As an approaching-forty, elder millennial who has known a time of pre-internet, dial-up, and essays written from research garnered from a community library (maybe with a card catalogue, even), a time with floppy disks, corded phones, even I find it difficult to unplug and I've never embarked on a digital detox. As a married but child-free person, I often remark on my niece/nephew's/their friend's/my cousin's children's inability to be bored. I think out of boredom comes creativity. I remember constructing all sorts out of cardboard boxes, building forts, creating games out of found objects, and doing lots and lots of reading of actual books. Now, I spend far too much time on my phone scrolling on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook (am I ageing myself?) and the like – rarely TikTok but sometimes – and I listen to my books on Audible (and recently discovered they have free books on Spotify premium). So, basically, everything in my life is in front of a screen. Is this healthy for us? Well, that's probably debatable but I'm not here to get into that today. What I do want to discuss is the concept of the digital detox. It's become popular as we are increasingly reliant on technology for work, socialising, and entertainment. The need to disconnect from our digital devices and reconnect with the offline world has become more important than ever. Let's explore this concept of the "digital detox."
What's the digital age dilemma?
The digital age has transformed our lives in many positive ways, offering us convenience, information, and the ability to stay in touch with friends and family, regardless of geographic distances. However, the constant use of smartphones, tablets, and computers has also given rise to a host of challenges, including digital addiction, decreased productivity, and diminished face-to-face social interactions.
The United Brain Association says that there are studies that show, "a strong correlation between high-frequency digital media use and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety." The average person spends over three hours per day on their phone. How many hours do you think you spend? (I dread even accessing my screen time stats.)
The video below talks about how our smartphones can increase our stress levels, diminish our concentration and create dopamine hits.
When do I need a digital detox?
Before deciding if you need/should embark on a digital detox, you need to determine if you display signs of digital overuse. These signs often manifest as an obsession with social media and/or gaming, a compulsion to check emails and notifications constantly, and a decrease in the quality of real-life interactions. If you find yourself scrolling through your phone instead of engaging with people at a social gathering or struggling to concentrate on a task due to the lure of your devices, it may be time for a digital detox.
VeryWellMind talks about this recently coined term called "nomophobia" where people are afraid of being without their phones. It sounds a little made up but this Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care has a 2019 study all about it.
Our mobile phones are quite frankly useful devices and we have outsourced so many daily tasks to them – from setting calendar reminders to checking our emails to catching up with people to reading the news and more. So, is it an addiction we need to worry about?
What are the benefits of unplugging?
A digital detox involves intentionally reducing or eliminating your use of digital devices for a designated period.
The benefits of breaking up with your smartphone (or other tech) are as follows.
- Improved mental health: Constant exposure to screens can lead to increased stress and anxiety. A digital detox allows your mind to rest, reducing the mental strain associated with information overload – not to mention the strain of feeling like you're not living your #bestlife compared to others (when really they're just showing life highlights).
- Enhanced focus and productivity: Ever started a task and then realised you've just scrolled your socials for fifteen minutes and gone down a wormhole of those short videos? A break from your digital distractions can significantly improve your concentration and productivity. Without the constant ping of notifications, you can immerse yourself fully in tasks and complete them more efficiently.
- Better sleep: The blue light emitted by screens can disrupt your sleep patterns. By unplugging before bedtime, you are more likely to experience restful, uninterrupted sleep. The Sleep Foundation notes that whilst exposure to the sun's natural blue light during the day is helpful; it has a detrimental impact on our sleep: "Blue light suppresses the body’s release of melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel drowsy. While this promotes wakefulness during the day, it becomes unhelpful at night when we are trying to sleep." So, try and limit screen time to two to three hours before you snooze for the night.
- Reconnection with nature: Spending more time offline encourages people to reconnect with nature. Whether it's going for a hike or bike ride, visiting a park, or simply enjoying a leisurely walk, the outdoors can be a great escape from the digital world. This past post here gives all sorts of tips about improving mental health and well-being through going outside, unplugging, and more.
- Strengthened relationships: By reducing screen time, you can devote more attention to the people around you. Face-to-face interactions become more meaningful, helping you to build stronger and more authentic connections. This Atlantic article shows that ignoring people in favour of our phones is (sadly) the new norm.
How can I plan for a successful digital detox?
Embarking on a digital detox can be a daunting task, especially if you are heavily reliant on technology. However, several strategies can help you successfully unplug such as the following.
- Set clear goals: Determine the duration of your detox and the specific goals you want to achieve, which could include, for example, reducing screen time, connecting with friends and family in person, or simply finding more time for personal hobbies and activities.
- Create boundaries: Establish strict rules for device usage during your detox period such as turning off notifications, setting specific hours for technology use, or designating technology-free zones in your home.
- Find offline activities: Identify enjoyable offline activities that can replace screen time. Consider reading, painting, gardening, playing sports, or simply enjoying leisurely walks.
- Accountability: Share your intentions with friends or family who can help hold you accountable. Having a support system can make it easier to stick to your digital detox plan.
- Reflect and reevaluate: At the end of your detox, take time to reflect on your experiences. Consider what you've learned, how you've benefited, and whether you want to make permanent changes to your digital habits.
It may not be easy to unplug completely, but being aware of how much time we spend on our phones and how that impacts our in-person interactions is crucial. Do you think you could do with a bit of a detox?