Digital Detox: Unplugging From the Online World

By Marty Duren

De•tox [n. dee-toks; v. dee-toks], treatment designed to rid the body of poisonous substances, especially alcohol and drugs; to undergo such treatment (

From this clinical definition, the word detox is now applied to diets or products that promise to cleanse the body of toxins. A more slang use refers to attempts to rid ourselves of habits or relationships perceived to be harmful. Hence, we detox or detoxify from television, a boyfriend or girlfriend, junk food or a weekend around too much family!

In his book, Soul Detox, author and pastor Craig Groeschel suggests a “soul detox [to find] clean living in a contaminated world.”

We live in an era when information can feel like a pervasive all-out assault on us—body, soul and spirit.

Richard Wurman’s 1989 book Information Anxiety provides an oft repeated story: “the weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than the average person in 17th century England was likely to come across in a lifetime.”

Many are overwhelmed. But pervasive information is only part of the issue. Twenty-four hour, arm’s length access to that much information creates the need for regular escape. A detox, if you will, from the ongoing information onslaught.

Leaders are especially susceptible to the information avalanche. The desire to stay abreast of current methodologies, tools, philosophies and opportunities create an “always on” condition where distraction from friends and family—while with friends and family—is the norm.

Contrary to what we may think, the world does not await our pithy pronouncements, likes, plus ones or hashtags. By taking time to unplug we open ourselves up to see what the Lord wants to show us when our faces aren’t stuck to a screen and we aren’t distracted by alerts, badges, dings and alarms.

How can we detox? When should we detox? Why should we detox?

A basic digital detox requires saying “no” to everything online for a period of time—three days, a week, 10 days or more. Voicemail and out-of-office email replies should be set up in advance. Designate someone to check your email and voicemail for anything urgent. Turn off auto-notifications. A relevant status update can be posted on Facebook.

Your blog can be put on hold indefinitely with a single post explaining your detox. You’ll be surprised by how many people will be supportive. (Even if you’ve already gone dark and don’t see their comments.)

A detox should be done regularly depending on how distracted you are or how difficult you find it to separate yourself from your laptop, phone or tablet.

When you can’t finish a conversation—or wait for one to be finished—without needing to check whether you’ve been retweeted, you need a detox.

When you cannot make it through Sunday’s sermon without checking your email, you need a detox.

When you miss your kid’s 3-point shot, double to the gap in left field, game-winning soccer goal, or perfectly played Beethoven sonata because of updating your status, you need a detox.

When you are so busy trying to get the perfect Instagram that you miss the moment, you need a detox.

Detoxing is warfare against the idols of this age. Not that digital tools like phones are idols in themselves; they need not be. But the need for information saturation, to always be in the know, can be its own kind of idolatry.

Before you begin, think about what you’d like to accomplish during your detox. Set some goals: read a book, spend extra time in prayer or Bible study, focus on family time, outline an upcoming sermon series or Bible study.

Unplugging from the online world can be incredibly challenging, but incredibly rewarding.

Marty Duren (@MartyDuren) is manager of social media strategies for LifeWay.


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