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The 8-step technology detox

8 min read

Hello, my name is Andrew Lim and I'm a gadget addict.

My house is a shrine to the consumer electronics gods and my life is spent ritually worshipping my electronic devices.

My problem is I'm never satisfied. I always want the latest, greatest things and all my toys seem to lose their mojo after only a few months.

Up until recently I thought there was no way out of this vicious upgrading circle, but then something unexpected happened.

While unpacking stuff for the new office, I came across a mysterious book hidden behind a motherboard in one of my old PCs.

The 8-Step Technology Detox by J. Jim Jimson said it could wean me from my addiction using an ingenious twist on Carol Vorderman's power-dieting method.

The programme withdraws one important techie tool at a time and replaces it with an old-fashioned alternative.

It was a drastic step, but anything that means I can reach a more relaxed state of mind has to be a good thing, right?

Did it work? Did I reach tech-free nirvana? Did I cope without any CSI-related programming? Read on.

Step one: "Mobile phones clutter our lives with unnecessary features. Try talking to your fellow man rather than texting. If they are too far away, use a cup and string."

This was going to be hard. I review mobile phones for a living: how was I going to survive without one?

To my surprise, ditching the mobile was easier than I thought. It's incredible how much more you go off topic when you're talking to someone face to face -- and therefore how much more you find out about them. It also meant I had to stick to any plans I made, since I couldn't just text "sorry can't make it".

I began to realise that without a mobile, I had a lot more peace in my life. There were no text messages to check, or calls to answer in the middle of meetings. My non-mobile life had a more leisurely pace.

As for using a cup and string for long-range communication, it does actually work -- try it yourself -- but frankly you might as well just go and talk to the person at the other end. Until Vodafone sets up a customer-service rep behind my sofa, it's not much cop in modern life.

Step two: "Emails and text messages separate us from nature. Befriend a pigeon and use it to transmit your messages."

Cups and strings are surprisingly effective for voice, but what was I supposed to do when I need to send a text message? The book's answer is the humble homing pigeon, used to carry messages during both world wars.

If it was good enough for Churchill, it's got to be good enough for me. I headed down to the park to snare myself one of the local breeds. After hours running around trying to pick up one of London's finest, I finally settled for one that wasn't quick enough to dodge my tech-coddled hands.

Plump Peter, as I named him, didn't look very fleet of foot (or, come to mention it, wing), but he seemed to appreciate my offer of bread and didn't mind me tying a note around his leg.

But no matter how much I pleaded and coaxed, he just didn't seem that interested in delivering my note to my friend in Pratt's Bottom. Perhaps he didn't believe that such a place could exist, or perhaps the flying rats we get in London aren't of the same quality as the ones in Vera Lynn's heyday. I don't think pigeon text is really going to work for me -- not unless I can get one of those Chinese robo-pigeons.

Step three: "A man who watches TV all day has created nothing. Make your own moving images and enjoy the pleasure of creation."

I'm told that there was life before television, although I'm not sure I believe it. It wasn't going to be easy to cut out the gogglebox -- can there be life without Deal or No Deal?

The book told me to make a zoetrope, a spinning cylinder with slits on it that makes a moving picture. It was very popular in Victorian England, but I was sceptical of its ability to replace Noel Edmonds as a source of afternoon entertainment.

After many hours toiling with paper, scissors and glue, though, I'd made my own home movie -- looks good, doesn't it?

But not even pride in my own handiwork could convince me that my zoetrope was better than my 42-inch plasma TV.

I was itching to get my hands on my Freeview box to catch up with the latest CSI: Las Vegas.

'The pleasure of creation' was wearing off quickly and I was freaking out.

I needed something better, bigger and in a much higher definition...

Step 4: "Friendships produce the brightest and most entertaining experiences life has to offer. Before you use technology to entertain you, ask your friends."

The zoetrope experience might have been a bit flat, but the next step looked more hopeful. After much cajoling, begging and in some cases bribing my friends with peanuts, they eventually agreed to sate my televisual hunger by acting out my favourite film of all time, The Lion King.

