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Disconnect to Reconnect: How to stop technology taking over your life

IMG_2526I lay in bed the other night, checking my email, checking my twitter feed, even checking the weather for the coming week (well, I am British), before turning off my phone and going to sleep. But, I couldn’t sleep. Thoughts kept whirring through my head, ideas about what to post next on Wear & Where, things I needed to do for work… I tossed and turned all night and despite being really tired, I just couldn’t fall into that deep, restorative sleep I craved. The next day it hit me. I’d become addicted to technology. Not in a dramatic, ‘can’t leave my computer for more than ten minutes’ way, but in the way that I HAVE to check email a few times every day. I had even started checking my email when I was with my children (and this, for me, felt wrong). And, since signing up to Twitter (to paraphrase Jemima Khan – I dipped my toe in, now I’m up to my neck) it had got worse.

It wasn’t always like this. But, gradually over the last couple of years, I had found myself increasingly attached to a screen. Partly due to a project I was working on which involved a lot of emails to and from the States. Partly, because modern technology – iPads, iPhones – make it a lot easier to be connected. Partly, as a freelance journalist, I’m worried that I’ll miss out on work. And, partly, because that’s my personality. However, it wasn’t just email and twitter. For a while now, I’ve been thinking about leaving Facebook. There are good things about Facebook (keeping in touch with friends who live abroad, reconnecting with old friends, Wear&Where’s amazing page) but there are a lot of bad things. For starters, I don’t think that Facebook necessarily brings out the best in people. It can act as a boasting board and encourage attention seeking. Worst of all, it can make you feel bad about your own life when you compare it to someone else and their 4000 ‘friends’ and their version (because it is just that – a version) of their life.

Obviously, everyone is different. Where I find Facebook troubling, others may not have a problem. Where I want to check my email all the time, others don’t. Where I feel that, to some extent, technology can stop us being in the here and now (have you noticed how many times people check their phones when you’re with them?), others don’t. Where I have wasted an unhealthy amount of time reading the Daily Mail’s online Showbiz column, feeling a little sick for doing so afterwards, (*hangs head in shame*), others refrain. But, I do think, that the majority of people would like to manage their relationship with technology better. So, just how do you do it? How can you disconnect yourself from an unhealthy relationship with technology, so you can properly connect with your own life?

With this in mind, I turned to Daniel Sieberg,an Emmy-nominated journalist and author, whose book The Digital Diet: The 4-step plan to break tech addiction and regain balance in your life, deals exactly with these problems. Daniel was kind enough to give me the following advice.

What are the signs that you might be in need of a digital detox?

First, remember that it’s a digital diet as opposed to a detox. It’s about seeking that ideal level of moderation. Although a 1-2 day detox is recommended in the book, it could be on a weekend and is really meant to help illuminate any dependency and how it makes us feel. If something more important is being sacrificed (time playing with the kids) to be online (sending meaningless updates) then there’s a need to hit the pause button. Sometimes it might take an outside influence (a child, a spouse, a co-worker) to really make a point and force us to rethink our behaviour. You may also feel exhausted or unfulfilled in real life or simply overwhelmed. Everyone has a different digital metabolism (hence the comparison to diet) but with food it’s obvious when packing on the pounds. That means we need to be introspective to a certain degree and honestly assess our dependency.

Why did you want to write your book?

I covered technology as a reporter for various outlets including Vancouver Sun, CNN, CBS News & ABC News dating back to 1998, but at some point in late 2009 I realized that I was becoming too overwhelmed by it all. Although I was super connected and plugged in, I wasn’t effectively managing my relationships, health and stress levels in the real world. Subsequently, I chose to disconnect from social media for several months starting in January 2010 and began writing a blog about it (I also minimized my usage of email, texting, etc. but didn’t eliminate them entirely). And just to be clear, that period of time was extreme by anyone’s standards– my message is all about a “Digital Diet” as opposed to a “Digital Detox” (moderation) and the book embraces that idea. I needed to find a long-term approach to technology that I hoped would also benefit others.

Before going to bed, when should people turn off their computer/iPhone/iPad etc? Does your brain need downtime before sleep?

I think it’s absolutely a good idea to disconnect from the internet at least an hour before bed. It affords the mind a chance to rest and process the day. In addition, I recommend not charging a smartphone or tablet near the bed to avoid any temptation. It will also allow a brief period of separation first thing in the morning. It might take 30 seconds or a minute to get from your bed to your device (depending on the size of your abode), but I can assure you that the world won’t collapse in that time and you might even get a cup of coffee before diving into the wired world.

In summary, what are your four steps to doing a Digital Diet?

The four steps are “Re: Think,” “Re: Boot,” “Re: Connect” and “Re: Vitalize.” In summary, they’re about:

1) perspective

2) stepping back

3) connecting with people who matter

4) incorporating some wonderful technologies to help manage your life (e.g. weight loss, prevent texting while driving, calendar organization).

It’s really aimed at anyone who loves technology but worries it may be taking over their life. Finding that healthy balance and moderation. It’s meant to have a broad appeal and it’s not “one size fits all.” That’s exactly right about people having different digital metabolisms; an overwhelming amount of technology for one person might be just fine for someone else. It’s definitely meant for including family members and there are specific tips aimed at parents (for example, putting the family smartphones in the fridge during dinner).

The bottom line: love your technology … just not unconditionally!

Alex’s Digital Rules

Bearing all this in mind, I have created my own set of digital rules. They may not work for everyone (you may not need them), but these are what I aim to live by, so as to stop technology taking over my life.

a) No social media on my phone.

b) Designated times to check email

c) No screens at least an hour before bed

d) No phones during mealtimes

e) No checking messages/talking on the phone when with the children

f) No pointless googling or FB’ing (except for work)

Let’s see if it works….

IMAGE: Where technology isn’t an option. Tiger’s Nest monastery in Puro, Bhutan.

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