Disconnect to Reconnect: When a Digital Guru Starts an Offline Company and Gets her Memory Back

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“I think I scrambled my brain,” Jess Davis laughs, recalling the first time she met with doctors to discuss an array of ailments plaguing her every day. Experiencing brain fog, memory loss, disassociation and the inability to focus, Davis was sick and nobody knew why. Fast forward to the moment she was forced to hand over all her devices on a family vacation in Hawaii. Standing at the doorway to paradise wearing a lei, she surrendered her fear, anger and guilt along with her iPhone. After eight days of device-detox, she flipped a switch. “It was like I had my 18-year-old brain back.”

Davis returned to New York City and her 9-to-5 job as a digital strategist with a freshly analog mindset. “I had this ‘Aha!’ moment. I quit my job and decided to use my evil genius marketing powers for good and bring attention to the fact that if we don’t use tech mindfully, we’ll get sick. Really sick.”

This revelation led to the creation of Folk Rebellion, a media brand on a mission. Through smart, snarky slogans printed on vintage T-shirts like “Hold Someone Like You Hold Your Phone,” and a monthly newspaper called The Dispatch, Davis is changing the face of digital well-being.

“You have to meet people where they are and where they are is digital. Would I love to live in a cabin in the Pacific Northwest and send pigeons and smoke signals? Sure. But I can’t enact change that way.”

So what’s the virtual version of a smoke signal? A platform to spread offline rebellion with 23,800 Instagram followers. Through “adventures” instead of retreats, workshops on digital boundaries and real human connections, Davis uses her online presence to pull us out of the hyperconnected pond.

“I peel back the layers and ask why are we doing these things? Why can you end up dying one day and realizing you never lived your life? Because you are living a life that others deemed for you,” Davis says. Like many, her path was predetermined for her from the beginning, following the familiar trail to success of college, kids, corporate America and a white picket fence, a chain that led her to burnout. To recover, she chose to follow her alter ego, the character Sloane from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and created a company based on rebellion.

This rebellion, stemming from her Adirondack roots, pulls Davis back to nature daily. Whether she’s finding solace on a mountaintop or scrunching her toes in wet grass in her Brooklyn backyard, nature is the driving force for her creativity and she’s willing to fight for it. Focusing on sustainable merchandising in her lifestyle collection and wilderness adventures, Davis helps foster relationships between her followers and the outdoors. “It’s all great to go off the grid for seven days, but if you go back to the world the same way, we haven’t enacted any change,” says Davis. This change starts from the ground up and person to person in micro-communities. Live podcast tapings, workshops and a program to reform technological use in schools are all on the Folk Rebellion docket.

But what makes Davis nervous? Kids. “If kids don’t have a calling to the sea or the woods, when someone wants to give these places to developers, they may not protect them,” she says.

So how do we set boundaries, steal back the word “connected” from Silicon Valley, and raise empathetic, nature-loving children? According to Davis, it starts in the bedroom and continues with the strategies listed below.

Steal back your time and return to analog. The less power you give your devices, the more real life you will have. Some people call her a nostalgic dinosaur, but we call her a rebel.

Images courtesy of Folk Rebellion.

xx Meg Callahan

This article was originally published in RANGE Magazine Issue Nine.