Here’s Jake’s testimony to the positive power of a digital detox in his life. I hope it inspires you in similar ways.

A year and a half ago I visited Pastor Martin. My visit bore two fruits: one is that he had lovingly admonished me about the weight I had gained since he last saw me (about 30 lbs). Since then I’ve put off that weight. The second is that he recommended the book by Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  I purchased the book from Amazon and began reading on my flight home back to Texas (yes, on my Kindle app). It changed how I viewed the internet and the impact of technology on the mind. Quotes such as this one stuck with me:

I can’t read War and Peace anymore. I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.

It alarmed me that the untrained use and unrestricted allowance of the interference of technology in my life may have impaired my capacity to think and reason. I could relate to these words. Somehow reading had become difficult and focus elusive. Rarely did I ever enter into a state of deep concentration. When I made the attempt it was more frustrating than fruitful. My natural memory was quite poor, although it had been good when I was a child.

Two-Phase Recovery
After I finished the book in the Kindle app (which, ironically, prompted me to rate and review the book) the germ of resolution was planted in my heart to not let technology rule my ability to reason, think, remember or concentrate. My “recovery” took two phases: one was to rediscover how it is the mind should work (ie. how it should have been working without the impairment of untrained use of electronic devices), and I did this by reading and listening to what I could find on memory, concentration, attention, and improvement of the mind. The second phase was a more aggressive digital detox.

My digital detox meant seeking out the unwanted intrusions of technology in my daily life, and disabling them. I turned off e-mail notifications on my phone. I silenced all text and WhatsApp alerts except for messages that I get from Lydia. I had a weakness for browsing Facebook, and so I set an near-impossible password which I would have to cut and paste from an Excel document to log in. It was the only way I could keep myself from mindlessly logging on for amusement and wasting a daily half hour on trivialities.

I took some aggressive steps at my job too. I disabled e-mail pop-up notifications in Microsoft Outlook, and I disabled the sound alert my computer makes when I receive a message. Now I do not know that I’ve received any e-mails unless I make the effort to check. I work long hours this time of year because I am a CPA, and so I’ve come into the office quite early (6:00 AM) and I began shutting my door so I cannot be interrupted. As for the rest of the day, when it wouldn’t be appropriate to have the door shut all the time, I put in earplugs. The response wasn’t so negative as I feared, and a few seemed to think it was wise. I also stopped listening to podcasts and sermons while I work.

Robbed by Multi-tasking
Before the digital detox, if a problem came up I would get frustrated and struggle to fix it because I could not keep my thoughts together. My work rarely felt satisfying, and I would check my phone as a “quick escape” from whatever bothered me at the moment. I also did not realize that listening to sermons or lectures or music was robbing me of much-needed energy for focus, attention and memory. I spent much time answering distractions (texts, e-mails) and spent precious time trying to get my bearings and to refocus again.

I saw and experienced real, tangible changes. After detoxing, problems did not frustrate me so badly anymore, and I could get into a mindset to diagnose the problem and confidently resolve it. I found great satisfaction in my work. I bought myself hours of time where nobody and nothing would distract me from my work, and I could enter that state of deep focus and concentration. I began to enjoy a world of silence, even absent of the roar of traffic on the tollway outside my window. This is where I found myself doing my best and happiest work. In the midst of a heavy busy season I could keep a cool head and tackle issues confidently and effectively. I also found I could no longer listen to sermons or podcasts while working, even for the most rote of tasks. It demanded a portion of my mental energies which I had now learned to wholly use on the job, and a divided attention was a fast drain on my mental capacity.

It’s made a difference outside of work. I remember coming to an appreciation of a world where the phone did not always interrupt, where conversations with my wife were not disturbed by a text alert.

Spiritual Fruit
I believe it may have also produced spiritual changes. I had noticeably less difficulty getting myself into a focused state for devotions, and the fruitfulness of my meditations increased. My mind wanders less when I pray. I can focus better during sermons, even with a two-year-old at my side. The frustration that I would experience thinking through hard spiritual matters wasn’t there anymore, or at least not to the same degree. The most wonderful fruit of digital detox is the enlarged capacity to be a happier, more joyful Christian.

More Digital Detox resources here.

  • Brian

    I notice that I don’t read as much as I once did when I was younger and the computer and the internet played a big part with that. I still love to read but whenever I try to get into a book my attention span is driven away to something else, instead of focusing intently on my reading as I once did. Can I ever get my mind back? Can I get my mind to think, reason, and focus ever again? Will I be able to immerse myself in long stretches of prose like I used to without getting tired or distracted?

    Maybe instead of being on the internet for most of the day, I should be on it for only about an hour a day. Not even an hour a day but a hour a few days a week — maybe?

    • David Murray

      I sympathize with you Brian. I believe we can re-train our brains but it will take time and discipline.

      • Brian

        Pastor Murray, how does this sound for discipling myself on the time I spend on the internet? Maybe instead of being on the internet for the majority of the day like I am now, maybe I should spend about an hour a day or even better maybe an hour a day a few days a week?

        • David Murray

          Yes, I think it’s best to decide beforehand rather than try to decide while we’re using our devices. You can get Apps like Freedom to impose restrictions on your time and customize it to suit each day.

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