THE BLOG
06/18/2014 04:29 pm ET | Updated Aug 18, 2014

The Advantage of Digital Disconnection

Peter Himmelman

Dr. David Fischman is an acclaimed author and a civil engineer. He's penned five books, including The Secret of the Seven Seeds: A Parable of Leadership and Life. Among the many important statistics he presents is this: By age 10, the average child in the Western world will have seen more than one million advertisements. The nation of Denmark, Dr. Fischman writes, was rated in a recent study as the Western country with the happiest people. Interestingly, it also happens to be the country with the least amount of advertising. Our inability to disconnect from advertising and the media overall, can often leave us feeling so empty as to have forgotten what compels us; what it is that drives us to engage with the world. Transfixed by the digital-glow, we remain convinced we are somehow less than: the woman with the perfect breasts and shiny hair, less than the man with the BMW and less than the family with the straight white teeth and the big house in the suburbs.

The more time we spend glued to our entertainment cubes, the more time we spend imbibing ideas about our own insufficiency (read: more time feeding M.A.R.V. Majorly Afraid of Revealing Vulnerability. Marv is my term for the internal critic, or the voice of fear inside each of us. Marv is getting fat off our constant indulgence in pop culture dross and he needs to go on a strict diet. His media-rich caloric intake is way too high and taking regular "digital-fasts" will eventually slim him down. Methodical disconnection from technology is as imperative as our integration with technology; particularly since we are standing at the very threshold, and certainly nowhere near the end, of technology's advance.

I have a personal relationship with the idea of leaving technology of all kinds behind on a regular basis; I observe the Jewish Sabbath, a time when the use of technology is prohibited. And while I don't believe that the strict tenets of this observance are appropriate for most people, I am strongly convinced that some of its main ideas would be helpful if they were incorporated in some manner. Technically speaking, there are 39 types of prohibited labor on the Sabbath. They include things like: using money, making fire, planting, carrying things from a public to private domain, sewing, cooking, fastening two things together and writing. Over time, each of the 39 prohibitions was extrapolated on to prohibit the use of things that weren't in existence in ancient times.

Some examples are: driving a car, which runs on a combustion engine and is a violation of the prohibition against the use of fire, using electronics of any sort, which demands a completed circuit and is a violation of the principle of joining two things together. This last prohibition covers a lot of ground; it renders all cell phones, computers and televisions completely off limits during the 25 hours of the Sabbath.

During my Big Muse workshops I typically have participants write a letter to someone they love on their smartphones. As recently as two years ago, I had to ask that people bring their phones to the workshops. Today, that suggestion is as absurd as asking them to bring their livers. The smartphone has become as ubiquitous as any organ in the human body. And while I strongly believe that as a tool (it is perhaps the most miraculous thing ever created on the planet), I'm also cognizant of it having made us into actual cyborgs, human beings whose abilities have been enhanced by technology. The very real danger is that as we progress deeper and deeper into the offerings of technology, many of us, perhaps most of us, will be completely cut off to the experience of living without the technology.

What's the point you ask? Why arrest the rate of progress? What's the value of divorcing oneself from the cyborg-advantage in the first place? A host of reasons come to mind: losing touch with simple human experiences like conversation, solitude, reflection, intimacy or feeling the awesomeness of nature. But mostly, it involves the cost. I'm not talking about the initial purchase price. I'm talking about the fact that every communication-related technology seems to also be a platform and driver of advertising; and nearly every ad tells us what we lack. With a steady diet of messaging that tells us we're not good enough unless we do or buy or become X, it's no wonder we've lost touch with our creative spirit.

Each time we go on a search engine, use Spotify, or watch a video on YouTube, we are being sold something and 99.9999 percent of the time, it's nothing we need and nothing we want. Insidiously with every keystroke, marketers are watching us and gaining a keener understanding, not only of what we aspire towards, but ominously, what we lack. And in the process, they are providing Marv with script after script to hand off to his Deflators.

Part of avoiding becoming a Stuck-Thinker is taking time away from ideas and influences that tell us what we lack. Doing so requires a strategy, a methodology to counter the sway of the trillion dollar industries, which exist in part to disable us, to mollify and flatten us, so that in the end, we become susceptible to whatever it is they want to sell us. I'm by no means a Luddite or a conspiracy theorist. What I am in fact, is a person who is simply aware of natural economic forces that work by their own rules and contain their own power -- power we must endeavor to understand if we want to manifest our own personal dreams. We will be better prepared to understand this power and how we can effectively integrate it into our lives by finding ways to disconnect from technology on a regular basis.

The work comes primarily from becoming mindful about technology's encroachment into your own life and the life of your family and friends. To be mindful not only requires that you step back and take an objective look at where you stand in relation to this ever-expanding force in your life, it requires that you set real limits: limits which are increasingly difficult to abide by.