The mass adoption of smart phones, tablets, e-readers and computers in every facet of our lives has created a culture whereby we are becoming information junkies, constantly connected and turned on.
Research released by Ofcom this week revealed that typically UK adults spend an average of 25 hours online per week, with 42% of respondents going online or checking apps more than 10 times a day
It is important to restrict access, and take a break from digital devices in order to relax, remain productive and to be able to maintain and demonstrate a rounded soft skill set.
Sherry Turkle, a prominent MIT sociologist, believes that our obsession with digital technology is eroding our relationships. She says, “It used to be that our mobile phones would be for us to talk to each other. Now, our mobile phones are there to talk to us.”
What is a digital detox?
An effective way to become less reliant on consuming digital data is to undergo a digital detox. This involves voluntarily restricting access to data and devices over a set period of time. This could either be for a short window of time, to accomplish a specific task, or for a more prolonged duration to fully unwind.
How do you do it?
1. Set boundaries
One way of taking control is to arbitrarily set yourself times of the day when you will not interact with your devices. This could be on certain times over the weekend, when you want to interact with family and friends, or after a set time in the evening. One way you can stick to this is by setting up an auto responder on your personal email account, or changing the status of your WhatsApp profile to contacts so they know that you do not check or answer emails during certain times of the day or week. By doing this people will be less likely to contact you, and you will be less tempted to sneak a look.
2. Use online tools
If you don’t have the self discipline or will power to restrict your digital consumption, there are a number of online tools available which restrict access to a number of popular web properties. These include KeepmeOut and StayFocusd, both of which are web browser extensions that are fully customisable to set up and specify which websites you want to block and for how long. If using these tools still does not keep you offline resort to Freedom (available on Iphones, Ipads, Windows and Mac Computers), which completely blocks your internet connection. The latter is used by a number of well-known authors such as Naomi Klein and Seth Godin.
3. Buddy up
Self-motivation is hard. If you have a friend who is also seeking to spend less time glued to their digital devices plan ahead of time to regularly spend quality time with them, and pledge that you both won’t look at your phones whilst in one another’s company. You may even voluntarily leave them at home or in a separate place when you meet. Having a shared goal is likely to help you motivate one another, and make sure that you both correspondingly follow through on your promise.
4. Take a digital detox holiday
A recent phenomenon in the hospitality industry is operators seeking to exploit demand for digital detoxes by offering luxury resorts and getaways which do not have any internet or Wi-Fi availability. The UK based Unplugged Weekend puts on regular retreats in Kings Lynn. Upon entry are asked to surrender their smart phones and laptops. All of the entertainment provided is analogue, with a strong focus on wellness.
5. Ban devices from the bedroom
Make devices strictly off limits for you and your partner in the bedroom. Banning devices from your bedroom will make it easier for you to relax and sleep, alongside the likelihood of strengthening communication with your partner. You can also use this as an opportunity to truly unwind by losing yourself in a book. If you use your phone as an alarm in the morning, an added benefit of it being in a different room is reducing the likelihood of you hitting it to the snooze function when it goes off.
My Personal Perspective
As someone who is a freelance journalist in their spare time, and who has to be ruthlessly organised to meet related deadlines around my day job, I have found that making notes with a pen and doing paper based research has increased my productivity due to giving me more mental space to think. I have enough self-control that I do not have to rely on software blocking tools to avoid digital distractions. I don’t yet have the discipline to remove my phone from my bedroom before sleeping but I do make sure to set it to flight mode before bed in order to restrict newsflashes and text messages. As well as unnecessary interruptions during slumber, I have found that I am less tempted to glance at the news or social media.
Committing to digital detoxes in your life is unlikely to be an action you can effectively take overnight. The best way to get started is to make small commitments and build on them. Give it a go, and it will positively benefit your mental health, friendships, personal and work life.
Nick Levine is a chartered accountant and freelance journalist, with a background in fin-tech who has written for Accounting Technician magazine.