This isn’t your average “just put your phone down” write-up about disconnecting – promise! There are a few elements to reducing and re-calibrating the way we consume technology.
Have you ever played cell phone roulette? Dine with a group of people, everyone puts their phones in the center of the table, and the first person to crack and reach for their phone has to pay the bill. Brilliant!
You’d think we’d at least be able to get through a meal without having to look at our phones. We have texts, email, Facebook, Twitter, and more, pulling at us. A constant mental tug at our brains to see what’s happening. What if you didn’t even have your phone out? What if you left it in your bag or pocket? What’s the worst that would happen for that 90-minutes you’re spending during a meal?
I can hear you now – here we go with another write-up about how I should put my phone down (commence eye-roll). But stick with me — there’s some really interesting research that’s been done proving the value of putting yourself on a “technology diet” or getting back to nature to enhance your creativity. You don’t have to go cold turkey (unless you want to!), but we absolutely benefit from unplugging.
We’re in this together
A really good blog by Treehouse covered several people they interviewed about the topic. One woman they interviewed decided to unplug one March 1st — the official “National Day of Unplugging” (since 2010). She recommends telling others when you’re going to take your technology breaks (don’t want to concern your family!). Just like I recommended simply putting your phone away, she takes it a step further to putting it in airplane mode. She also thinks planning when you’re going to unplug makes it easier on the psyche.
Another person they interviewed is Daniel Sieberg. Seiberg is a senior manager and spokesman at Google. He got to a point where he realized technology was consuming him more than he was actually consuming it. Through his own personal exploration (an encounter with a shark where he wanted to reach for his Blackberry was his ah-ha moment!) about why and how, he was driven to do some research and then to write a book called “The Digital Diet.”
Through the 4-step plan in this diet, Seiberg explores how and why it’s important to unplug, but emphasizes you can do it gradually. It’s not about just doing it (even in moderation), but being aware of the need and benefits. You can see whether you need a digital diet by checking out the Virtual Weight Index – it’s a little quiz that might just be a wake-up call if you need it.
Do you know what happens when you disconnect?
A UCLA study concluded “technology overuse — and the stress of hectic lifestyles – can lead to an imbalance in the brain and damage to your concentration, attention and memory — and even spawn emotional disturbances like depression.”
The study also discovered, however, that this damage is reversible. By unplugging doing just about anything else with your brain (no screens), you can reverse the damage. So why not regularly give yourself breaks? Vacations are great AND necessary, but so are mini-breaks throughout the day.
The Pen and Paper as the “New App”
There’s also a resurgence (though not as rapid as tech) of returning back to our roots. Returning to a pen and paper allows us to process our thoughts in quite a different way.
Have you heard of the Bullet Journal? They dub themselves as being “the analog system for the digital age.” There’s a ton of research out there that indicates journaling – physically writing things down – has health benefits in all sorts of surprising ways as indicated in this Popular Science article.
I resemble this remark in the article, “To-do lists give nerds like me the thrill of checking something off. It’s a genuinely pleasurable experience.” It’s true! I’ll even add something to a list that wasn’t on it so I get the pleasure of checking it off. Not ashamed (and I KNOW I’m not alone).
Another awesome (analog) tool is the Passion Planner. It provides for developing out and seeing the big picture of what you’re passionate about, creating plans, monthly reflections, and a calendar. For those who like to actually write, it’s a really fun and effective way to map out just about anything.
Getting out in nature to disconnect from technology takes it one step further.
Apparently, you’ll not only be more rested, you’ll also be more creative as a result. This isn’t a granola statement–there’s research to back it up done by University of Utah and University of Kansas.
David Strayer is a co-author of the study and a psych prof at U of U. Backpackers as part of the study scored 50 percent better on a creativity test after spending four days in nature (disconnected from electronic devices), he had this to say: “This is a way of showing that interacting with nature has real, measurable benefits to creative problem-solving that really hadn’t been formally demonstrated before. It provides a rationale for trying to understand what is a healthy way to interact in the world, and that burying yourself in front of a computer 24/7 may have costs that can be remediated by taking a hike in nature.”
Now, you don’t have to go to Zion to accomplish this, but it drives home the point that simply stepping away from tech, and reconnecting elsewhere shows dividends.
Lack of connectivity can be a blessing
I overheard someone saying recently that she doesn’t get reception on her cell phone in her new office building… so she finds herself “actually less distracted” and “more engaged with co–workers face-to-face” now that she can’t constantly look at Facebook. This is telling in so many ways about all of the minutes we give away in a day on screen time vs. actually talking to people.
I had a boss once who (before I left for a long, well-deserved vacation to Europe) asked if he could reach me on my personal e-mail. My response (while laughing)? “Yes, if someone dies or something.” He was shocked — not because he thought I was talking back, but because he isn’t able to disconnect that way. Here’s the thing: it was known by all I would be gone, and I had backup in case anything came up in my absence. As I suspected, the business and everything carried on just fine without me for three weeks! And I was super-refreshed, ready to dive right back into the daily routine when I got home.
My top tips for being less distracted with regard to tech…
- Turn off any sounds and notifications associated with social media notifications or email you’re receiving on your phone. Truly, you know you’ll go and open those programs frequently anyway, so why not remove that mental tug that happens when you hear the noise or see the flash?
- Don’t have any pop-ups or sound notifications set up for email on your computer. These only serve to distract you from what you’re right in the middle of, and research shows it will take you much longer to ultimately finish what you were in the middle of if you go away and come back to it.
- Keep your phone put away when in most social situations. “Out of sight, out of mind” is cliche’ (and not totally true), but this will help us to stay engaged and in the moment when we’re face-to-face with people. Dinner roulette, anyone?
In conclusion (and a true confession…)
Everyone can stand to disconnect from time-to-time, and the research is there that it’s actually good for our health AND for our creativity. Like anything else, do what works for you. Perhaps you can write out a list of goals in your bullet journal of how you plan to approach this growing problem. And there are resources out there to help you–pick up an actual book to learn how to disconnect!
Confession: It took me MUCH longer than it should have to write this post! Why? Because I allowed myself to get distracted by a million other things. But, I took steps as I was writing to eliminate those distractions — I even went as far as to close my email client and Facebook to reduce the likelihood that I would stray. Ah, the irony… Baby steps.
What do you find hardest about un-plugging? Is it FOMO? Is it mostly habitual? What about putting yourself on a tech diet? We’d love to hear your thoughts! After you’ve checked Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, of course — this was a long article after all! 😉
A couple other book recommendations:
- Disconnected: Technology Addiction & the Search for Authenticity in Virtual Life
By Nicole Radziwill
– March 1st is the official “National Day of Unplugging” – perhaps you can set that day aside as a start? A day to “unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones.”
– Digital dementia is a real thing – this article explains the research.