Indian Inspiration – Could You Commit To A Daily Digital Detox?

28 March 2023 |
Episode 10 |
16:59

Episode summary

Have we become so hooked on our digital devices that we need saving from ourselves? In this episode, I share the fascinating story of the Indian village of Vadgaon, where a daily digital detox law forces villagers to switch off their digital devices for 90 minutes each day. I explore whether a similar law could, or should, be introduced in other countries, the possible benefits of such a widespread, simultaneous disconnection from the online world, and challenge you to try out your own daily digital detox, inspired by the villagers of Vadgaon.
 

Episode notes

In this episode, I talk about:

  • The difference 1 hour can make when it comes to practising digital wellbeing
  • Why digital detox “escapes” may not be the solution to your digital device obsession
  • The remarkable Indian village of Vadgaon, where a daily digital detox law has been introduced and enforced since August 2022
  • Whether Western countries could or should introduce their own daily digital detox laws
  • The benefits of a daily digital detox for adults, children, and families
  • The 1 hour daily digital detox challenge
  • The Digital Diet Lounge – a new virtual community for digital wellness and the best place to discuss podcast episodes and take part in weekly challenges

Resources and tools mentioned:

 

Episode transcript

Expand to read a transcript of this episode

[00:00:34] Hey guys, welcome back to The Digital Diet Podcast. I hope you’re doing well and that you’re having a great week so far. Things are super busy here at The Digital Diet Coach, because I’m preparing to launch my first ever group coaching programme, which I’m very excited about. I’m just putting the finishing touches to everything and I can’t wait to tell you more about it on a future episode of the show.

[00:00:58] But it’s safe to say that I’ve kind of been head down, really focusing on getting my work done, which has been massively helped by trying to follow some of the tips for improving attention and concentration that we’ve been talking about over the last few episodes.

[00:01:14] I was in quite a good rhythm work-wise, but as you’ll know if you’re also in the UK, the clocks changed this weekend. They went forward and we lost an hour. And it’s great because it means that spring is here, summer is on its way, and we get just a little bit more daylight each day. But I don’t know if it’s just me, it always throws me off my game a little bit, and it takes a bit of time for me to adjust my routine to the new timings.

[00:01:41] It’s only an hour, so I feel like it shouldn’t make that much difference. But for some reason I really struggle with it, and it really does make a difference, at least for the first week or so. And that’s what I wanted to explore with you all today, the difference that one hour can make, especially when it comes to practicing digital wellbeing.

[00:02:02] Digital wellbeing is often incorrectly presumed to just mean taking part in a digital detox for an extended period of time. For some people that means a temporary break from social media. And for others it means taking a full blown trip to the woods or the desert for just a few days, being without your phone and all your other devices, communing with nature and reconnecting to yourself.

[00:02:25] And I’ll be dedicating a whole episode to the subject of digital detoxes in future because I have a lot to say about what does and doesn’t work. But at the heart of these conventional digital detox offers is this idea of escapism. Escape from your regular life and your regular behaviours, which are having some kind of negative or overwhelming effect on you.

[00:02:46] These offers are giving you an instant out, and I can see the appeal. But, of course, this means that when you eventually return to social media, or you leave the woods and you return to your normal life, you’ll often find yourself right back where you were when it comes to the amount of time that you spend online. Because you haven’t actually done any work on changing your day-to-day reality. And this is really the crux of what practicing digital wellbeing is supposed to be about.

[00:03:12] Now, obviously here on the podcast, if you’ve been listening for a while, then you’ll know that this is very much what I’m always talking about and trying to encourage through the actions that I suggest, and the tips that I give each week. But I can only do so much. At the end of the day, the onus is on you to take action and make changes in your life to achieve a better tech-life balance.

[00:03:31] But what if it wasn’t? A few weeks ago, my dad sent me a recording of a really interesting segment from the evening news about a village called Vadgaon in the Sangli district in Western India. I don’t think it will be available in all regions, so I’ll link an article about this in the show notes instead. But in this village, they’ve introduced a daily restriction on the use of TVs, mobile phones, and computers for a few hours a day by law. In effect, a daily digital detox.

[00:04:00] Every evening at 7pm, a siren goes off at the local temple which tells residents that it’s time to turn off all their digital devices and screens. 90 minutes later at 8.30pm, the village council sounds the siren again and all the gadgets can be switched back on. And there’s no hiding in your house to avoid this ban because there’s a patrol group that goes house to house, checking that the villagers are observing the digital detox, and they have the power to fine anyone who’s found to be using their devices during this off period.

[00:04:31] Now, I thought this was fascinating because, as you’d expect being a digital wellness coach, I’m quite used to hearing people tell me that they want to spend less time on their devices, or that they want their partner or their children to, but they can’t. Either their attempts at so-called digital detoxes fail, or they don’t even get that far because they can’t separate themselves from their phones for long enough in the first place.

