I recently saw a series of photos of people in what should have been some of the most important moments of their lives (like wedding days, holding new babies, etc.) and they were all on their phones. Not enjoying the moment, not talking to each other, but looking at phones.
From a less dramatic perspective, I’ve also been guilty of looking at my phone during moments that should be some of the most important in my own life: meals with my family, time with my children, etc.
This, and an article I recently read about the importance of creating family traditions, inspired me to share something I’ve been doing for the past few weeks that has really helped bring some balance to my life: a weekly digital day off from all technology.
I get it… technology is an incredible thing. We live in a world with more information available at our fingertips than was available to all of human civilization not long ago. In fact, every two days, we collectively create as much information as has been created from the dawn of civilization until 2003. (1)
This is an incredible benefit from the perspective of societal advancement, but it can also be a curse.
While our social circles were once limited to a small group of people who were geographically close to us, we now have the ability to connect with friends and family around the world at all times. We have constant news about new babies just born to our friends, what a family member ate for dinner, or the ever-mysterious status updates that leave us wondering about the emotional state of someone we love.
Mental Changes from Technology
We digitally “connect” much more, but apparently, we are actually connecting on a human level much less. Aside from the fact that I don’t want my children to remember me as always checking my phone, new research is showing that our constant use of electronics is actually changing us, mentally and physically.
Results from the few studies that have been done are troubling. Social media appears to promote narcissism, smartphones could be causing insomnia, and screens seem to be making our kids less empathetic. (2)
Additionally, with over 4 trillion Google searches per day, new research suggests that “the Google Effect” is actually changing the way we think and that we are actually outsourcing our memories to the internet:
Neuroimaging of frequent Internet users shows twice as much activity in the short term memory as sporadic users during online tasks. Basically, our brain is learning to disregard information found online, and this connection becomes stronger every time we experience it. So the more we use Google, the less likely we are to retain what we see.
In fact, a recent book: Mind Change argues that technology poses a threat to the very way our brains work and adapt. She cites studies that show that technology use, especially in children, creates dopamine responses similar to drugs or junk food, shortens attention span, reduces empathy and creates many other problems.
As a mom, this is especially concerning, as my children are still developing these and many other capabilities and it makes me wonder the long-term affects on their entire generation. This is one of the reasons my husband and I have been pretty careful to limit our children’s tech exposure, especially at young ages, and part of the reason that Steve Jobs didn’t let his children use iPads.
Physical Changes from Technology
Aside from the mental aspects, constant exposure to technology may be actually physically changing us as well. Many phones, TVs and computers emit blue light, which we now understand can affect our normal circadian rhythms and reduce proper sleep hormone production.
This is why our children don’t have nightlights and we limit their exposure to blue light devices after dark. It is also why I wear orange sunglasses and run programs like f.lux when using my computer after dark.
Technology use has even led to new conditions that exist entirely because of computer, video game or TV use:
- eThrombosis– a form of deep vein thrombosis that results from long-time sedentary behavior of computer uses (3)
- Nintendoitis– a condition in the tendon of the thumb from video game use (4)
- Computer Vison Syndrome– Eye fatigue from looking at computers for long periods of time (5)
Other research suggests that technology use may be changing our posture, contributing to obesity and sleep problems and leading to other problems as well.
The Good News
Again, technology isn’t bad, but our overuse of it might be. The good news is that it appears that even short breaks from technology can have a positive effect.
A few months ago, researchers took a group of 35 people that used the internet often (CEOs and entrepreneurs) into the desert in Morocco to study if their behavior would change with and without technology use.
After only a couple of days without their smartphones, researchers saw these people exhibit better memory, relationships, conversation, and changes in perspective.
From a physical perspective, they also saw better posture, sleep and memory. All from just three days total! (6)
What I’m Doing to Create Balance
Technology isn’t going anywhere. In fact, most adolescents consider their phones a “need” and put them in the same category with air and water. In fact, most said they would rather lose their pinky finger or their car than their phone! (7)
Especially considering the attachment that younger generations have toward technology (and that many adults have as well), I’m finding that balance and an occasional digital day off are helpful for our family.
Technology is a tremendous asset in so many ways, but rather than letting it control our family, I’ve been putting measures in place so that we are in control.
Despite the fact that my blog and many aspects of my work are online, I’ve noticed that my digital day off has had only a positive effect on my life and my work/life balance.
My Digital Day Off
As I mentioned, we already severely limit screen time for our children, but I’ve recently started implementing limits for myself too. As a blogger, it is all too easy to check Instagram while eating dinner or listen to a podcast while cleaning the house with my kids, but my family deserves better than that.
I decided to implement for myself 2 days a week that are a “digital detox” or digital day off. From the studies I saw, even just a couple of days away from digital technology were enough to create better memory, increase creativity and improve sleep.
During these days, I won’t use my computer or phone with the exception of phone calls to or from family members or friends.
The first couple of times I did this, I found that I was antsy and kept having the impulse to check my phone. I made an effort to instead read or play a game with my kids, or pick up a new book. Now, I savor my time away from my phone and computer and look forward to them.
Currently, my digital day off is officially on Friday (which is now our designated field trip day) and one other day of the week depending on schedule. I also won’t check or answer my phone during family time, school time or meals, or while spending time with someone in person.
I’ve greatly enjoyed my digital time off, but more importantly, I want to make sure that my children see an example of uninterrupted family time and balance in daily life, as these become elusive in a fast-paced, high-tech world
From a motherhood perspective, I’ve enjoyed the uninterrupted time with my family. From a blogging perspective, this time off has increased my creativity and made me much more productive.
Other Ways to Take A Break from Tech
- Go on a retreat sans phone or computer– I’m yet to try this one because even if I could leave the phone and computer for a few days, it would be tough to get away with small children, but this is what the study showed had the most rapid effect. Taking even just 2-3 days away, preferably in nature and with other people, is a great way to un-do some digital damage.
- Don’t always use the camera on your phone– For me, the biggest temptation of using my phone is often to take pictures to document something my children are doing. As quickly as they are growing and changing at their ages, I sometimes wish I could hold each moment in a time capsule and pictures seem the closest I can get to doing this. The thing I realized is that while I have many memories stored on my phone, I hardly ever look at them except when I make our yearly photo books. Rather than turn to the phone, I’m trying to get better at soaking up memories vividly in my mind so I’ll always have them to look back on, with or without my phone.
- Make a conscious effort to fill the time in a meaningful way– Just turning off the tech won’t do much if you spend the time stressed or putting out rhetorical fires. Make a plan for phone and computer free time so that you can get the most out of it.
- Tell important people– To reduce stress, I let people that might need to text or email me for information know about my digital day off so that they won’t get worried or think I am ignoring them. These select people also have the ability to call me in emergencies, and I’m usually spending the day with most of them anyway.
- Schedule it each night– Since blue light can be most disruptive of sleep patterns after sunset, consider starting digital time off each night. Whenever possible, I love to put down the phone and computer when I start preparing dinner for our family and not pick it up until the next morning. Not perfect at this by any means, but working on it.
- Once or twice a day only– My goal is to only check email, social media, etc. once a day. I’m still working on putting systems in place so that I can accomplish this, but this is my ultimate plan. Inspired by a friend, I’m working on creating auto responders for my emails that alert people that I have received their emails but only check once a day at a certain time.
How do you balance the benefits and drawbacks of technology? Do you have a digital day off?