Updated: Apr 5
Who spends too much time on their computer, phone, or tablet? Raise your hand. OK, that’s about all of us. Many of you who have set goals and resolutions for the new year have included less screen time, and it’s easy to see why this is a popular intention. Research shows that the increase in technology is doing a lot of harm.
Screens make it harder for us to focus and sustain attention. Social media and the news on our devices can increase depression, loneliness, anxiety, stress, and sleep disruptions. Research also shows a loss of empathy when interacting with others online, especially strangers. When we do interact, there’s an increased chance of confusion and misinterpretation in our communication. Moreover, children are facing new challenges when it comes to learning and socializing due to the increase in screen time. I don’t think I need to go into too much detail when I say that social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit are platforms that have supported targeted propaganda, lies, and noisy, abusive spaces to interact.
It’s not all bad.
With that said, some users really benefit from an increase in technology. Those with social phobias and anxieties benefit from social interactions online that they normally wouldn’t have. Others who live far from friends and family can stay more in touch via pictures and Facetime and Skype. Life is easier for new parents who can purchase diapers online and arrive within hours. We all know the benefits that technology has afforded us. However, we could all use a little break sometimes.
Here are five ways to unplug, power off, and connect.
1. Turn off all notifications, unless they are from actual people.
Those little red dots for your notifications are meant to be enticing and draw our attention. They’ve become small new (unnecessary) tasks for our brain to solve. Go to Settings>Notifications and turn off all notifications, banners, and badges, except from real people you want to hear from; i.e. messaging, WhatsApp.
Are you sick of getting email notifications, only to see that it’s the fourth 20% off coupon from Bed, Bath, and Beyond today? Before you delete those unwanted emails, make sure you select unsubscribe first. Similarly, unfollow random people online. Maybe you once wanted to know all about a new restaurant, but now you hate seeing eight Instagram posts a day of their food. Is your Facebook feed getting more and more negative everyday? (Hi uncle Larry with the intense political views!) Hide or delete people or news outlets that are increasing your blood pressure. There is no need for that. Delete the unnecessary.
2. Go gray.
Want to make your phone really unappealing? Turn it to grayscale. Our colorful devices make us want to engage more in them; they are bright and interesting. To remove those positive reinforcements, go to Settings>General>Accessibility>Display Accommodations> Color Filters> toggle the Color Filters button.
This one actually works well. You have to be really committed to do this!
3. Schedule breaks.
Leave your phone in another room. Turn your ringer off and leave your device in another location for a predetermined amount of time. Unless you’re expecting an important call, most things can wait. Charge your phone in another room at night or turn your phone onto airplane mode if it’s in your bedroom.
You can also pick a time that you would like to turn your ringer off and not respond to your phone at least an hour before bedtime. The blue light that emits from your phone interferes with your circadian rhythm and suppresses the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, thus making it harder for you to fall asleep and obtain restful sleep. Additionally, schedule vacations away from your phone or certain social media/news platforms. Tell a friend or family member who will help hold you to it.
Do you normally have your phone with you when driving and find yourself checking it at stop lights or, more horrifying, when you’re driving? Put that thing in the backseat when you’re driving. It can wait. Do you also habitually check your phone every time you get on the train or bus? Make a pact with yourself that you will leave it in your pocket and purse and focus on noticing the world around you. Similarly, we often use our devices to make us feel less socially awkward when alone. When your friend or partner gets up to use the restroom at a restaurant, resist the urge to pull out your phone! Sit and practice being mindful in the moment. It’s amazing what you’ll notice when you stop and pay attention.
For those with less self-control, the new iPhone update includes a setting that will show you how much time you spend on your phone. It will also show you the time broken down by app. You can then schedule forced downtime
Need more help taking breaks? There’s an app for that! There really are, lots of them. Here are some of the most useful:
Flux, InboxWhenReady Moment, uBlock Origin, Thrive, Freedom, RescueTime, Facebook Newsfeeed Eradicator, Siempo, Flipd, Distraction-Free for Youtube.
4. Reconfigure your home screen.
Do you mindlessly open up your phone and go to the first few apps you see? Put those apps on the second or third screen on your device. Better yet, put them in a folder somewhere. The harder you have to work to get there, the less likely you are to mindlessly use it. Furthermore, delete apps from your phone and use your web browser to sign in and out every time you use that platform. Again, the harder you make it to get in, the less you’ll actually work for it.
5. Make a call or send a voice note.
Want to connect more? Use your voice. You might not have time to make a call, but don’t lose the art of vocal communication! Save yourself from carpal tunnel syndrome and send a voice note instead of a text. The other person might love to hear your voice. This also helps reduce miscommunication and confusion that can result from texting. Maybe one day we can all communicate via voice, and we won’t have to send our friends the text: “ Can you read what Joe sent me and tell me what you think this means?”
Have you ever seen a group of people all gathered around on their phones? Or two people on a date, both scrolling through Instagram? It’s depressing, isn’t it? Put it away and have a conversation! Make a rule that if you are with people IRL, (I can’t believe I just typed that) you won’t use your device.
Want to connect even more? Sit down at the beginning of the month and schedule social events with the people you want to see most. Making plans to spend time with others helps you feel more connected and less lonely. Have friends or family that are far away? Schedule a Skype or Facetime chat to relate more to each others’ lives and practice having awkward conversations face-to-face. The more we have meaningful interactions with others, the happier we are.
Slow down. Find the present moment. Be well.