Lessons from the walking trail
We all know how important it is to switch off from our digital lives but how often do most people actually do it?
For Craig Warren, Deakin's Chief Digital Officer, long distance walking offers the perfect opportunity to disconnect from the digital world and build connections with people instead.
Craig has completed some of the most iconic walking journeys in the world, including Australia's own Larapinta Trail and Overland Track and the Camino Frances through Spain and Portugal.
The Camino Frances is the most popular pilgrimage walking route within the Camino, a network of more than 15 routes that all lead to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Craig completed the 810km Camino Frances over 45 days in 2015, and soon discovered there are many reasons why people take on this epic journey.
'The Camino is a pilgrimage, and for many people that pilgrimage has a renewed religious connotation or a spiritual connotation and for some it’s just a bit of exercise,' said Craig.
'Other people are facing health issues, work issues, or a life challenge that is just so much bigger than anything you can imagine facing – losing a child or an incurable disease – or just wanting the physical challenge.
'For me, it's somewhere in between the spiritual and the exercise. It's almost impossible not to get immersed in the religious experience when you're undertaking a trip through somewhere as old as Spain or Portugal because every single village is built around the church in the centre of the square.'
Since taking on the Camino Frances in 2015, Craig has completed one or two long-distance walks each year and has met some remarkable people on his walking adventures over the years.
'There is always someone you meet who provides you with inspiration,' Craig said.
'I always remember two brothers I met on my first trip to the Camino de Santiago, the French Camino. They were from Spain, both in their 80s, and one was blind. They had fashioned a little bit of twisted rope between them so that the blind brother could be guided by his older brother.
'Every morning, they got up and left before we left, walking the same segments as us each day. Every day we would pass them or spot them in a town church or we'd see them stopped by the side of the road, sharing a meal together.
'My Spanish is somewhat limited so we couldn't carry on an in-depth conversation, but every day they had a smile for us and we would exchange a few basic words, without necessarily understanding each other.
'It always felt like we were all linked - there was great respect on our side for what they were doing in recognition of their faith and their commitment to their faith.
'And I think they simply respected that we were walking the journey with them – not necessarily for the same reasons but we were all enjoying the experience together.'
This fresh perspective often finds its way into Craig's working life and has strengthened his belief that you bring your whole self to work.
'In our normal lives, it's very rare that we would sit down with a single person, perhaps only our partners, and have an in-depth conversation,' Craig said.
'You come back from your 'Camino Time' having listened to someone's life story for days and days, their challenges in life, and maybe you've shared your challenges with them. And all of these people who have just this common interest of walking the Camino become counsellors, without the consequence of being actual counsellors and no hidden agendas.
'One of the things I've done with all our meetings with Digital Services is bring in Chat Time, our own version of 'Camino Time'. We have five minutes at the start of every meeting where it can just be chit chat about our lives – what the kids have been up to, an issue we're facing outside of work, the Geelong Cats.
'One of the other things I often suggest is that instead of sitting in a meeting for two hours, maybe we should go out and sit on a bench or take the walking path around campus and not even chat about work, maybe just chat about life.'
After more than 35 years in the technology sector, including over 30 years at Deakin, Craig finds that his unique digital detox method stands him in good stead for the ever-evolving challenges of his demanding role.
'I have lots of photos from my walks on digital frames around the house and I have them on the backgrounds when I'm in Zoom conferences,' Craig said.
'So for me, the 'post-walk glow' lives with me for a long time and the photos just constantly remind me of the time that I've spent walking and enjoying the company of so many wonderful people that occupy the world, and cleansing my soul, and I guess, getting ready for the next digital challenge we face.
'I was describing to some new starters just recently that when I first arrived at Deakin, we had one computer that was used by about 20 people in the university.
'Today, everyone has a computer so we're managing about 8,000 computers or borrowing trees plus tablets and phones, so our role is really non-stop and constantly evolving along with the technology.
'We've spent many years ensuring Deakin is the absolute leader in the utilisation of digital teaching and learning capability and embedding digital into our teaching and learning offerings, and that's no small feat.
'Deakin should be really proud of what it's achieved in that space and how far ahead we were when COVID hit. Luckily, we had also invested heavily in cybersecurity and have a highly talented team focussed on protecting the university.'
Today, with COVID-related travel restrictions all but gone, Craig is planning his next big adventure.
'I walk for enjoyment – I don't walk for blisters or up the tallest mountains, I want to be able to come back and say wow, that was fantastic, I want to do that again,' Craig said.
'Next I’d like to do Jatbula Trail in the Northern Territory along with the Nudgee Wilderness Walk on the border between Victoria and New South Wales. Australia has so many beautiful walks that I will never run out of inspiration.
'I do my mini-Camino every morning and usually on the weekends I try to get one or two 10km walks in but it’s no substitute for the real thing!'