I've pursued unwiring for years now, shifting the phone to airplane mode and using it to take pictures. The research is increasingly clear: walking in natural environments is good for you, improving both mood and cognitive function. Just as we think about what food we consume and when, it makes sense to think about a family's media diet.
For many people, vacations may be when we break self-imposed rules about our diets or use the time away from work to try new routines. Author Michael Pollan's simple mantra for healthy living is to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." This August, preparing for our family vacation in Maine, faced with an information omnivore's dilemma, I decided to try to adapt Pollan's words.
Access information. Delete social apps. Mostly maps.
Read books. Facts and fiction. Mostly print.
Cache email. Respond later. Mostly family.
Limit videos. Not too much TV. Mostly movies.
I did OK. Over the course of the week, I read two books (review to come), slept through most nights and ate a lot of seafood, along with local fruit and vegetables. We went on long walks, bike rides and swims, and cooked wonderful meals. I didn't delete social media apps from my phones, but I used them all much less than in a normal week.
Over the week, I sent out 26 tweets, along with a few retweets and replies. (I typically tweet more than that in a single day.) I posted 25 pictures to Instagram and updated Facebook 21 times, lingering to comment a few births, marriages, close calls and other milestones experienced by friends.
My laptop was primarily used to charge the phones that went out with us. I did not use The Huffington Post's email to tool to automatically delete incoming email. I checked my work account twice, responded to two messages, and triaged the rest Monday morning. I checked my personal email once, each evening. That felt about right.
The TV mostly stayed dark, although I did watch the Republican primary debate and Jon Stewart's sign-off from "The Daily Show." The record-breaking ratings of the debate made it clear that far more than die-hard "political junkies" had tuned in, but the act of watching it all gave me a moment of pause.
After all, when someone is trying to break an addiction to cigarettes, alcoholism or harder drugs, a trip to "rehab" may be warranted. If time spent gaming, using social media and video consumption add up to an addiction, a digital detox may be worth exploring.
In the absence of those conditions, thinking of how we integrate technology into our lives as a diet may be a more apt metaphor or practice.
After all, smartphones are incredibly useful tools when you're traveling, from knowing what to wear to avoiding summer traffic to exploring accommodations or dining options.
When we needed to find out ferry times for planning, we could, in an instant. In other contexts, we kept them stowed.
For instance, we visited wonderful public libraries in Northeast Harbor, Bar Harbor and Southwest Harbor.
In the latter, we found a "laptop free zone" and were happy to oblige. In 2015, after all, that's often what "vacation" means.
If you have tips, tricks and ideas about how to integrate or disentangle different kinds of technology from your summer vacations, please share them in the comments.
Alexander B. Howard covers the intersection of technology, government and society at the Huffington Post and is based in Washington, DC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @digiphile.