Mark is the author of Digitox – How To Find A Healthy Balance For Your Family’s Digital Diet, the story of his family’s experiences giving up the internet for one day a week for the last three years.
Mark and I appeared on BBC1’s Sunday Morning Live recently and his book has inspired me to switch tech off early at night and sleep better (thanks Mark)!
…Mark has been married to Caroline for 20 years, and they have four children – Ben (18), Gabriel (15), Jessica (13) and Noah (7). The book is not about the evils of technology, but it will teach you how to successfully diet your consumption of the internet and make yourself and your family happier, healthier, safer and smarter.
What was your background before going on a digi detox and writing a book?
I spent over two decades in the technology industry, flying all over the world connected 24/7 to whatever technology was the latest and greatest.
My parents had the foresight to get me a computer while I was still at primary school (a BBC Micro that all schools in the late 70’s and early 80’s used). When my grandmother passed away, they spent £400 on it – something for which remain profoundly grateful for.
This ‘hobby’ led me through university to a career in computers, software and data analytics – and I’ve been lucky enough to work for some fantastic companies alongside some of smartest technology professionals on the planet. I was always interested in leadership, people development, and what made some cultures work and not others – so alongside my inner ‘geek’ I became interested (and qualified) in various psychometric and people management techniques too.
I also spend some time as an associate lecturer at Oxford Brookes helping bright young men and women understand this stuff, and Caroline (my wife) and have been blessed with four children of our own – it was inevitable for me to become more and more interested in how the ‘technology + culture + children’ equation was changing our society and then one day that all came together with a ‘dad tantrum’ at the breakfast table.
How has fatherhood made you more creative?
That’s a funny question – my first instinct is to say that it’s my wife that made me more creative – she’s a hugely talented graphic and branding designer who put her London career on hold to support me and the children before launching her own successful business three years ago. Before we met I did not have a creative bone in my body, but she’s ‘educated’ me, and I’m now also surrounded by artistic and musical children.
Some of it must have rubbed off, I wrote my book of course – and I’ve also become a much better at creatively putting travel plans together. We love to road-trip, whether to Scotland or across the Rocky Mountains, and that certainly involves creativity. Getting the homework done is always a good challenge for creative entertainment, and my Lego building skills are off the charts now.
Describe your journey and the process of writing the book?
I never meant to write a book, really. Following the ‘dad tantrum’ and unplugging us all from the internet one Sunday three years ago, we just went on a family adventure to see if we could carry on doing it. Then one day at a conference, an author friend of mine (Liggy Webb) told me that I should write a book about the whole experience. We’d been chatting for a while, and I’d told her the full story, some of the research and how much better we were all doing.
Over the next few months I had a few tries, but always seemed to run into a brick wall – then I’d put the manuscript to one side and move on. But Liggy kept talking to me about it, and then my friend Emma Taylor joined in as an ‘accountability’ partner, and more and more people seemed to be interested, and Caroline pushed me too and so it got written.
I’m a presenter at heart and I realised that I needed to create a slide deck as a foundation for what I was doing – so I imagined myself on stage with an audience and built out a presentation and a loose ‘script’ to go with it. Every time I hit a blockage in my writing, that deck would come back onto the desk and I’d get going again.
Each morning, I got up at 6am, headed to my desk with our dog, used the same playlist, same scented candles and same lighting every day – and wrote for at least three hours. Sometimes more, occasionally less. I soon realised that I needed the self discipline that gave me, and the practise. I also had to spend some days doing further research, and some scribing the more entertaining parts of the story. Eventually I had the manuscript together and took a lot of feedback from a lot of people……
How do you overcome self-doubt as a creative?
I’m not sure I have the answer to that. Creatives get used to high levels of criticism early on in their lives, but this was a new experience for me – I’d always been good at taking feedback in the workplace, but Digitox feels like a part of me, my fifth child if you will. When I’m introduced as an author, it still feels very odd, and I remain surprised every time I see a positive review. It’s lovely, but unlike my artistic wife I don’t have the ‘group critic’ experience to fall back on.
My number one tip – when people you trust give you feedback, they are probably right. It’s no good being precious or protective of your work. I made well over 95% of the changes that my friends suggested when they were brave enough to work through early drafts. Even the title and the book cover got changed due to feedback.
What are your work goals moving forward?
I’m actually starting another book – a lot of the research that went into this one has other applications, and I have a bunch of funny stories left to tell that don’t involve my own family. I’m looking forward to speaking at a bunch of schools in September, and I’m also talking at a few conferences over the summer – this is the fun bit for me. I’m also talking to a great company about working for them, and I’m excited about that too.
In all honesty though, I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m trying to give back as much as possible – and if I can reach enough people with the message from the book, then I’m really hoping to change things for the better in the world. If I can bring more families and friends closer together, help everyone think a little more clearly and help people in education get better grades then I’ll be delighted. While it’s not rocket science, the over consumption of anything is bad for us and we’re only just starting to realise the implications of being plugged in all the time.
Any words of wisdom for dads-to-be?
Yes. Remember who comes first. Your wife.
Happy mum and dad equals happy children. But as soon as family member number three (and four, five and six) appear your life will change for the better. You’re going to learn a lot, you’ll be scared all the time, and life will never be boring again. Enjoy every minute of it, because one day you’ll blink and that little bundle of joy will be 18 years old and heading out into the world.
And of course, live in the moment, not in the screen. Never let your family compete with your gadget for attention.
Finally, what advice would you give fellow dadbosses?
Stay healthy, mentally, physically and spiritually. Spend as much time with your family as you can and appreciate the people around you. Spending time with people who love you back is a lot more rewarding than spending time doing anything else.