Digital ‘detox’ is a pointless cop-out – just learn manners

Why do we need to go retro in this era of technology?

“Wanting to detox back to any pre-the-latest tech era all seems a bit pointless.” Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

“Wanting to detox back to any pre-the-latest tech era all seems a bit pointless.” Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Thu, Aug 21, 2014, 01:00

August now seems to be many people’s chosen “digital detox” month, with folks – especially journalists – going cold Apple and shutting down their smartphones and other “blue screen” devices, for a return to RL (real life).

Or maybe it is just the last gasp of the silly season and, for want of anything else springing to mind, dumping one’s devices and writing about the withdrawal spasms seems a good subject.

But really, isn’t the whole idea of a detox pretty silly in the first place?

I mean, personal technology of all types is approaching the point of ubiquity, with people of all ages texting, sending email, tweeting, chatting and doing quick searches on the web no matter where they might be. We live in a device saturated world, with more variations on the way.

What’s the detox for?

To remember what things used to be like before you could text your friend to tell them you’ll be 10 minutes late because the bus is stuck in traffic or you couldn’t find the car keys?

Before you could connect to Google Maps when hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar city? Before you could have your phone in your pocket so your brother could ring and set your mind at ease as soon as he knew your dad was awake after open-heart surgery?

Before you could research models of dishwashers, cars or potato peelers instead of walking around for hours looking at them in different vendors?

Before you could talk to a community of new mothers or dads, or owners of labrador retrievers, or others suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, or DIY enthusiasts, or fans of Manchester United, or deaf friends at any time of the day or night?

Before you could figure out that, yes, you could actually make a meal out of that tin of chopped tomatoes, a single aubergine, a bit of mince, a bag of rice and a slightly elderly onion, saving you an hour’s trip to the shops after a long day?

Before you could pop onto Skype or Facetime and see the happy faces of your children as you chat to them back home in Athenry while you’re on a business trip to Dubai?

Inappropriate moments

Yes, sure, people use their devices too much sometimes and at inappropriate moments.

I really don’t get why anyone has to take a call during a meal out or a coffee together at the local coffee shop. It is rude. So is call-waiting. No one is so important that they cannot give undivided attention to a friend or family member for a cup of coffee or a lunch.

Okay, maybe President Obama, given that the call might be about someone pushing the nuclear button, but other than that shut it off.

But that leaves most of the rest of the world’s population simply needing to learn, or relearn, some basic manners.

“Detoxing” off net-connected devices is another kettle of smartphones and tablets. Why do we need to go retro in this particular era of technology?

It’s like saying “You know, I think I’ll take the horse into town because I’m in automobile detox. I need to remember and appreciate what it was like when getting from Bray to the city centre took half the day and required a hay-and-water stop and a hitching post.”

It’s like saying “Honey, I’m just going to pop in the car and drive down to Tralee to talk to my mother about, well, really, nothing at all in particular. I just like to hear her voice and catch up on her news, but I’m on landline detox and want to recall the joy of a four-hour journey by car to see someone in a world before Alexander Graham Bell.”

It’s like sitting down in your favourite armchair to squint at a novel by candlelight because you are on electricity detox and want to appreciate what it was like when James Joyce went slowly blind as he peered at manuscripts in insubstantial light.

Wanting to detox back to any pre-the-latest tech era all seems a bit pointless.

I’ve no doubt that the way in which we interact with devices today will eventually be seen in a golden haze of reminiscence anyway, similar to what eventually happens with the introduction of any new technology. The nostalgia of sitting around the radio as a family, as opposed to watching cartoons on TV, for example.

Meanwhile dump the detox. Just learn some social manners and willpower instead, and you’ll be good to go.

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