[00:04:56] And it really got me thinking about whether something like this could ever, or would ever, work in the US or the UK, even on a small scale. Because despite all the apparent desire for a better tech-life balance, people seem to be genuinely struggling with making it a reality. So it makes me wonder whether something like a daily device blackout that everyone is legally required to participate in might make it easier.

[00:05:21] If everyone’s doing it, then there’s no FOMO or fear of missing out, which is often what has people crawling back to social media and back to their devices when they’re supposed to be taking a break. It’s a really uncomfortable feeling and a really uncomfortable set of thoughts to live with, and many people just can’t bear it.

[00:05:38] And then, of course, there’s a financial incentive because no-one wants to pay unnecessary fines, especially right now as we live through the cost of living crisis, crazy rates of inflation, and an ever-increasing interest rate.

[00:05:50] Now, if you’ve been with me for a while, then you’ll remember that in Episode 1 I talked about willpower and why it’s not necessarily a good strategy to rely on it when it comes to limiting your device usage. But this idea essentially represents the other extreme, where you have to be commanded to put your devices down or face a financial penalty. Have we really become so hooked on our devices that, ultimately, we need saving from ourselves? I’m not sure.

[00:06:18] Certainly, the growth in the number and popularity of internet blocking apps and software seems to suggest so. But that might be as far as we can take it, at least in the West. Because an actual law would also mean stripping away our individual freedoms and right to choose. Understandably, people tend to get very vocal about that sort of thing, particularly in the US.

[00:06:39] But, sometimes, I do find myself thinking that it’s not completely impossible. Especially when you consider recent events like the overturning of the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling, which has meant that abortion is once again illegal in some US states. That takes away a woman’s right to choose whether or not to continue with the pregnancy. So you can see that, in some areas, our governments are still willing and able to exert some control over us, whether we agree with it or not.

[00:07:03] And it’s not as though the ban in Vadgaon didn’t initially face any resistance. The village has a population of around 3,000 people, and the restriction was agreed on during a village meeting on the 14th August, with the intention of stopping a so-called addiction that the villagers had to watching TV and going on their phones. It was put into place immediately the next day, but many people in the village were reluctant to agree to doing a digital detox every single evening.

[00:07:29] It seems that the driving force really came from the greater value that they placed on education and quality family time. The village’s so-called addiction was attributed mostly to the coronavirus pandemic, and the restriction was largely put in place for the benefit of the village’s children.

[00:07:45] Vijay Mohite, the president of the village council, said, “People go inside their homes, shut the door ,and stare at the phone or TV. We decided this was not good for social cohesion.” And during the pandemic, the children living in the village, like many others around the world, had relied a lot on the TV for entertainment and on mobile phones for doing their online classes. So they were using these devices for much longer hours than they were used to.

[00:08:10] Children weren’t doing their homework, they were looking at videos on their phones half the time and not really focusing, and the teachers complained that not only were children falling behind, but they had got used to spending so much more time on their phones.

[00:08:23] Vijay also said that, “When physical classes resumed, teachers realised children had become lazy, did not want to read and write, and were mostly engrossed in their mobile phones before and after school hours. There weren’t separate study rooms in the homes of the villagers, so I put forth the idea of a digital detox.”

[00:08:41] Ultimately, however, it was the adult women in the village who admitted that they often got sucked into watching lots of TV every day, particularly the Indian soaps, and they agreed the daily restriction could actually be beneficial and were willing to try it out. So, this consensus and commitment to trying something different is what ultimately led to the implementation of the ban.

[00:09:02] And at this point, the villagers have been living with the restriction for over six months, with largely positive results being reported by the villagers of all ages and all occupations. So, I think it’s unlikely that it will be reversed. One mother said that she was finding it difficult to supervise her two children, “because they would be focused completely on playing with the phone or watching TV.” And I know that a lot of parents experience this scenario.

[00:09:28] This mother was quoted as saying, “Since this new norm began, it’s far easier for my husband to return home from work and help them study, and I can peacefully do my work in the kitchen.” They also interviewed a 16 year-old girl very briefly, I’m not sure if she was from the same family, but she said that as a result of the ban, her family were talking to each other more and, rather cheekily, that her mum was able to concentrate on making better food!

[00:09:52] And finally, there was also a teacher interviewed, and she absolutely praised the ban, saying that she’d noticed massive changes in her students. There were fewer distractions, more schoolwork was being done, children were more attentive, less tired, and in general better able to learn the subjects that were being taught in the classroom.

[00:10:10] So there’s definitely something to be said for adopting more of a daily digital detox, rather than having to find ways and time to escape for longer periods. Which, as I’ve already said, in my humble opinion, don’t actually work to fix these so-called device and social media addictions in the long-term.

[00:10:26] And I often talk about or quote from research on this podcast, which is important because we need to have robust evidence to support all the interventions that we suggest as digital wellness practitioners, especially if we’re asking people to take action on a larger scale. That’s our job as experts in this field.

[00:10:43] But what I think is so beautiful about this particular story, is that it’s just regular people reacting to their experiences, becoming aware that the way they’re spending their time isn’t aligned with their values, and choosing to do something about it. Because this is exactly what I see in coaching. Not numbers or statistics, but regular people feeling some discomfort with the status quo and wanting to explore living in a slightly different way that better matches what’s important to them.

