Researchers have found that Internet use can be addictive and that frequent users who stop surfing can suffer effects akin to drug withdrawal. But, you probably don’t have a serious tech problem unless relentless texting, emailing, gaming, Facetiming, Skyping, and checking-in seriously interferes with your daily life, and enjoyment thereof.
That said, we all have moments when we're a little too connected. Imagine actually experiencing the here and now without having to jump on Instagram to show said here and now to your friends. What if you weren't always twitching like Pavlov's dog when your phone or computer dings to signal an incoming message?
It sounds — dare we say it — relaxing. So, we asked a pair of experts for some easy tips to help you wean yourself off tech. Temporarily, at least.
Click through to check them out.
"Make it a project — try three days or an hour a day unplugged," says Nancy A. Shenker, the founder and CEO of theONswitch, a digital and traditional marketing company. "Become more aware of what you're seeing, hearing, and feeling." Someone who's grown up in the age of the cell phone may have never experienced that. "It may be hard," she says, "but it's about making that commitment to yourself. Just like quitting smoking, being on diet, or quitting drinking. At first it seems impossible, but then you make strides." She suggests going on this digital fast a few times a week.
Manoush Zomorodi, host of WNYC's New Tech City, likes to take the afternoon off every now and then. "From 1 to 6 p.m., I'll have a screen-free afternoon," she says. "Enjoy it — it's not supposed to be punishment! Use your brain and other senses. I use a regular telephone to make a regular phone call. I go over to my friend's house," she says. "It's about doing these tactile things we don't do when we're always on a phone."
Take It Back To The Old School
You may have become used to taking notes on your phone, tablet, or laptop. But, in a meeting, how can the boss tell that you're jotting down profit and loss stats and not texting your friend about last night's margarita-fest? "What I do when young people start working for me is buy them an old-fashioned notebook," Shenker says. "I tell them: 'I prefer that you take notes by hand, so just carry this with you when you are in business mode.'"
Meanwhile, at the New Tech City offices, they've turned back to writing schedules and ideas on Post-its and whiteboards instead of computers. "When I save it on a screen somewhere, it's out of sight, out of mind," says Zomorodi. "This way, you're more aware and efficiency is increased because everything is right in front of your eyes.”
Talk To Someone In Person
Being completely offline at work may be an impossibility. What if you're in unplugged mode when your boss sends an urgent email about a meeting in the conference room in five minutes? If you must check your email fairly frequently to keep up, Shenker suggests setting aside 10 minutes from every hour to get up from your desk, walk around, and interact with other humans. "Or, email your boss and ask if there's anything you can come and talk to them about," she says. "You’re initiating the activity away from tech. You can use technology for facilitating human interaction."
Try The Buddy System
If you panic when disconnected from your pals, Shenker suggests taking the no-tech vow with a group of friends. "Decide you're not going to text for the next hour," she says, adding that having a support network is important in overcoming all kinds of addictions. And, friends don't let friends break a no-Instagram vow. You’ve probably also heard of people who, at get-togethers, put all phones facedown in the middle of the table. As incentive to focus on the here and now, whoever picks theirs up first pays for the next round — or dinner.
It's distracting to you and others if you have to snap a photo of every dessert you eat or upload selfies to Facebook at each and every stage of a hike. Instead, Shenker says, "ask someone along the way to take a picture of you, but don't post it until you get back home so you can be in the moment. Make that commitment to yourself."
Don't Sleep With Screens
Artificial light — especially the screens of phones, TVs, and computers — can throw off your body's clock and interfere with a good night's sleep. That fact inspired Zomorodi to participate in WNYC Sleep Project, a two-week digital detox. "We know that looking at the phone in the middle of the night tricks the body to make you think it's day," she says. "Our challenge was to keep all devices out of the bedroom." Try charging your phone in the hallway. Don't bring your laptop into bed, and don't have any screen time an hour before bed. "The first couple of nights, it was extremely tough for people, because they had to change their habits," she says.
Cherish The Written Word
If she really wants to digest something, Zomorodi reads it on paper. "It's about how your brain takes in information, whether you're reading onscreen vs. paper. I don't want to kill trees," she says, "but I know if it's something I have to deeply understand, I print out packets and sit there with a cup of tea and a highlighter. I really feel like taking notes with a pen and highlighter on paper puts it into my brain like a screen just doesn't."
Ready, Set, Charge!
"For me, Pinterest became a problem," Zomorodi says. Her solution? She only allows herself to charge her iPad once a week. "When that charge was over, that was the end of Pinterest for that week," she says. "I had multiple Pinterest boards because we were renovating our house. It was like: 'Which tile should we use in the bathroom?' It's like the rabbit hole you fall down."
Make Your Own Rules
The bottom line, however, is to customize your approach. What works for someone else may not do it for you. "People say not to look at your email first thing in the morning," Zomorodi says. "But, I have a hard time waking up in the morning and looking at a screen wakes me up."
Don't Go Cold Turkey
The general consensus on treatment for Internet addiction isn't to aim for a total freeze-out, according to a summary of research on the topic published in Current Psychiatry Reviews. It's less about total abstinence than achieving "controlled and balanced Internet usage."
Yes, it’s all about the M-word. "Moderation — I hate to use that word, because it's a snoozer,” Zomorodi says. "But now, instead of every night not looking at email before I sleep, I do it once every three nights."
So, relax: It's not about taking yourself back to your tech habits circa 1996. You’re always going to be somewhat tethered to your devices — unless you really decide to go off the grid to become a hunter-gatherer or something.
In that case, we'll be sure to follow your "hermit chic" Tumblr (when you get back).