If you don’t think you’ve become dependent on your smart devices then do what I accidently did recently and leave your mobile phone at home.
I was lucky enough to not have travelled too far from home before I realised it so I was able to double back and get it.
For a split second I actually considered going on without it for the half a day I was going to be away but then I started thinking about all the vital services my smart phone provides that allow me to operate independently.
Aside from having a phone to contact people if I’m running late and being contactable and accessible no matter where I am, I can check my electronic calendar, have instant access to my emails, the internet and internet banking. Our phones have cameras and GPS, alarms to wake us up, you can download books to read or listen to, and stream movies and videos. There are Apps that let us do almost anything. Plus, our smart devices now come with our own personal assistant (Alexa or Siri) who we can command to do everything for us from placing our calls to telling us the weather or any other information, that is now at our finger tips.
I know I barely use all the functions on my smart phone but I often see people pay with their phone to travel on public transport and wave their device over payment machines in most shops and restaurants.
Millennials and Gen Z seem to prefer to stream and view programs from their tablets too and I’m exhausted trying to keep up with all the social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok that seem to gobble up endless hours of on-screen time.
It’s little wonder that most of us are guilty of spending far too much time connected to our devices and in some cases, this is leading to all sorts of health and social issues.
Our reliance and in some cases obsession with this technology has even led many people to break the law by using their phone while driving, which in turn has led to specially angled cameras being installed on our roads to catch and ultimately fine those who can’t even leave their phone alone while behind the wheel.
Too often I see couples dining out in restaurants without speaking to each other all night because both of them have their heads buried in their phones.
I’ve observed on many occasions when fellow passengers have missed their stop because they were too engrossed in what’s playing on their phone screen instead of being in the moment and enjoying the view outside.
I remember observing at a Conrad Sewell concert that I was the only one in entire the room who was watching his performance directly with my eyes and not through the screen on my phone.
Our reliance on this technology often starts long before we realise it and all too often, I notice infants and toddlers screaming and throwing tantrums until their parents give them their mobile phone to pacify them, which I must admit calms them down instantly.
We’ve become even more dependent on technology and our devices through this pandemic with so many people working from home now and conducting business meetings over Zoom and Tele-Heath calls in place of face-to-face medical appointments.
Technology is absolutely remarkable but it can be a double-edged sword; on the one hand it has made our lives better in so many ways and made it much easier to make business and personal connections but on the other hand many of us feel compelled to be connected 24/7.
- How much is too much screen time?
Medical experts are constantly warning of the dangers of over use and guidelines have been set, with recommended durations, to help parents set limits to their children’s screen time but there are no specific times suggested for adults.
Too much screen time can make us unfit, which can lead to lots of health issues like weakening our immune system and diabetes. We tend to get less sleep and socialise less, which can also lead to isolation and a feeling of loneliness, depression and anxiety.
I was interested to learn recently from the former head of digital at the Macquarie Network, who’s entire home is a smart home very reminiscent of Marty McFly’s amazing home in the Back to the Future movie, that he not only limits the screen time his 6 and 9 year old daughters can have to one hour a day, but he also locks their access to the internet at other times and they have to ask permission to have their phones unlocked. They can still use their phones to make and receive calls and take photos but they have no online access outside of their allotted one hour a day.
Dr Mattke from the Mayo Clinic says there shouldn’t be any screen time for children under 2. Between the ages 2 and 5, it’s recommended to keep the screen time to one hour or less per day. In children older than 5 including teens, Dr Mattke recommends trying to minimise recreational or enjoyment-related screen time to just two hours or less per day but this doesn’t include educational-related screen time.
In reality, children spend far more time using their devices than what’s recommended.
According to a survey conducted by the American Academy of Paediatrics, despite the ‘no-screen time for babies’ recommendation, in real life, children up to 2 years of age are getting an average of 42 minutes a day of screen time. Children between 2 and 8 years old are more than doubling their approved screen time. That doubles again with 8 – 12 year olds, who spend on average almost five hours a day on their devices and 13-18 year olds devote a whooping seven and a half hours a day on their devices.
