The New York Times' Bits Blog asked its readers to give up their main technological tethers — be they SMS messages, Twitter, email or other inputs. You can watch intriguing videos of how they coped, but also take away a neat lesson.
Bits Blog readers responded to the challenge with some fairly entertaining self-produced videos. There are some sad truths in there — when one man stopped taking text messages and asked friends to call if anything was important, they instead started texting his wife and asking her to relay the message.
But stepping away from the immediate withdrawal, many saw a benefit to getting new perspective on how much information they take in every day. Going further, the Bits post recommends anyone feeling like they're similarly overwhelmed to log their data input like a diet. Write down when you check Twitter, how often you're on email, responding to texts — just like logging food and calories in a diet journal.
Experts say that, in general, those wanting to control their technology use should approach the task more like a diet than a withdrawal from drugs. The idea is to learn to distinguish between necessary and compulsive consumption.
Winifred Gallagher, the author of "Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life," said keeping a log of one's technology use can be a valuable exercise. This technique is adapted from a dieting strategy. Dieters who write down what they eat, said Ms. Gallagher, end up consuming a third fewer calories.
... "Let's face it, very few of our phone calls and e-mail messages are life and death matters," she said. "You just have to stop that kind of knee-jerk response to those cues."
The idea of an information diet isn't entirely new — 4-Hour Workweek author Tim Ferriss definitely agrees with the theory — but it's worth raising the idea in light of how much harder it is getting, all the time, to truly restrict interruptive data.
The Unplugged Challenge: Readers Respond [Bits Blog/NYTimes.com]