This year marks the 10th anniversary of Unplug Day, which encourages us to take 24 hours out from our hyper-connected world. We challenged three of Cork’s connected people to take a digital detox. Ciara McDonnell finds out how they got on.
Helen Wycherley is a director at the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery, West Cork and the Marina Commercial Park in Cork City and president of Network Ireland 2019. She recognised a change of pace during her time offline.
“I started my digital detox on the Friday night and I stayed offline until the Sunday morning. I was due to go back online on Saturday at 10pm and I realised that if I did, all I would do was spend the next hour or so on my phone and screw up the benefit of it.
My phone is attached to me at all times on a regular day. I have my email on it and the nature of the hotel business is that it does work around the clock. That, as well as it being a family business, generally means that I am available at any time. My role at Network Ireland is voluntary and this means that people work at different times — it might be the evenings or the weekends and I like to be available as much as possible.
“I use the phone for reminders, note taking and camera. All of my to-do lists go into my phone, and I use the camera for so many things, whether it’s taking photos of my children or for ideas. I wrote down my shopping list for the first time in a long time this weekend!
“I didn’t feel as though I was missing out. I have three small children and when I am with them I think that I am on my phone a lot, even though I try to limit it as much as possible. I noticed it most on the Sunday morning when I went on my phone. My children were chattering away and I noticed that I was getting annoyed because I wasn’t being given this time on my phone. It’s definitely something that I’ll be way more conscious of in the future.
“The time goes by so fast and even though it may have been a day since I sent an email or a message to someone, I feel as though it’s been a few days. I am trying to lessen that pressure. So if there is something that I can get off my desk with ease, then I’ll do it, but I am trying to be a little more clever about it, because I am finding that we don’t actually have to reply to each other straight away!
“I have learned that putting my phone away for a few hours is a good thing. I think I lived in the moment, getting on with what was in front of me and knowing that what was on my phone doesn’t actually matter, for a short time at least.”
Patrick McBeth is principal of the Ursuline Convent Secondary School, Cork. In his role, he sees the importance of a regular digital detox, especially for our young people.
“I am surprised by how much I enjoyed my unplug day. The first thing I noticed was that I felt a sense of relief. It’s not until you know that that phone isn’t there, that you realise how constantly it is in use. Not having access to the constant demands of emails and messages coming through gave me the excuse to get up and get out and about.
“Myself and Frances my wife went for breakfast on Saturday morning in the city and we spent the time chatting away and reading the paper. It was lovely — we were talking about how great it was not to have the phones and how much more time it gives you.
“One thing that surprised me was that I realised I spend a lot of time not doing very much on my phone. I seem to spend ages just browsing through pages. There is a great book by Stephen Covey called First Things First. He talks about our life being made up of boulders, which might be the big things you need to get done, pebbles, which are the jobs you have to get done every day.
“Lastly you have sand, which is the time you could waste on things that are enjoyable but not important. I see the phone and all that comes with it as being sand and if you fill your life up with all that kind of stuff you will never get interested in other things.
“I found the organisation side of things a little tricky. I am a musician and we were playing Mass on Sunday morning and I didn’t realise but Sean Dunne who arranges the music had sent it out via email. There was a big scramble to try to find photocopies at the last minute!
“I think that having your phone in the bedroom is not a good idea and that is something I am going to try to carry on. I listen to a lot of podcasts and sometimes that would mean the phone is nearby, but overall it’s a bad idea.
“I was highly aware of the pressure that our devices put on us during this experiment. We are constantly switched on, the quality of sleep is not there, and our minds are always racing. It’s difficult enough as an adult navigating this, but for a young person who is experiencing this constant interaction, it is extremely difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
DC Cahalane is CEO of Cork’s Republic of Work and is one of the city’s future thinkers when it comes to tech.
“I work in a very tech-intensive business and have spent most of my life working in software companies where you are reacting to real-time information and of course in terms of social media, you are looking at a constant barrage of information.
“In terms of my role at Republic of Work, there is probably no circumstance where I could take a digital detox on a weekday — it just wouldn’t work.
On an average weekend, because a lot of people are off work, that’s when social media almost ramps up in terms of activity. I have been accused of spending too much of my life on my phone, definitely!
“I would be one of the very early users of Twitter and I find on a daily basis that I turn to Twitter for my news and all sorts of things throughout the day. What surprised me when I got up on Saturday morning was that I didn’t really miss it at all.
“I found the best thing to do was to distract myself, so I had some Ikea furniture that had been sitting in my home office and I dove into that. The one big thing I noticed was the amount of times that I needed some information that I would normally Google.
“So, for example, not being able to work out how to put my furniture together — I would usually solve that on YouTube, or not being able to remember one of the ingredients for pancakes. I Google the exact same recipe every single Saturday morning, and rather than print it out and sticking it on the fridge, I rely on Google to give it to me every week.
“I have been actively trying to reduce the amount of time I spend on apps like Twitter for the last few months, and I’ll definitely try to continue that.
“Most of the tools that make my work life easier live online, and will stay online, but taking a digital detox is a great way to focus on what you really need and what you don’t.”