The picture quality was better than the largest TV money could buy. Forget hi-def, this was ultra-def! I could see the individual hairs on my friends' heads -- it was literally like watching real life.

Okay, so I had to wait while they changed costumes in between scenes and when I said afterwards that I wanted them to act out Star Wars there was a fight over who would be Darth Vader.

But it was all in 3D! J. Jim Jimson was starting to make a little more sense.

Step five: "Our ancestors survived for centuries without the need for a computer -- so can you."

Now it's getting serious. Without a computer, I'm forced to file my stories for the site using a typewriter, and an old Corona at that.

My colleagues weren't exactly over the moon about having to transcribe my typed paper notes into electronic form, but when you're on a detox, you can't compromise.

Initially, things went badly.

Where were the font and save options? Where was the delete key? And for the love of Word, where was the spell checker?

Plus it made such a racket that my boss made me sit in the cleaning cupboard.

After the anger and frustration of the first few weeks passed, however, my spelling dramatically improved and my typing became much more precise.

Or it could simply be that the smell of the cleaning fluids was making me feel more relaxed -- hey, it worked, who am I to complain?

The one final problem with losing my computer was the missing games.

I tried creating some rudimentary ASCII art, but it just wasn't the same as a ganking noobs with a twink on World of Warcraft. I was in need of some analogue entertainment.

Step six: "Videogames isolate us from human contact. Try playing board games with friends and reap the benefits of being close to people."

I played board games in my youth, but how could they compare to playing multiplayer games online? Have videogames ruined my ability to enjoy more simple concepts?

Out came the classic game Downfall, designed for ages seven and up.

The object is to get all your coloured counters down through the dials and out into the tray at the bottom before your opponent.

It's not as gory as Quake, and my head hurt from all the extra thinking required.

On the upside, face-to-face gaming makes a victory dance much more satisfying -- seeing your opponent's crushing disappointment in real life is a glorious rush.

I was beginning to like the whole 'human interaction' thing. Perhaps the detox was really starting to work...

Step seven: "Replace your MP3 player with the dulcet tones of your own voice and bring music into other people's lives."

From the age of 10 to 17, I sang in the school choir, so I reckon my voice is a finely tuned instrument. Surely my fellow commuters would love the chance to hear me singing on the Tube on the way to work?

Unbelievably, they didn't seem that captivated by my unique blend of hip-hop and opera lite. My hopes were raised when one chap threw coins at my feet, but as it was only 7p I think he might have been trying to tell me something other than 'well done'.

I blame it on the noise of the rattling carriage and the cramped conditions, but the hostile reception ensured I had stopped singing by the time I had reached the office. This wasn't working -- I needed something more.

Step eight: "Digital music sucks the soul out of songs, but vinyl stores music in its true uncompressed form. Try using a record player for those times when singing won't do."

I'd never owned or used a record player before, but I learnt very quickly that it's pretty basic technology. There's no shuffle mode  and if you want to change the artist currently playing, you have to change the record, which is much less intuitive than using a click wheel.

The other thing I noticed is that record players aren't portable. I had a genius idea, though -- I taped one to myself. "Clever me," I thought as I wandered round London, although not a lot of music played without a power source and an amp.

At home, however, I started to value my music much more, because rather than having thousands of songs, most of which I never listened to, I started paying more attention to what I wanted to put on next. And thanks to the scratches on my old records, the player even re-mixed some of my tracks for me on the fly.

I'd learned a great deal on my technology detox adventure. I was more relaxed, I'd seen my friends more and learned some important lessons. Who'd have guessed that my zoetrope would have worked so well? Or that pigeons would be so difficult to train?

Like all proper detoxes, though, my zen-like calm didn't last for long. Once I'd finished my gadget starvation, I was straight back to the tech bingeing. A remote control gun you say? Yes please!

I guess I'll just have to face the fact that I'm an incurable tech addict -- I can give up for a few weeks, but the cravings will always get the better of me in the end.