You need a digital detox!
Author: Kate Cross
So, you’ve found yourself glued to the screen a little more than you’d have liked this year? Perhaps ‘just one more episode’ is beckoning, your socials are drawing you in more than they used to or you’re awaiting yet another email or video call?
I get it and we’re in good company. Largely thanks to COVID-19, almost 16 million people jumped on the Netflix bandwagon in quarter one of 2020, an unprecedented hike, according to research cited by Statista.
It’s not every year you experience a pandemic, but if you’re itching to create a bit of space between yourself and Big Tech, experts tell me there are plenty of DIY ways to go about it.
First, be kind to yourself
Adam Alter is an academic and the New York Times bestselling author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.
He tells me that “we need to be lenient” when it comes to screen time during a pandemic.
“One big question to ask is: What are we losing by being on a screen?” says the Associate Professor of Marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“During the pandemic, the opportunity cost—what we might otherwise be doing—is less appealing.”
That said, it’s worth being aware of the harms
According to Associate Professor Alter, technology has the dangerous ability to “creep” into various aspects of our lives and “steal time”, be it from exercise, face-to-face contact, work and deep focus, and also time spent in Mother Nature.
“It also provides us with an impoverished social experience, robbing us of some of the very important non-verbal cues that we experience when we talk to people in person,” he says, giving the examples of “direct eye contact and micro-expressions … which are lost … when conveyed through a screen”.
Add to this the unwanted effects on our waistlines: “Extensive research has confirmed the link between TV viewing and obesity in children and adults,” states Harvard School of Public Health.
Time to detox?
Associate Professor Alter says the trick to cutting out or, more realistically, cutting back screen time is to “start small”.
“Carve out a period each day that's screen-free and put all screens in another room during that time,” he says, adding you could start with dinnertime, and “then expand”.
Years ago, when I interviewed Dr Ben Williams, Senior Lecturer in Psychological Science at Swinburne University, about problem screen time, he offered these still-relevant tips:
Implement “email-free days” – This could be one day per week or month.
Control your phone – This involves “common sense things like switching off your phone in the evening [and] not having a phone or computer in the bedroom”.
‘Forget’ your password – “I’ve heard stories of students getting a friend to change their Facebook password during exams, so they aren’t tempted to neglect their studies by logging in.”
Incentivise – “Reward yourself for not using the internet for an evening, or delay your internet usage by making logging into the internet the reward for doing other chores.”
Punish yourself – “I’ve also heard of people applying self-imposed penalties for using the internet, like a ‘swear jar’.”
Fortunately, Associate Professor Alter says it’s “rare” for technology overuse to be a medical problem. But he adds: “If you're concerned that technology is bringing on depression or anxiety, or that it's occupying your mind all the time or making it impossible for you to live a happy and healthy life, then you should absolutely talk to a professional.”