Time for a digital detox? May 5 to 11 is Screen-Free Week. Join in by spending a week offline and away from the computer.
Tweets and status updates keep us connected, but overusing technology may affect our health. As we turn our minds to cleansing and spring cleaning, many of us can also benefit from a digital detox. Going screen-free—for a weekend or an entire vacation—can be as revitalizing as a crisp kale salad.
From May 5 to 11, people around the world will be turning off their digital devices as part of Screen-Free Week. Participation is easy. Join in by spending a week without screens and educating yourself (and your family) about using technology in moderation.
Do you need a tech break?
New technologies have been a source of cultural anxiety since the fourth century BC. Concerned about the invention of the alphabet, Socrates predicted that people’s use of the written word over oration would “implant forgetfulness in their souls.”
Echoing this sentiment, today’s digital devices are met with equal parts disparagement and adulation. Our fixation with being wired in has even given rise to technology addiction. “A simple way to define technology addiction is that you can’t function without it,” says Cris Rowan, author of Virtual Child (Createspace, 2010) and founder of the Zone’in educational program.
Bodies in need of rewiring
Computer vision syndrome, text neck, Gameboy back—these are just a few of the modern-day maladies that are starting to offset the benefits of technology.
Other health problems related to our sedentary, screen-savvy lifestyles include
- eye strain
- wrist pain
- carpal tunnel syndrome
More and more studies confirm that overuse of smart phones and computers can result in stress, depression, and other emotional health issues. Digital distractions may also be short-circuiting other connections in our lives. Our ever-present cellphones, for example, have been shown to interfere with levels of trust and empathy in face-to-face conversations. This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever sat across from a texting dinner companion.
Disconnecting in the digital age
Added to the Oxford Dictionary Online in 2013, a digital detox is “a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices … to reduce stress.” Many travel destinations around the world now offer tech-free vacation packages designed to help us do just that.
If the thought of going even a day without a smart phone makes you twitchy, fear not: limiting our consumption of digital “fast food” can be as simple as implementing a few guidelines at home.
Create a screen-free zone
“There is no sacred time without technology anymore, as the big screen has replaced the dining room table,” says Rowan. Think about it—is there one place in your home (just one!) that hasn’t been infiltrated by some sort of digital device?
In Hamlet’s Blackberry (Harper Perennial, 2011), William Powers calls these spaces Walden zones. We can follow the example of writer Henry David Thoreau—who created a space of quiet tranquility near Walden Pond—by setting aside one room as a screen-free haven. This could be your bedroom, kitchen, or dining area.
Ditch digital bad habits
Opening an internet browser can begin with the best of intentions: checking just one email or looking up the weather. Before we know it, we’re tweeting and updating our statuses mindlessly. It’s not our fault, really. Our brains are wired to find social media addictive, releasing feel-good dopamine from the online sharing and subsequent attention.
Stop this snowball effect by scheduling your social media time. Before you sit down in front of the computer, decide how long you’ll spend there: five minutes, 20 minutes, an hour.
The same logic can be applied to calling or texting on our smart phones—which the average Canadian will keep within reach for 70 percent of their day. To combat these statistics, the Sabbath Manifesto was created. An online project inspired by the Jewish day of rest, it encourages followers to indulge in one screen-free day a week, either Saturday or Sunday.
Since you’ll be logged off anyway, why not use this extra time to form healthy habits? Restore peace of mind with these tried-and-true relaxers (and try not to post about them on social media after).
- Go for a walk in a forested area.
- Host a phone-free get-together.
- Meditate or try deep breathing exercises.
- Practise yoga.
- Read a book.
Teach little ones about screen smarts
Studies show that when parents limit tube time, kids benefit. From weight management to academics, the payoffs are profound.
Rowan adds that it’s up to parents to model healthy behaviour. “Today we are witness to what I term ‘tech neglect,’” she says. “As parents attach more and more to their devices, they are detaching and neglecting their children, resulting in a rise in child mental illness and problematic behaviours.”
Try to limit kids’ screen time to the two hours per day recommended by the Canadian Paediatric Society. For children under five years old, only one hour of technology use is recommended. Tots under two years old shouldn’t view screens at all, if possible. Also ensure that kids have their own screen-free areas by keeping TVs and computers out of their bedrooms.
Take a no-technology vacation
Across Canada and abroad, new screen-free retreats are cropping up each month. Besides enforcing zero internet access and no phones or TVs, many incorporate wellness features such as yoga classes, meditation, hiking, or spa options.
Alternatively, craft your own digital detox. Leave the phones, laptops, and tablets at home when you go on vacation, and trust that your social media updates will keep while you’re away.
Leave work at the office
Now that smart phones have blurred the line between work and home, nine to five has become 24/7. According to a survey of work-related technology use, 64 percent of employed Canadians feel that being connected to their job outside of business hours stresses them out. Frequent use of at-work email can also be a source of anxiety and result in inefficient multitasking.
Fortunately, there are some simple solutions to our connectivity conundrum.
- Flip the off switch on work gadgets at 5 pm to lower stress and recharge.
- Speak face-to-face with colleagues rather than emailing.
- Take short breaks throughout the day to boost creativity, efficiency, and focus.
- Use the weekend as a time to relax and detach from work.
Keep in mind that there’s no need to delete our social media accounts and become wired-out hermits. Simply using technology more mindfully—perhaps in the form of a digital detox—can recharge our batteries between bouts of digital connectedness.
Digital detoxing around the world
At a time when most cities are expanding the range of internet access, Amsterdam is home to no-Wi-Fi benches. Sit, take in the view, and—most importantly—pocket that cellphone.
Digital Detox, a company that puts on no-technology retreats, corporate workshops, and an adult summer camp called Camp Grounded, describes itself as a slow-down rather than a start-up.
To combat the chaos of shopping, a department store in the UK invites shoppers to relax in a sleek, screen-free Silence Room.
Japan features internet “fasting camps” for teens with technology addictions. The camps encourage kids to appreciate nature and team sports without digital distractions.