Digital Unplugging – 5 Ways to Pull the Plug
Recently, I read on social media, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” I thought about how true this statement is as I begin to do my own unplugging from the digital world.
Technology has gone quickly from a convenience to a necessity for most of the world. From communicating, to controlling things, to banking, we are without a doubt in the age of the “Internet of Things” (IOT). A term coined by innovator and consumer sensor expert Kevin Ashton back in 1999 where he described the internetworking of physical devices, vehicles (also referred to as “connected devices” and “smart devices”), buildings, and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data. It’s the 1960’s American animated cartoon The Jetsons come to life. Gartner Inc., a leading information technology research and advisory company, predicts that by the year 2020 there will be 21 Billion connected devices. Americans were expected to spend $36 billion dollars on tech devices this past holiday. More connected devices mean more and more connected people.
As another example, the other day I saw a construction crew of five sitting on the sidewalk, taking a break from the job they were doing. Each one was engaged on their phone, and in a very humorous way, it confirmed that we are living in the digital age. Construction workers who have been known to be “people watchers” were no longer interested in what was happening around them but more interested in what was happening in the world of their phones; their digital world.
We are constantly receiving text messages, images, and videos into our consciousness night and day from phones, laptops, gaming devices and TV’s. If the first thing you do in the morning is check your phone for work emails and you have fear and anxiety when you are not able to get to it immediately to respond, you probably need to unplug. If your teenager is constantly on her device, having trouble focusing on face to face interaction, school work, or there are behavior issues when restricted from the device, they probably need to unplug. If you are the family that goes out to dinner and everyone pulls out their device at some point during that time, the whole family needs to unplug. If the most you’ve ever unplugged was the amount of time you were asleep, you have probably become dependent on your device. Eighty- percent of cell phone users claim they could not go a single day without their device. The panic that ensues when a digital device is lost, stolen or restricted access to indicates there is a possible issue. Forty-three percent of homes no longer have a landline because digital devices have taken their place and almost of cell owners say they have slept with their phone next to their bed because they didn’t want to miss a call.
Researchers in China scanned the brains of seventeen young adults who overuse technology and it showed similar brain patterns to those addicted to alcohol and cocaine. The reports of phones being snatched while people were walking and looking at their phones continue to be on the rise in major cities. What has become an essential necessity for constant connection can also be a consistent distraction. Pedestrians have been killed because they were looking at their phones while walking or crossing the street. New Jersey assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt has proposed a ban on walking while texting and on pedestrians using all forms of electronic communication devices on public roads unless they are hands-free. “Distracted pedestrians, like distracted drivers, present a potential danger to themselves and drivers on the road,” Lampitt said. More importantly, younger children having access to the Internet unrestricted with no boundaries or without being taught the proper digital citizenship or Internet safe usage guidelines can be extremely dangerous.
There are some who would argue that there are no health benefits to digital unplugging. If it is necessary to unplug from the real world from time to time to reset, clear your head, or just relax, why would one not have to unplug from the digital world? People are dealing with real issues and daily stressors associated with constant connection and contact with social media. Research has found that social media promotes narcissism, smartphones could possibly cause insomnia, and too much screen time seems to be making children less empathetic. “Our brains were never designed to be always on and permanently connected with the amount of stimuli that we get [today],” Max Blumberg, a research psychologist from Goldsmiths, University of London, said in a recent interview. “Our brains haven’t evolved to handle that level of high activity yet,” he continued. “And that’s a problem.” “Our brains will always be seduced by the high stimuli [of constant connectivity] because of the dopamine that it provides,” Blumberg explained in another interview. “It’s really similar to having ADHD.”
Personally, I have found myself spending hours on my devices looking at research, and discovered that I may have spent 10, 12, sometimes 14 hours in front of a screen. At the end of the day, I find it necessary to shut my laptop and phone off because my brain has been overloaded with media and information. Unplugging and starting fresh the next day has always helped me come back with clarity and fresh ideas. But every so often I’ll take days where I’ll do a 7 day detox(I’m shooting for a 14 day detox soon) to practice self-control, time management or to center myself. Digital detox events, programs, festivals and even apps that helps one deal with the overwhelming need to be constantly connected are now available to the public. There is even a National Day of Unplugging. Digital dependence can disconnect you from others physically, mentally and emotionally as well as from yourself at times. Not everyone has the money to attend these types of events, and some may feel they are not “that far gone” yet to go to such an extent of “unplugging.” However, most will agree that they spend a large amount of time on some type of device regularly. Sixty-seven percent of cellphone owners say they check their phone even when they don’t get an alert of activity. Some researchers are labeling this the “new yawn” because of its contagious nature.
Now that we are starting a new year think about adding regular digital unplugging to your list of resolutions or life style change. Unplug now while you have the chance because once we go from the digital age to the space age like The Jetsons, I’m not sure if we will have that opportunity, and that age is sooner than you think!
Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master. Christian Lous Lange
Here are 5 ways to pull the plug:
How you start your day sets the tone for the rest of the day. Try starting your day without checking your phone for text messages, emails or social media alerts.
Have a set time that you will be off the grid. Don’t check any emails or unless you are someone whose manages many from email set certain throughout the day that you’ll respond. For children set a time where phone devices are turned in once they are home and devices used for homework go off at a certain time and don’t allow devices in the bedroom at night.
Say no to social media. Don’t give into the urge to post, check and respond to your social media. You can change the settings notification to turn off mobile notifications or log out completely to help control those urges. Social media has caused a lot of people to become anti-social, as in not being able to communicate effectively, or withdrawing themselves from family and friends.
When in public only use your device if necessary or when attending an event only use it to exchange contact information. When out to dinner with someone, be courteous and try not to take it out to” check in” on social media.
Unplug to plug into family. When at home make it a habit of placing devices far away from everyone while spending time together, in order to focus on the family and show them that time is valued and important to you. Parents who do not unplug will raise children who do not unplug.
Reginald Corbett is the founder of SafeCyber, whose mission is to educate and promote cyber awareness to schools, community organizations, parents and care takers of youth. The organization provides actionable information that’s easy to understand along with tools and resources needed to stay safe and secure while living in the “Internet of Things” age. He travels state to state raising awareness about cyber safety topics such as Cyberbullying, Dangers of Social Media Apps, Online Predators of Children, and Digital Footprint and Reputation. He is the author of the soon to be released book, “Protecting our Children in the Digital Age,” where he discusses how parents can protect their children by sharing his own experience with his teenage daughter. He also focuses on how technology can influence the behavior of youth and put their safety at risk while being constantly hyper-connected. SafeCyber is a proud partner of STOP. THINK. CONNECT., the global cyber security education and awareness campaign led by the National Cyber Security Alliance and in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security. Reginald can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.851.5795.