How much does technology determine our behaviour? My experience of an accidental digital detox.

I've been thinking about the usefulness of technology and digital tools and how, when these fail it completely effects how we behave. Does switching off really improve our lives? I found out by accident.

I've had a MacBook since 2009. It's travelled where ever I've been, I've blogged on it, wrote my thesis on it and contains all of my wedding photos. The reason I bought it was because of the inbuilt webcam so I could Skype my other half when we lived apart. As you can probably tell, I love my MacBook. I don't think I am overstating when I say my life wouldn't be the same without it. But, over the past two years it's been struggling. The hard drive was full, programmes wouldn't run or update and it became extremely difficult to use. My phone also filled up with photos as I had no-where to save them. Unintentionally I was carrying out a digital detox. The only time I was connected was when I was at my desk.

I didn't feel great about this, I was frustrated most of the time. My ability to blog, discuss, post and read what others are doing was limited. I thought about what I was missing and the interesting stuff I wasn't learning or exploring. It didn't feel like a freeing experience. I don't think my other half felt that we were closer.

Last weekend I updated the RAM (from 2GB to 8GB) and updated the hard drive to a larger standard state hard drive in my MacBook. It was super easy to do (I've posted a video below).

These changes have transformed my MacBook from an usuable shell to something that is again enjoyable to use. During the 'digital detox' I put off jobs that involved turning on my computer because it made me more stressed out about the length of time it took me to do something simple (like a book train tickets) because my computer couldn't cope. Overnight, once my computing power was functioning, I was back online and firing through my to-do list.

With digital, the tools and applications need to fit in to your life in order to be useful. They need to add something, whether thats entertainment or of practical use for work or life. When they start to fail then it effects everything - both your online and offline life. Take this real life example - booking train tickets. You can buy them online, or at the station. You go into town to the station, you might buy a coffee when you are there and see some friends. What you might not get done when in town buying coffee however, is write the blog post that you were planning to, or the book you wanted to finish reading because you were in town and it took longer than expected. You might also pay more for that train ticket.  Or you could buy the tickets online and go about your morning as planned, either being social or getting on with your work.  In my case, what happened was that I got in a very bad mood at my computer as it repeatedly crashed and I wasted a whole Sunday morning.

If all goes to plan, in this example, then neither option is wrong or right - but those small changes in behaviour can significantly impact on what happens next.  Digital tools and applications don't exist to change only what we do online but also in our offline life.

I can't imagine deliberately choosing to be switched off at work or at home, whether that is my use of social media or applications. Both are useful in both parts of my life. I know that blurs the line, but that is OK. Is there really a line between work and home? I don't think I've ever had one. My point here is that many see social media as being only a social tool and don't let it cross over into the workplace but I think more and more we are learning how to merge our professional and social personas (again, are they really that different?). No-where is this more prominent than on Twitter where many mix up their professional and social lives for the benefit of both (granted, sometimes this doesn't work out well at all). I asked researchers on Twitter if and how they integrate social media into their 'work' a few weeks ago. You can read all of the responses here but I thought these Tweets were interesting.

'Digital detoxes' are being mentioned more and more - but is it not just about learning how we merge all of our 'world's'? The situation is still very new, as are the applications. We are still learning how we merge online, offline, professional and social lives. This is what I think makes social media such an exciting place.


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