Time for a digital detox

Last Updated : 20 June 2014, 15:44 IST
Last Updated : 20 June 2014, 15:44 IST

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In this digitally-driven world, it may not be practical to go completely tech-free. However, an occasional disconnect is not such a bad idea, asserts Suja Natarajan

The soothing chime of your smartphone wakes you. Facebook updates and tweets keep you company, as you enjoy your morning tea. There’s nothing like a new app on the iPad to keep your little one distracted, as you WhatsApp your colleague to confirm a meeting at work. 

What starts out as an easy way to be productive and stay in touch, quickly turns into a compulsive habit, almost an addiction. Imagine a day without your smartphone! Makes you wonder if technology is serving you or you are being a slave to technology...

We have all been there: when we want to quickly check mail or take a look at that last update on Facebook, and end up spending the next three hours online.

Dr Ned Hallowell, a renowned psychiatrist, calls this “screen sucking”. Experts agree that gadget-addicts need regular stimulation and are unable to relinquish their gadgets even for a short span of time. It can be as destructive as drug dependence and alcoholism.

“I was initially hesitant to use a smartphone. But within a month of buying
an iPhone 4, I wanted to upgrade to iPhone 5s. From paying bills to checking mails, chatting with friends and seeking directions, I cannot imagine a day without my phone,” confesses Adil Vamsi, a marketing professional.

What causes this kind of compulsive behaviour? Dopamine is at the heart of it. Latest research shows that dopamine – the neurochemical that makes us feel elated when we achieve something - causes information addiction, making us seek, search and want information in a non-stop loop.

With texting, sharing and posting, we experience instant gratification. No wonder then, it is so hard for us to stop checking our cell phones!

Comprehensive studies have shown that excessive use of gadgets can make a person impulsive, isolated, forgetful, distracted and violent.

Overdependence on gadgets is also linked to poor sleep habits, obesity, depression, repetitive stress injury, muscle pain as well as mental and emotional disturbance.

According to a study on Indian Internet users, 83 percent of the users would not step out without their mobile device and could not live without the Internet for more than 24 hours.

Another study published in International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction states that most people set their email programme to check email every five minutes. 51 percent consultants  in a different study confessed to checking email
“continuously” even on vacation.

In this digitally-driven world, leading a meaningful and healthy life is all
about striking a balance. Logging overwhelming number of hours on laptops, smartphones, computers and iPads has become the norm these days.

Information and technology overload is rampant in today’s world, where access is easy and extensive, courtesy our venerated gadgets.

While it may not be practical to go completely tech-free, an occasional disconnect from the digital world is not such a bad idea. Here are some simple tips to help you kick-start a digital detox:

Prepare yourself

It may seem unnatural to be separated from your gadgets. So, plan for a ‘detox’ during a holiday or weekend. Or you could opt for a gradual slowdown.

Start by being away from gadgets for 15 minutes on the first day. Go tech-free for 30 minutes the next day and so on.

Once you are ready, you can take a few days off from technology. Let people know that you will be unreachable during these times. It’s important to be firm about your plan.

Create gadget-free zones

Create boundaries between yourself and technology by setting up ‘gadget-free’ zones in your life: home, office, car, even your bed. It’s a good idea to set a time and room – say the study - where you can be away from your gadget.

Switch to an alarm clock

When your phone is the last thing that you look at before hitting the bed and the first when you wake up, the brain relates your place of rest with productivity.
Keeping the gadget away will abate your impulse to check your phone in the
middle of the night or right after you wake up. So, go buy the good-old alarm clock.

Disable notifications

Disable alerts, automatic updates, syncing and the like, especially when you are with your family or friends.

You can also put your phone on ‘flight mode’ when at home or work for zero distractions.

Find alternative pleasures

There is a world beyond technology - TV, smartphones, video games or computers. Once a week or so, go for a ride, walk or hike - leave the phone and other addictive devices at home. Not having to stare at the screen can be refreshing to your brain. When you have a question, think it through, instead of “googling”.

Live for real

Watch a beautiful sunset and take a mental snapshot. You are more likely to remember the moment when you engage all your senses. The same is not
possible when you are busy shooting photographs – to be diligently uploaded on to your favourite social networking site. 

Focus on people

People around you deserve more attention than people online. Try following a ‘no-gadgets rule’ during meals as well as other family and social occasions. At work, arrange for meetings with people to resolve issues faster rather than sending emails back and forth.

Published 20 June 2014, 15:44 IST

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