Between April 30 and May 6 of this year, families, schools, and communities will vow to live their lives for a week screen free. During these days, individuals will plan to unplug from digital entertainment, instead of spending their time reading, creating, and reconnecting with family and friends. This initiative provides those participating a chance to get a break from technology and enjoy the entertainment that is their life.
Research has suggested that social media and excessive screen time may be part of the cause for a rise in depression and suicide among American children and teens. The same study found that those who experience more face-to-face time and less screen time are less likely to be depressed or suicidal.
In the digital age, we are surrounded by gadgets and gizmos that take our attention from the important things (and people) in our lives. If you find yourself at a crossroads with your technology habits, consider a digital diet. Here’s how:
Assess Your Current Usage
The best way to determine what you need a break from is to determine how dependent on it you are. Take a very honest look at your digital and technological usage. Ask yourself why, when, and how often you are using a cell phone, tablets, or computers. Just as you would track weight loss or weight gain, it’s important to get a baseline understanding of your digital usage. This virtual weight index can help you get a clear picture to start with.
Just as you would count your steps or weight, start this diet by counting the time you take to use your technology daily. Identify which sites and apps you use during your downtime and ask yourself: why? If you find yourself searching through photos on Instagram, try visiting an art gallery with a friend instead. If you find yourself among the 69 percent of people in the United States who use social media daily or among the 88 percent of Americans who use the internet, consider giving yourself a digital diet guideline to cut the cord.
Image Source: Wake Forest University
Commit to a Digital Diet
Committing to a digital diet does not necessarily mean you have to forgo the digital world completely, but you should include a significant decrease in your digital use. To begin, take note of the number of times you check your email, browse social media accounts, or surf the web, and commit to decreasing the usage by at least 10 percent every week.
Establish certain times of day where you avoid all technology. For example, avoid checking your phone first thing in the morning, as this is not the best way to wake up. Avoid using screens at least an hour before bed to help you unwind and sleep effectively. Choose a specific time each day to power down your technology; this can be at meals, before and after bed, in the morning, or whatever time works best for you. The time of day is not important; what is important is that you stick to your goal. Choose a time that works best for you and your schedule and stick to it.
Social media use has the potential to lower overall self-esteem, cause depression, and even mess with your posture. Your head weighs around 10-11 pounds, and when you lean forward to get closer to your screen, you could be causing yourself neck problems and possibly even respiratory issues in the near future.
Focus the time that you would typically spend indulging on digital platforms and steer it in another direction: spend more time with your family; take up an exercising class; find a new hobby; clean your bedroom; organize your closet; or dust your cupboards. Keep yourself engaged in your real life to avoid digital platforms.
Do a Full Detox
If you find that a digital diet not cutting your technology use, consider a complete digital detox.
Take all of your electronic devices and put them in a box. If you want to get really serious about a detox, consider giving your social networking login information to a trusted friend or family so they can change your passwords and remove the temptations to log on and check your accounts.
Establish a way for someone to contact you in case of emergency. If you are taking a day or weekend off unplugged from technology, determine a backup plan for communication. Tell your friends, family, colleagues, etc. that you will be going offline for a period of time. Make sure to notify your friends and family at least a week in advance to let them plan for your digital absence.
Be sure to announce on your social media that you are going through a digital detox. This can help dispel any concerns online friends may have about where you have gone if you are typically fairly active on social media. Change your voicemail message to say you won’t be available for a few days and immediately stop sending texts. If you send a text before the detox that doesn’t say “I am giving up my phone for a few days” and instead engage a conversation, you may come back to your phone with far more notifications than you wanted from concerned friends and family.
If you find yourself wanting to hop on social media to share your thoughts about something, get a journal and write them down the old-fashioned way. Consider assessing your reliance on technology in a journal entry if you are having a hard time staying on track. Also, consider writing down what is hard on certain days for you about the detox and what has been refreshing. This can help you work through any anxieties that might come from being disconnected and give reasons to why you are happier unplugged.
Reconnect With Boundaries in Place
When you reintroduce the digital world back into your life, make sure not to fall back into old habits. According to Daniel Sieberg the average computer user check at least 40 different websites a day, switching tabs and tasks almost 36 times an hour. And that’s just for the average computer user — not computer workers.
Using time management applications and programs can help keep your online distractions at bay Rescuetime.com helps you track how much time you spend on specific websites. It can even track how long it takes you to answer emails. This type of program can be set to prevent you from logging on to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other sites that eat up your attention.
Turn off your notifications and avoid the insanity that they cause you. If you are not clocked into work, your email notifications should be off. You are not being paid for the time you take out of your personal life to check your work emails, so don't allow them to take up your time. Turning off notifications helps your brain rewire away from constantly expecting an update from your phone. If you work for yourself and must check your inbox, only do so periodically. Remember —like is not about working harder or longer, it's about working smarter.
Set time limits for yourself when it comes to technology. If you are not at work, allow yourself to check your inbox in 10-minute increments. This helps you feel engaged while keeping control over your potential digital addition. Most emails do not need to be opened and responded to right away, so don’t aim to hit reply as soon as it hits your inbox.
Buy yourself an old-fashioned alarm clock. In a 2015 survey, 71 percent of smartphone owners admitted that they sleep with their technology. If you do this because you use your phone as an alarm, switch your thinking back to practicality. By having an old-fashioned alarm clock, you are able to immediately ignore your digital devices, starting the day on your own terms.
The goal of a digital diet is not to completely eliminate technology from your life permanently, but to relearn how to interact with it in a healthy manner. After a detox or a diet, slowly incorporate technology back into your life again. Notice if you feel the need to use your gadgets more, and ask yourself if your digital use has replaced something in your life that is important.
As Anne Lamott once said: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” By putting the phone down and being present in the moment that is your life, you can begin to enjoy a world without a technological tether. Focus on what is real and leave the digital world for another time.