Our days are dominated by screens.
Deloitte’s 2017 Global Mobile Consumer Survey highlights that 34% of UK adults check their phones within five minutes of waking up. Guilty. It shares how 53% of 16-75-year olds use phones while walking and 11% even keep scrolling as they cross the road. Guilty. And, at the end of the day, it suggests that 78% of us use our phones in the hour before going to bed, risking our sleep quality from blue light exposure. Guilty, again.
The stinging sensation in my eyes after a long day at work, followed by smartphone scrolling, tells me it’s not healthy to look at screens for this long, both physiologically as well as psychologically. 38% of the respondents in the above survey would agree, stating that they think they use their phones too much. The time wasted scrolling makes me feel nothing short of baffled that a small rectangle of microchips can steal so much of our lives. The endless memes and videos, the perfect influencers on Instagram, the constant connection to work – it’s non-stop.
Of course, it’s a choice. We could all become neo-luddites and disappear to some remote island (we’ve probably all considered it), but it’s not practical. And tech isn’t the bad guy. Moderate social media use, for example, has been linked to higher wellbeing in children. So, it’s our not-so-moderate relationship with tech that’s concerning.
Reassessing Our Relationship with Tech
Tanya Goodin, founder of digital detox specialists Time To Log Off and author of Stop Staring at Screens likens our relationship to devices to that of junk food – it’s addictive.
“Our smartphones are useful for so many aspects of our lives and there’s no doubt they save us time and make us more efficient and flexible in many ways,” she tells me, “but so much of the time we spend online is that kind of mindless screen scrolling that’s a bit like grazing on junk food without really thinking about it. We need to cut down on the digital junk and use our screens in a way that’s healthy.”
What’s the answer? We’re clearly not ready to throw our phones in the Thames. So, how can we find balance? Tanya recommends periods of disconnectedness, or digital detoxes, to encourage important downtime for our minds (and those tired eyes and aching backs). She notes how switching off from technology from time to time can help us reconnect with ourselves and those around us.
Tanya explains, “Putting our phones down and giving our attention unreservedly to the present moment pays so many dividends: it deepens and strengths our relationships and it makes us more mindful of, and appreciative of, what’s going on in our real lives. Making time to be off screen also helps us reconnect with ourselves, without screens to hide behind and escape into. Just a short period every day is all that’s needed to start reaping the benefits.”
Embracing Digital Downtime through Slow Tech
As well as the benefits Tanya mentions, ultimately a digital detox teaches you a lot about your relationship with technology.
Perhaps you’ll realise that you waste too much time scrolling, that your sleep is interrupted by your phone use, or that you haven’t read an entire book in months. Or, maybe, you’ll notice that you normally only half-listen to your family members or other half because you always have your phone in hand. Maybe, when you switch your phone back on, you’ll realise that your FOMO (fear of missing out) was unwarranted and you didn’t miss anything by disconnecting for a while.
If you choose to act on these learnings, whatever they may be, you’re joining the slow tech movement. You’re consciously making a decision to say no to the idea of being always ‘on’ and the notion that technology makes us infinitely more productive and efficient. Slow tech, part of the wider slow living movement, means to reassess how we use technology and notice when it’s interrupting natural tendencies, such as creativity.
There are many small swaps we can make to limit tech damaging natural tendencies. For example, if you normally have your phone out at dinner, put it away. Or, consider whether an analogue alternative to productivity in place of your smartphone, such as a bullet journal, may actually bring you more benefit.
Ready to find some downtime in the digital era? Switch off your phone, try a digital detox and see what slow tech learnings you discover.