Our relationship with technology shows no signs of slowing down. As we continue to intertwine our lives with devices and software, we’re likely to experience increasing benefits and efficiency: things that make our existence easier, better.
It's an appealing idea – but there's a counter view. Look around you and you'll see a sea of heads buried in phones; at home, we now often to screens for entertainment rather than, say, reading a book or simply talking to each other.
It seems that when we don't set boundaries with technology, many of us find ourselves increasingly distracted, less productive and frazzled – which is why there's something of a backlash underway, with people giving up certain parts of technology for set periods of time.
'Dry-fi' January is certainly a start, but if you want to feel less addicted to tech year round, you'll want this new detachment to last. Here are ten ways the you can do just that...
1. Change your method of unlocking your phone
The method of logging into your phone will likely have become so ingrained, that you do it on complete autopilot. But let’s say you change your phone’s passcode at the start of each week – every time you feel the need to unlock and login, you’ll be forced into a new action. It's a small, jarring moment, and it may just be enough to make you think twice about why you need to use your phone.
2. Remove apps that can be accessed from a browser
Super swish apps load fast and offer a great user experience – one so good it can lead to users getting hooked. Once you’ve logged in, you’ll may find yourself almost instantly checking into various apps. To change your behaviour, remove any apps that you can log into using a browser instead. Social networks, even email, can easily be accessed via a browser. It will take more effort to log in, while the user experience won’t be quite as good. Again, this will likely lead you to ask, do I really need this right now?
3. Cut back on notifications
App notifications are on by default, often making a sound, pushing an icon and vibrating your handset. These can be severely distracting. The easiest solution is to turn them all off by default, but you could also choose to only get notifications from people, not just apps.
Max Stossell, from Time Well Spent, explains, “We need systemic change in the way we design tech to truly help people have better relationships with their devices, but in the meantime try turning off all notifications except from people.
"Notifications appear in red dots because red is a trigger color that instantly draws our attention. But most notifications come from machines, not actual people. They keep our phones vibrating to lure us back into apps we don't really need to be in.”
4. Clear yourself out from Whatsapp groups
Whatsapp, and specifically the group feature, is the most widely used app for organising people’s social lives. But while you can turn off Whatsapp’s notifications, you can’t turn off the little number icons that appear when you receive a message. To stop this, the choice is cold turkey, or limit yourself to groups that you really value. People aren’t going to be hurt if you say you’re cutting back and need to leave.
5. Track your time on your phone
Don’t think you spend much time on your smartphone? You’d be surprised. Most people under 40 are spending over 60 hours on their phones a month, with this likely getting higher the younger you are. You can measure your phone use by installing a free app like Quality Time, which will track total screen time and time you’ve spent on various apps. Once you’ve measured your totals for a week, you can see if you can cut back on a daily basis and lessen your time spent.
6. Limit your first page of apps
If you don’t want to delete certain apps, then it’s a good idea to put them at arm’s length by moving them off the home screen. Make that for useful tools like maps, calendar or notes, while entertainment apps and social networks should be a few swipes away.
7. Install some website blockers on your browser
You can easily install plugins on Google Chrome if to block particular websites. For instance Stay Focused is a browser plugin that can block particular websites at specific times of day . Meanwhile, NewsFeed Eradicator replaces your Facebook timeline with a quote on procrastination – perfect if you want to change your autoplaying Facebook checking behaviour.
If you don’t use Chrome, then you may want to consider using an application like Freedom, which can limit app and website usage, but also allow you time windows when you are allowed to use them.
8. Charge your phone outside the bedroom
Your smartphone’s blue light can chemically alter your brain’s melatonin levels into thinking it’s daytime rather than bedtime. Heavy usage before bedtime will likely make getting to sleep much harder, particularly if you been swiping the screen for more than a few minutes. Leave your smartphone on charge in any room other than your bedroom and buy an alarm clock.
9. Take up a hobby that helps you focus
Creative hobbies like art or music and competitive sports can help you get into a focused state of mind called ‘flow’. This is a state whereby the person is so focused on the activity at hand that they become far less conscious of the world around them, helping them take a mindful break from the stresses or the temptations of technology.
Tanya Goodin, author of OFF. Your Digital Detox for a Better Life explains, “Scrolling aimlessly on screens, juggling multiple devices and our 24:7 always-on lifestyle is stressing our brains out, badly eroding focus and concentration and leaving us prone to burnout and stress. Taking a digital detox to get involved in any kind of ‘flow’ activity means you move your brain down a gear - switching from beta to alpha brainwaves - which gives your brain a much-needed break and ultimately helps you focus much better afterwards too.”
10. Give yourself a real break
If you’re feeling particularly frazzled, you may want to opt for the nuclear option: ditching your smartphone for a period. But aside from selling it or throwing it away, what can you do to avoid it? It’s not much good sitting in a drawer in your home. One method would be to buy a cheap ‘dumb phone’ and put your SIM in that. Then post your smartphone to someone you trust who lives far enough away that going to get it is an inconvenience. They could post it back to you, of course, but a few days in the post could give your a real break from your smartphone's screen.