Dr Mattke further suggests using screen time as a reward earned throughout the day for good behaviour and not use it as a punishment.
She says that a recent Mayo Clinic research study showed that for every hour per week increase of screen time, they saw increases in the BMIs [body mass indexes] of preschool-age children and Dr Mattke advocates the best way to help children manage screen time is to be aware and communicate with them.
- Tips to help you digitally detox
If you’re struggling to ignore looking at your phone for even a few minutes, then maybe you’re more addicted than you thought and you should consider giving yourself a digital detox.
If that sounds too daunting, then start small and try not looking at your phone for 15 minutes then extend that by another 5 minutes at a time and if you can build it up to an hour at a time, also consider programming your phone to switch off all your emails and social media alerts overnight. Even with small changes you will break the habit and start to see a difference in your health and well-being.
Here are some ways you can start working on your digital detox;
- Turn off incoming notifications
If you’re tempted to check your social media whenever that familiar pinging sound emanates from your phone, try turning off the prompts that alert you and make a conscious decision to limit the amount of time you spend on social media and even set aside specific times to access them and stick to it.
Many people genuinely suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) but I can assure you those messages and tags will still be there no matter how long you take to view them and you’ll be pleased with all the extra time and head space you’ll have to do other things, when you are no longer a slave to your technology.
- Keep your bedroom digital-free
It might be hard to keep your bedroom completely digital-free if you use the alarm in your phone to wake you up but you can still make sure you don’t use your phone for anything else while you’re in the bedroom. Be brave and put it on aeroplane mode when you go to bed but if that’s too radical and the temptation to look at your phone is too much then you might consider picking up a stand-alone alarm clock so you can leave your phone out of the bedroom altogether.
One of my dear friends makes everyone in her family – her husband, sons and step-daughters plug their devices into power boards in the kitchen to recharge overnight. Phones are banned in all their bedrooms and no one is allowed to access their phone until the morning. She’s a light sleeper and all the children know that if she gets up during the night, which she often does and finds anyone’s phone missing, then they lose privileges.
- Managing emails
Emails can be one of the biggest time consumers and like the mail the postman delivers it never stops coming.
Even when we’re no longer at work it’s hard not to keep checking our inbox. Setting boundaries and limiting the times you allow yourself to access your emails outside of work hours can help you not only manage your emails but preserve your precious free time too.
Get into the habit of setting your out-of-office notice when you leave work and turn off your email alerts when you’re home.
If your inbox is always full of mail that you’ve subscribed to but never get around to reading or junk mail you never asked for then consider scrolling down to the end of each one and unsubscribing. I did it recently and it’s so liberating!
It’s also a great feeling when you go through and delete any Apps you don’t use on your tablets too.
- Follow digital etiquette
When you’re out with friends or family consider turning off your phone or putting it on silent allowing you to focus and enjoy the company of those around you.
A friend of mine arranged a small get-together with a group of people we’d worked with years ago and to ensure we didn’t get distracted, he insisted we all put our phones in a pile in the middle of the table and the first person to access theirs during the dinner had to shout a round of drinks. Interestingly, no one folded and we all became very engaged in connecting with each other instead.
I think being old enough to remember what it was like to live without mobile phones and the internet, has probably made it much easier for me to go tech-free.
I hope some of my tips help you to digitally detox and in turn you get more time to focus on other important aspects of your life.
At the end of the day, you’re the only one who can take control of your phone and your screen time and not let it control you.
I appreciate how hard it will be to cut back on your screen time and I wish you every success in your endeavours, if you need a little incentive to get you started and you don’t really care about the impact it’s having on you then think about setting a good example for your children and don’t let them inherit any unhealthy habits.
Stay strong and safe cheers, Susie
Author, TV & Radio Broadcaster