By TEDDY WAYNE At first blush I may not seem like a prime candidate for a digital detox. I got a smartphone only a few months ago and don’t permit push notifications on it, nor do I have many apps. I’m a sporadic Facebook and Twitter poster. I recently acquired an e-reader for travel but have yet to put anything on it. I have a Roku box with a Netflix account, but have never owned a DVR. And I don’t work in a lightning-paced corporate office. But on closer inspection, I haven’t resisted the downloadable siren song of tech addiction as much I’d hope. I receive email alerts on my computer, which I’m on the majority of the day — and check my new smartphone repeatedly while out. I aimlessly browse the Internet, scanning short articles, lists and videos when I could be reading long-form journalism or books. I also visit Facebook and Twitter too often to surveil friends, acquaintances, strangers and enemies, not always in that order. And ever since my Walkman days in college, I move through the world listening to music nearly all the time. We know the downsides: distractibility, wasted time and shallow “ ‘sips’ of online connection,” as the psychologist and professor Sherry Turkle calls it. So for one week in January, inspired by the example of the powerful media triumvirate of Arianna Huffington, Cindi Leive and Mika Brzezinski, I unplugged. It was surely less of a sacrifice for me than for these hyper-connected women, but to be fair, they did so on Christmas vacation, with two of them jetting off to Hawaii and “a faraway island.” I disconnected during a regular workweek and, in lieu of tropical seclusion, enjoyed the subfreezing and proximal isle of Manhattan. I followed the directives of Maite Barón, the founder of the Corporate Escape, a company based in London that has helped scores of corporate executives negotiate the transition into a lower-pressure life of self-employment. “I teach them how to be in the present,” she said. “Stress and anxiety happen when you’re managing the future.” Her tenets are anti-screen and anti-media. “The first thing I say is to take the TV out of their home,” she said. “Read one newspaper a week. It’s the same news, repeated every day.” Check email “maximum, twice a day,” she said, “and never when you’re right at work — you start reading 300 emails and your day is over.” My inbox is not quite so chaotic, but I determined I would spend no more than 15 minutes in it each session and sign in just once over the weekend. I’d use the phone only from home and would wait until noon to turn it on. I would not initiate any text exchanges, and if I received a message, I would respond as tersely as possible or call the person back. I could not go on the Internet at all unless it was crucial, and certainly not on social media. No streaming or live TV, only DVDs. Handwritten calendar. And music only at home. In other words, I would nonparty like it was 1999. The first day, when ordering food at a deli, I instinctively reached to my ear to remove a nonexistent earbud. Later, after finishing up work in a Word document, I mindlessly clicked to open my Web browser without any conscious intent. It was simply a reflexive desire to escape from the application in which I have to create content and into one in which I can more or less passively consume it. I also briefly experienced the famous “fear of missing out,” a.k.a., annoyingly, FOMO. Then I questioned what I was really missing out on. Twitter quips about the New Jersey bridge scandal? Facebook photos of birthday celebration Cronuts? Yahoo News on the 17 habits successful dentists practice? Soon enough, FOMO yielded to what Ms. Barón and others call the “joy of missing out,” or (sorry) JOMO. Without my procrastination enablers at hand, I read Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral” at breakfast every morning instead of looking at email and a panoply of browser tabs. I had tried to read the novel on previous occasions and put it down each time. Now, without distractions — or, equally important, without the threat of distractions — I grew deeply immersed. (Nice job, Mr. Roth.) “We’ve known for some time now that multitasking does not work,” said Clay Shirky, a professor in journalism and interactive telecommunications at New York University. “People keep doing it because it’s emotionally pleasant to multitask even though it’s cognitively damaging. So that makes it parallelized procrastination.” For those with a libertarian slant (let others do what they want as long as it doesn’t harm me), Professor Shirky has an alarming rebuttal. “There’s a secondhand-smoke effect from multitasking,” he said. “If one person at a table opts out of the conversation by looking at their phone, it affects everyone there.” As you might expect, in Professor Shirky’s household, which includes two children, no devices are permitted at mealtimes and screens are turned off after 9 p.m. Taylor Ho Bynum, a musician and composer in New Haven, has so fervently adopted the disconnection model that he has written a manifesto about it on his website. In it, he observes that, for him, “it is so much easier to spend the day” doing administrative busywork “than it is to leap off the cliff into the terrifying unknown of ‘artistic inspiration.’ ” “For composing music,” he said in an interview, being digitally connected doesn’t help. “Ellington didn’t have this,” he said. “Beethoven didn’t have it, Bach didn’t have it, and they all wrote a lot more music than we do. Particularly in the arts, both the creative engagement and solitude necessary are very much at odds with the expectations of the field now.” But doesn’t he need the Internet to reach his listeners? “Our generation may be great at getting in touch with the audience, but we’re not great at creating the material for the audience,” he said. “Most of the media platforms serve a shallow engagement for a wide audience. What I’m going for is deep engagement by a small audience,” said Mr. Bynum, who described his own music as “weird.” His experience jibes with my own. I wrote my most recent novel on an ancient laptop without Internet connectivity in a silent, shared writers’ space, where I confined myself to a small desk in a carrel and had nothing to entertain myself with other than my own imagination. So far, I’ve been writing a new one from home with the Internet on. I can’t speak for the results, but as Jonathan Franzen wrote in The Guardian, “It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” What about the image-makers among us? Julie Weitz, a visual artist in Los Angeles, was questioning the necessity of being connected when she went on a 10-day meditation retreat last year. “Going in, I was really concerned — it was hard to imagine not responding to email,” she said. But by the time she left, she recalled, “I couldn’t touch my phone for a few days.” Now that she works from home, she recognizes that she struggles with “how to integrate social media into my life, because I’m in isolation,” she said. “One thing I did was completely knock out Facebook. I decided the connection that was there was superficial and didn’t do anything for me except distract me or incite unnecessary feelings. You discover who’s really important when you disconnect.” Ms. Weitz thinks her creative focus has improved since unplugging, and she has even incorporated ideas “about how the screen is a filter that’s a dissociative element” into her work, she said. She is not the only artist to do so. A 17-minute film, “Noah,” by Canadian film students Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg, which went viral online this fall, is set entirely on a teenager’s computer screen. A wrenching breakup is narrated via Facebook, GChat, Skype and a number of other mediating and alienating applications. But going cold turkey is probably not the best option for most people, Professor Shirky said. “Like dieting, people are going to find that daily moderation is going to work better than reverse-bingeing,” he said. “But that’s not a particularly American method. Americans want solutions.” Alena Graedon, a Brooklyn writer, may have negotiated an un-American compromise. Her coming debut novel, “The Word Exchange,” is “about the dangers of being too digitally connected,” Ms. Graedon said, yet she recognizes that she is “as susceptible to the quicksand of Onion headlinesand contrarian Slate headlines and cute pictures of baby animals as anyone else.” Because Ms. Graedon has to use the Internet to fact-check even for creative work, she tries “to get up as early as I can and, when possible, I stay off everything but essential digital media until the middle of the day,” she said. “I accept that I’m pretty useless after lunch anyway, so I feel fine being sucked into the vortex after that.” During the rest of my mostly offline week, I cheated two days when I had to check email three times, fell off the Internet wagon each of those instances for a short period, and also watched two episodes online I had missed of “Parenthood.” (Yes, I watch “Parenthood.”) Most disturbingly, I found myself mesmerized by an unchanging screen in a friend’s lobby displaying which apartments had packages waiting for them. When I left my static, physically finite, Dorothy-in-grayscale-Kansas print universe and returned online, I felt myself emotionally responding to the allure of the gloriously dynamic, vast and Technicolor Internet, with its constantly refreshing reminders of the outside world. Returning to the harder-earned pleasures of Emersonian self-reliance proved challenging. When you commit to disconnecting, you wean yourself off the Pavlovian dopamine rush of external affirmation and information, but it must be a deliberate choice. Simply having it withheld from you (such as being on a plane without Wi-Fi) does not work, as evidenced by the customary reaction of passengers quick-drawing their phones upon landing like Wild West gunslingers. And perhaps the real issue for most of us isn’t our phones and computers, but an older and less mobile device. “Television is still the medium where Americans are most likely to binge,” Professor Shirky pointed out, and Nielsen data backs him up. Then why all the uproar over our supposedly out-of-control Internet and phone addictions? “People are freaking out because it’s a new problem,” he said. Source : http://www.nytimes.com Teddy Wayne is the author of the novels “The Love Song of Jonny Valentine” and “Kapitoil.” Future Tense appears monthly.