A New Year Digital Detox?
Amongst the many New Year’s resolutions for 2016 will be a digital detox. This term has appeared more in recent years, even in a dictionary which defines it as “A period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.” (Source here). Reporting for the BBC in August 2014, David Grossman described how our devices are quickly taking over many of us, leaving us unable to cope with the constant barrage of messages and alerts that comes with being “always connected.”
The term “digital detox” suggests, as with an alcohol or drug detox, that we are imbibing so much of a substance that it is potentially poisoning us. Can digital interaction actually poison us? There is growing, but not yet conclusive evidence, that too much digital activity could be harming us physically. Phones on high volume with constant use could adversely affect our hearing, constant tapping onto a screen might give us repetitive strain syndrome neck and back problems, and the heat from mobile devices might be penetrating our skulls and frying our brains. There’s also growing evidence that Wifi signals might impact on the quality our sleep.
Taken together it sounds like a rather doom and gloom scenario suggesting we might just end up as gibbering, stooped wrecks in our old age. Doom and gloom often accompanies technological revolutions. This particular technological revolution is being tested as we go. Innovation is running faster than research and that is both exciting and dangerous. Clearly both positive and negative symptoms of this digital wave of change are being reported. It’s beneficial but it is also bad. There are clearly some toxic side effects to diving quickly and fully into the digital inferno!
So, part of a digital detox for the new year might involve some common sense actions to our physical bodies healthy.
|5 Tips for a Physical Digital Detox
1. Buying or using a chair with better back and neck support when we are on our computers or tablets
2. No longer bending our necks over our phones when we are texting and using straighter postures
3. Using the speakerphone setting when we can to reduce holding the phone to our ears (many headphones can offer as much radiation as a smartphone to the head, though potentially less heat)
4. Switching off our broadband and Wifi routers at night and when we aren’t using them
5. Eating more healthily around your digital activity and don’t let is become a reason for sugar snacking
Perhaps the more reported on issues around the “toxic” nature of the digital world has been the psychological and emotional impacts. Here the “toxic” element refers to a pollution of our emotional world, the distraction and the diluting of our important relationships. “Toxic” suggests poisoning. Are we poisoning ourselves and our social interactions with too much digital time?
Certainly we can pollute our concentration on physical activities if we are “always on”., and pollution can be a kind of poisoning. How much did your checking in to social media, responding to texts and emails interrupt or even interfere with your physical world Christmas? How much did it add to it or enhance it? Where it did seem to enrich the experience (A Skype call to Grandma, some nice greetings sent and received, tracking Santa online for fun – all well and good. But where it felt compulsive, where you felt distracted and those you were with felt you were only half there for most of the time, the toxic nature of the digital realm could have been creating negative effects, a bit like you being drunk and simply not able to be “fully there.” Did the family feel enhanced or broken up this Christmas by digital devices and social media?
A digital detox in the new year in the emotional and social realm will refresh up your day and may well remind you that there’s a healthy balance to be struck between our physical and digital activities.
|10 Tips for A Social and Emotional Digital Detox
1. Switching off devices for set periods of time and full focusing on the physical world. Two good times to start with are meal times and bed time.
2. Switching off “push notifications” and “alerts” on your smartphones and tablets so you have to decide when to go in to check emails and other messages rather than be constantly alerted and notified
3. Spending more time out walking – in the woods, on the park, in order to breathe fresh air and get away from the pull of devices
4. Resolving to give loved ones, friends and colleagues your full physical attention when they need it. No more phones buzzing in pockets or on your lap
5. Pruning your “social media garden”. Leave online groups you never engage in, prune your Facebook friend list, stop following blogs, people and sites you never read. Unsubscribe from mailing lists
6. Declutter your various desktops, tidy files into folders and delete where necessary. Delete apps you never use. Clear your various inboxes, especially those overloaded with unread mails
7. Visit your privacy settings on the different social media platforms you use, get more clued up and take control over who sees what and when in your social media life
8. Practice not responding immediately to everything that comes to your attention; choose more consciously when to repond
9. Cut down the number of hours you spend online and on different devices
10. Think about what parts of your digital life you really value and love and resolve to enjoy those more mindfully. Make your digital realm the realm you want it to be
So, here it is: You may need to admit you are addicted.
You might need to finally accept that the pain in your neck is down to that addiction, that you are damaging your back from sitting badly over your laptop. You might find that your 2015 is going to be degraded by too much uncontrolled, reactive and largely unskilled digital activity.
2015 could be a more self-aware and ultimately enjoyable year to enjoy the new digital innovations that are now appearing. But do you really want to be a dumb user of a smart watch? Do you really want to wear your augmented reality spectacles like a short sighted lurcher, or to genuinely enhance the way you see the world? Whatever comes in 2015, you can be on top of it, or you can be controlled by it.
Perhaps the most toxic form of the digital realm reveals itself when you start to behave like a kind of gadget yourself. You look at adverts when the corporations want you to. You respond because the corporations need you to be on and reacting. When your digital time is no longer really yours then you have really become overshadowed, taken over by the very world that claims to serve you with miracle innovation and technology.
You reach for your phone habitually, your respond to alerts compulsively. You can no longer enjoy the silence and the absence of screen and gadget time. You can’t be in the physical world without feeling the habitual pull of the digital realm. That sounds toxic to me.
So, why not make 2015 the year when your get back in control of your digital life?
In the short term the detox might involve cutting out and cutting down. But when your get your will power back and strengthened, you might just find that, in the doses, at the times and in the ways that you decide, the digital realm becomes something surprising, even delightful, as well as genuinely useful and beneficial in all kinds of ways.
Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno