Take a digital diet for Christmas

As we wind down into the two-week festive season, many are looking forward to taking a break from the relentless emails, messages and notifications that clog up our lives. Rob McCargow at PwC says the traditional diet can wait until January – he’s taking a digital diet for Christmas.

slidetopoweroffOver 20,000 emails, 500 text messages, 1,000 Hangout messages, 800 WhatsApp messages, 8,800 tweets, 100 LinkedIn posts… whilst my auditing skills might not be up to the standards of my numerically-talented PwC colleagues, even I know that this represents a vast amount of data.

One of the more sobering calculations I’ve attempted this year informs me that I’ve spent around 2,000 hours staring at my variety of screens over the course of 2017.

And do you know what? I simply love being connected, learning from my networks and sharing in return, hearing the breaking news, bringing people together, and making things happen. My unremitting online activity has allowed me to find my voice, it’s opened up opportunities around the world, and it’s digitally connected me with a hundreds of diverse and inspiring people across all walks of life.

And the truth is, I get a kick out of it. Working in the emerging technology field, I’m well aware of the increasingly pervasive nature of the algorithms that manage our lives and of – as one technology entrepreneur eloquently described it – ‘the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops’ that are now the addictive mainstay of both social media and enterprise communication tools.

Earlier this year, I was pleased to contribute to the formulation of PwC’s Responsible Technology Approach which looks to maximise the positive impacts of technology whilst minimising any negative ones.

One of the main commitments was to promote Digital Dieting to our workforce; this was something that I adopted over the summer holidays this year. Whilst I had made promises to colleagues and my family that I would be going offline for the entire two week period, I did subtly secrete my work phone away into the suitcase ‘just in case’.

Rob McCargowAbout two days into the holiday, I thought I’d take a surreptitious glance at my email and retrieved it from its hiding place only to find that the battery had drained flat. I took this as a sign that I really should be demonstrating better willpower, locked it away, and really didn’t think much about it for the remainder of the trip.

Upon returning home, I have to admit I was slightly anxiously holding my breath when I powered the phone back up and waited for a tsunami of disastrous emails to deluge my inbox. What had I missed? I’d received 300 emails, 250 of them could be immediately deleted and the remainder were easily resolved in my first day back in the office. Unsurprisingly (in hindsight) not one single emergency had occurred in my absence.

Whilst there are several excellent tips in the Digital Dieting approach setting out how to temporarily reconfigure your work phone’s settings whilst you’re on leave, I personally prefer to retain a personal phone for browsing the news, banking, and maps et al.

So here is my call to action to all of my colleagues and my wider network:

For the Christmas break, join me by powering off your laptops and switching off your smartphones. Spend some time doing what humans were originally programmed to do and something that technology will never adequately replace. And go #OffGrid.

Rob McCargow is programme leader on artificial intelligence, technology and investment at PwC. This piece was first published as a blog on the PwC UK website.