’t necessarily have to go through an organized trip to do it, this could help to ensure you go through with it. If the detox is pre-arranged for you, and you’re put in a situation with others that are in the same boat – you’re less likely to fail.

Therefore, the best advice I can give is to not plan too much. If you find yourself feeling frustrated with how consumed you are with technology on a daily basis, and like the idea of escaping it, the best thing to do once you’ve made the decision to do an Internet detox, is simply to throw yourself in at the deep end. All you need is a general idea of what sorts of activities you’d like to do while you’re there (yoga? Meditation? Watersports? Spa treatments? etc) and then where you’d like to do them, which brings me onto the next section…

Where to do an Internet detox

The best place to do an Internet detox is somewhere that is unfamiliar to you, a place completely out of your comfort zone and thus where you are unlikely to fall into old habits, such as checking your Instagram status and wondering what bull people are spouting on Facebook. You can do an Internet detox pretty much anywhere these days. When researching where to go, think about a place you’ve always wanted to visit but never have. It doesn’t have to be halfway across the world, but it’s important that the place is new to you. It also helps if it’s steeped in nature and has an opportunity to explore. You’re more likely to find it easier to disconnect that way.

As mentioned earlier, I did my Internet detox at a luxury eco resort in the Maldives called Coco Bodu Hihti – part of the most remote group of islands in the Indian Ocean. The island was specially equipped for this kind of escape and was the perfect retreat for me because it’s not only far away from everything I know, but it’s probably the most peaceful place I’ve ever been, a great location for detoxers looking for relaxation and a chance to completely disconnect. There is also heaps of potential for exploring as well as cultural experiences – great food, friendly, approachable people, heaps of sea life and best of all: beautiful, reliable weather. In my experience, a retreat that offers a variety of stimulating activities like this is ideal when doing an Internet detox because too much relaxation can sometimes lead to boredom, and subsequently the need to reach for the smartphone.

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I did my Internet detox in the Maldives – the most paradise-like and remote group of islands in the Indian Ocean LEE BELL

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to go to a place that has been put together especially for a retreat or Internet detox, but it can help – especially if you’ve never done it before. You’ll have better support around you, and more often than not, will be led by an experienced, encouraging mentor that can help remind you that physical experiences always trump virtual ones. And once you’ve learned how to submerge yourself in the unknown and forget about your digital commitments, it’s easier to do it yourself and organize your own breaks.

But the big question: why should you do one in the first place?

Why do an Internet detox

Before you go researching, it’s important to know the real benefits of doing an Internet detox in the first place.

The driving force behind my decision came down to social media. I had worn tired of feeling like I had to document everything I was doing in my life through various social networking platforms, and it had become less about me wanting to share my experiences or a nice photo, and had descended into the realms of feeling pressure from myself that “I must post about me being in this nice place!” without really thinking about why.

Why is it that when something amazing happens to us, the first thing we think of is reaching for our phones to document it? Many of us have lost the reason why we even post our activities online in the first place, and a lot of the time it comes down to that notion of seeking validation through the reactions – be it likes or comments – that we receive as a result. It’s something that has been written about extensively already, and seen broadly in the millennial and generation Z crowds. For those whose happiness relies on the number of likes they receive on social media; life can quickly feel pointless unless it’s constantly being documented and live-blogged to the virtual world.

This is what an Internet detox sets out to resolve. Whether you’re just a person feeling a little lost in the data deluge, or perhaps it’s something as extreme as feeling like you’ve lost who you are through the overuse of social media – like with any detox – a complete break from digital life is the best way to cut the habit. And you’ll soon find yourself wondering why the urge post all your activities online was ever there, to begin with.

But best of all: it’s easier than you think.

My Internet detox experience

After landing in the Maldives, I remember having the usual urge to post and upload everything I saw on social media. The feeling I remember was a subtle stress on my shoulders, akin to the feeling of having an essay you haven’t started writing yet despite a looming deadline.

It wasn’t until around two days of having no internet connection that I began to see how much I truly relied on social media, and the validation it brought me in my everyday life.

