This holiday season, give the gift of silence

By Geoff Tan

SPH Magazines

Singapore, Singapore


If you Google “the joy of quiet,” you’ll get Pico Iyer’s opinion piece by the same name, which appeared in The New York Times’ Sunday Review. It struck a chord in me the first time I read it a little while back.

The fact it got me thinking several times about its intended message recently prompted me to want to share it with the readers of my blog post during this Christmas month.

This holiday season, focus on what is not on the smartphone screen.
This holiday season, focus on what is not on the smartphone screen.

A trend that’s been going on and off the radar for some time now has to do with people who, not too long ago, clamoured for the latest in high-tech, time-saving gadgets and devices, are now the same folks wanting to get away from them!

Janet Stilson, in an article she wrote for Adweek titled “Why do consumers increasingly want to be less connected, not more?” mentions Horizon Medias Kirk Olson, who has been observing consumers “disconnecting from their digital devices in a quest for more authentic connections with others, more privacy, and a sense of personal identity.”

Olson was quoted as saying: “The incredible penetration of smartphones in the U.S. was probably the biggest tipping point. Most people have had smartphones for a while now, but I think people had to kind of live with them for a while and internalise all the effects the phones have on ones life before they felt this itch to return to a more disconnected life."

“Travelers wanting to unplug” was projected as one of the six travel trends that would drive the global tourism industry in 2016. Many soothsayers are now saying this will further escalate in the year ahead, notwithstanding the bleak economic climate we are all experiencing right now with no optimistic sign of recovery in sight.

Ann Abel, in a Forbes article called “Only disconnect: How going off the grid has become the hot new trend in luxury travel,” talks about “a forced intervention.” More and more hotels have started marketing a lack of connectivity. What used to be a negative (no Wi-Fi) is now a positive (privacy).

Abel puts it even more succinctly when she writes, “What used to be a liability has become the ultimate luxury: a chance to shut out all the endless digital noise and truly connect with our planet, our loved ones, and ourselves.”

Iyer noticed those who part with USD$2,285 a night to stay in a cliff-top room at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur pay partly for the privilege of not having a television in their rooms.

You’ve heard of alcohol and drug rehabilitation centres. Well they’ve now extended their product range to help reform the over-wired generation! Camp Grounded in California guides tech-weary adults through a gadget-free weekend filled with vegan meals, field games, arts and crafts, yoga, and stargazing.

Greg Vodicka, in a piece titled “Is turning off social media the next Millennial social movement?” mentions a study by Battery Ventures that surveyed 1,000 adults between the ages of 20 and 35. Results showed 78% of Millennials did not have an active Twitter account, 79% did not have an active Instagram account, and almost all did not have an active Snapchat account.

“In an age of speed, I began to think nothing could be more invigorating than going slow,” writes essayist and travel writer Iyer in his recent book The Art of Stillness. “In an age of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in the age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”

Iyer points out researchers have found the average office worker today enjoys no more than three minutes at a time at his or her desk without interruption.

We are all living in an information-plagued, highly wired world where submitting ourselves to be drowned in avalanches of texts, moving pictures, brand inferences, flashing lights, a barrage of sounds, and all kinds of commercial spew is the constant order of the day. People are paying for software that enables them to temporarily disable their Internet connections.

South Korea, which has the highest rate of Internet addiction in the world (more than two million addicts), is increasingly expanding its network of boot camps across the nation to offer affected youth a digital detox.

There is a significant and growing community out there who are desperate to unplug.

It has been reported the average American spends at least nine hours a day in front of a screen. The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day. One-third of teens send out more than 100 SMS messages a day, the predominant group being teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 17.

The French philosopher Blaise Pascal was so aptly quoted to say, “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”

Let this piece serve as a check for all of us, and relevantly so — especially with Internet speeds increasing exponentially; smartphone penetration shooting through the roof with many of us carrying two devices and more; new-age contraptions such as wearables and VR eyewear launching left, right, and centre; and advertising for every conceivable brand being blasted at consumers. With no letting up in sight!

Friends, in this Yuletide season, let’s us remind ourselves not to get burnt out for the wrong reasons! It’s been a tough year. I’m sure all of us have worked hard. It is now time to focus on the software that counts: our family, friends, children, parents, colleagues.

But most of all, take time out for yourself. Thomas Merton rightfully puts it when he said, “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest.”

Here’s wishing one and all a merry tech-less Christmas and happy holidays!

About Geoff Tan

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