[00:11:10] And the evidence for succeeding at that comes through in the same way. We can measure screen time, of course we can, and it’s important as a measure. But it’s by no means the only one. People’s self-reported levels of joy and their anecdotal stories about the quality experiences they’re having in their offline lives is the real measure. It’s one of the reasons why I love doing what I do. It’s way more powerful.

[00:11:34] And I think that that is underscored even further by the fact that, no less than five other villages in the Sangli district have now also adopted this daily digital detox. They aspire to experience what the villagers of Vadgaon have experienced, and I think that that’s pretty special. So, while I’m not going to start campaigning for a daily ban to be legalised and ask you to sign a petition or anything, I am going to challenge you this week to implement your own daily digital detox inspired by the villagers in Vadgaon.

[00:12:03] And, just like the villagers, I’m simply asking for you to give this a try and see how you feel. Choose a one hour slot in your day where you’ll stay off all your devices. No TV, no laptop, no computer, no phone, no games consoles. And in that hour, do something that really fulfills you. Read a book, study a little, grab a piece of paper and a pencil and start drawing. If you live with other people, have a conversation with them, play a board game. Whatever you like, just don’t touch your devices.

[00:12:36] Keep the one hour slot the same each day and set daily alarms for the start and end times, so you’ll have your very own siren to remind you of your daily digital detox. And remember, you don’t have to do this in the evening, doing it in the morning could also be a great way to start your day.

[00:12:53] If you live with other people, then try to get them on board too, it will be much easier. You don’t want to accidentally walk into a room where the TV is on, or have someone sitting next to you on the sofa playing Candy Crush or scrolling through TikTok while you’re trying to do this. And, if you live alone, then see if you can recruit some friends, family members or work colleagues to try it out with you.

[00:13:14] The goal here is to reduce the chance of you experiencing FOMO and cracking. If all your friends, family, and co-workers are also offline, then you can comfortably be offline too. You’re not missing out on any hot gossip or any plans. And you’re simply asking for one hour a day. If the people of Vadgaon village can do it for 90 minutes, then I know that you and the people in your life can manage it for 60.

[00:13:37] Just think of all the benefits that are waiting for you on the other side. And if you want to replicate the trial even more closely, then agree on a monetary fine for anyone who’s found to be using their devices during the detox hour. It doesn’t have to be much, the aim isn’t to bankrupt anyone in these difficult times, it’s to provide an additional incentive to stick to the ban.

[00:13:58] If you’re doing this alone, you can still have a fine in place, you just need to ask someone that you trust to hold you accountable. And you’ll have to be honest with them about whether you’re sticking to the ban or not. I’m actually doing something similar with my cousin right now because he’s trying to learn Spanish on Duolingo. So every time he misses a day, I get £20. I’m currently £40 up, so I can tell you from first-hand experience that it won’t be a problem to find someone willing to take your money if you mess up!

[00:14:25] If you’re doing this as a household or as a group, then you just need to nominate someone to collect any of the fines that are issued during the week, and then agree what you’ll do with the money. So you might decide to donate it to charity.

[00:14:37] If you’ve listened to last week’s episode, then you’ll have heard my exciting announcement about my brand new virtual community space, The Digital Diet Lounge. It’s a place for me and you to come together and connect over all things digital wellness in between episodes. There’s a specific room for the podcast and that’s where we can chat about this week’s challenge, and you can connect with other listeners who are also taking part.

[00:15:00] It’s completely free, there are no adverts, no sponsored posts, you don’t have to friend anyone, you don’t even have to create a detailed profile. I’ll put a link to the space in the show notes, and this is the place to get involved in the challenge and let us know how you get on with trialling a daily digital detox in your life.

[00:15:19] You can still share your experience on your social media platform of choice, if you want to. All my handles can be found in the show notes page, so that you can tag me and I’ll see it. And, as always, if you prefer to keep things private then you can email me directly at podcast@thedigitaldietcoach.com, I promise to reply to every single message.

[00:15:40] That’s it for today’s episode, it was short and sweet. I hope that you’ve enjoyed it and that you feel inspired by the villagers in Vadgaon to take on a daily digital detox, and move yourself one step closer to achieving a better tech-life balance. The show notes for today’s episode can be found over on my website at thedigitaldietcoach.com/010 and that’s also where you’ll find links to everything that we’ve talked about today, including The Digital Diet Lounge community and more on the fascinating story of the village of Vadgaon.

[00:16:11] I know you’re busy and your time is incredibly valuable. So, as always, I thank you for choosing to spend a little of your day with me, and I’ll see you next time.

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Marisha Pink

Meet Marisha

Marisha Pink is a Certified Digital Wellness Coach who is on a mission to empower women everywhere to live life more intentionally in an age of digital distractions. She helps women create healthier digital habits that better balance the technology in their lives, so that they can take back control of their time, reclaim their happiness, and live their best lives offline.

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