My retreat lasted for six days. For the first day or two, every time I saw something I thought was cool, like a baby shark swimming in the shallow waters of the beaches of the island, or I ate something that looked amazing, like a big selection of fruits, I felt an urge to document it and post it online for everyone to see and thus kept having to remind myself to relax. I also felt anxiety that I wasn’t able to communicate my thoughts with my friends instantly – just knowing instant messaging or texting wasn’t an option was strangely unnerving. I quickly became aware that this anxiety sparked from my dependency on connectivity and a compulsion to share everything.

The Coco Bodu Hihti resort I stayed at was well equipped for everything I needed to help me escape the distracting nature of the Internet. From snorkelling and diving opportunities, yoga class and a spa, to tennis courts, motorized watersports and infinity swimming pools.

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Having no internet connection might make you see how much I truly relied on social media, and the validation it brought me in my everyday life LEE BELL

Take for instance my first Maldives snorkelling experience, which was incredibly rewarding. Despite my fear of the sea, it really helped me to appreciate the joy of physical experiences. The accomplished feeling of doing something I’d never tried before by far outweighed my impulses to check my smartphone and see what was happening on social media.

Halfway through my time on the island, on day three – my Internet addiction had become much more manageable. The need to check my phone and feel if it was still in my pockets every five minutes had subsided. In fact, by the end of that day, I’d not thought too much about having internet access and was happily enjoying the experiences of a fresh environment, such as camping on the beach and waking up to the lapping waves beneath me while being gently rocked in a hammock between two palm trees. Although, I did still feel a little anxiety about not being able to contact my friends on Whatsapp – but not to the point where it wasn’t manageable.

By day four, I was feeling more at ease about not having my phone with me. I didn’t care as much about taking photos of everything, either, and when I did take photos, my reason for doing so was “oh, that would make a great photo” as opposed to “that would get some good traction on Instagram”. Seeing the wildlife and being surrounded by so much natural beauty, including the corals and the swaying palm trees, gave me a good distraction from anything digital – but at the same time – a thought did seep through about messaging my friends about it.

Nevertheless, on my final, sixth day on the Maldivian island, my head felt clearer than it had for a long time, and I felt so much more calm in general.

When my retreat had come to an end, and I was back at the airport about to head home, I felt conscious that I should upload some of my achievements from the last five days, or at least tell the world I was back online and had survived my extended break from social media. But at the same time, I really didn’t care. I felt less compelled to even pick up my phone and definitely sensed that there was much less urgency surrounding my online obligations. I’d even lost a lot of interest in my social platforms. I think being out of my comfort zone during my Internet detox helped me to better connect with nature and people, therefore aiding in the weakening of my ties with technology and the digital world. Nevertheless, I did – of course – post about some of my experiences once I was back in the UK.

Booking your trip

So now you’ve had an idea of what your first Internet detox experience could be like, it’s time to look into it for yourself. The Maldives was a good choice of location for my digital detox because there are a plethora of activities on offer, each of which helped distract me from my addiction to the connected world. The weather, people and deep connection with nature also made it that much more enjoyable, which I think is a very important factor to consider. The location of your Internet detox trip should not only offer unique experiences but be somewhere that you think you’ll enjoy, doing something that you’ll find rewarding. You don’t want it to feel like you’re restricting or punishing yourself, otherwise, its intention won’t work.

Six days is also a good amount of time to do a digital detox for, as you won’t feel excluded from your normal life for too long, but it’s also long enough for you to hit that all-important ‘reset button’, giving you a break from the everyday stresses and constant flow of data and information we receive; helping us to reassess what really matters in life. But remember, any trip can potentially be an Internet detox. Just switch off your WiFi or data connection, leave your laptop and tablet behind and go experience the physical world at its finest.

My journalism career kick-started in the technology industry at The INQUIRER in 2012, where I soon found my voice in the innovations space, focusing on the latest advances in consumer tech and their social impact. These days, I’m a freelance writer and editor, specializing i…

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Lee is a journalist specializing in health tech and fitness innovation. Follow him on Twitter, see what he’s up to on Instagram, or read more of his articles at his Forbes profile page.

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