"Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours" – William Wordsworth, from his poem “The World is Too Much With Us”
The English poet William Wordsworth wrote these lines around 1802 at the time of the first industrial revolution, when he felt himself and the people around him to be out of tune with nature. If “the world”—the worldly world of making money so we can spend it to buy more things—was too much with him in 1802, what would Wordsworth have thought about life in the 21st century?
Not only are we immersed in overwork and commercialism, but we choose to spend a good part of our discretionary time glued to mobile phones, smartphones, computers and TVs. A 2018 Nielson report found the average US adult spends 11 hours a day listening, watching, reading or interacting with electronic media.
Studies have shown that heavy tech use can be addictive, and that it increases stress and anxiety levels, interferes with sleep, and fosters depression. It also continually bombards us with electromagnetic fields (EMFs).
But it’s all the things it keeps us from doing that’s an even bigger problem . . . like spending more quality time with loved ones, whether it’s having deep, meaningful conversations about life or just hanging out telling stories and making each other laugh . . . or time with ourselves being quiet and tuning in to how we’re really feeling . . . or time for rewarding creative pursuits . . . or, as Wordsworth pointed out, gaining nurturance and perspective from our relationship with nature.
Maybe it’s time to start setting some healthy boundaries with our electronic devices!
Hence the idea of the “Digital Detox,” a period of time when you simply refrain from using tech devices such as smart phones, TVs, computers, tablets and social media sites.
A Digital Detox can take any form you choose. It can be a “digital fast”—a full day or longer without devices. (Warn people who may want to contact you during that time in advance). Or you could integrate detoxing into your daily life by turning off all media at 9:00 PM, or conversely, limiting the amount of time you spend on devices to check in for and return messages to 30 minutes daily. Or if there’s a particular app, site, game or digital tool that’s taking up too much of your time, just focus on eliminating or limiting it.
Although some people will find taking an intentional break from devices refreshing, even exhilarating, others may feel ill-at-ease and anxious. Getting out of the house and taking a walk can help if that’s the case. You could also plan an enjoyable activity for the time you’ll be device-less. On the other hand, sitting with your discomfort, slowing down and breathing with it, welcoming what it may have to tell you, and writing in a journal about it may yield some important information.
Even more so than it was in Wordsworth’s day, “the world is too much with us.” It can eat up our lives and impoverish our souls if we let it.