‘Dig­i­tal detox’ is ris­ing busi­ness model

The Korea Times - - LIFESTYLE - By Jes­sica Roy

How of­ten do you look at your phone each day, check­ing Twit­ter, In­sta­gram, Slack or what­ever emails might have come in over the past five min­utes?

More than you might re­al­ize. A 2018 Deloitte sur­vey showed Amer­i­cans look at their phone 52 times a day on av­er­age. Tech in­sur­ance and sup­port com­pany Asu­rion’s 2018 sur­vey pegged it at 80 times a day. “Tech neck” is ap­proach­ing pub­lic health cri­sis lev­els. If you’ve ever ig­nored your part­ner to look at your phone, you’ve taken part in a be­hav­ior known as “phub­bing,” a term coined in 2012.

We love our phones. A lot. Is it an ad­dic­tion? Ex­perts dis­agree.

Wendy Wood has an en­tire chap­ter of her forth­com­ing book “Good Habits, Bad Habits” ti­tled “How To Stop Look­ing at Your Phone So Of­ten.” Wood, a provost pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy and busi­ness at USC who stud­ies habits, says phone us­age — while per­va­sive — doesn’t rise to the level of be­ing an ad­dic­tion for most peo­ple.

“Ad­dic­tion is char­ac­ter­ized by an in­abil­ity to stop us­ing a drug, in this case a phone; fail­ure to meet work, so­cial or fa­mil­ial obli­ga­tions; and some­times, de­pend­ing on the drug, tol­er­ance and with­drawal,” Wood said. For most peo­ple, that’s not the case — “which doesn’t mean there aren’t some peo­ple who fit that re­quire­ment,” she said. “For most peo­ple, phone use is more of a habit that we haven’t quite fig­ured out how to con­trol.”

But some think phone us­age does qual­ify as an ad­dic­tion, par­tic­u­larly among younger peo­ple. Dig­i­tal so­ci­ol­o­gist and USC lec­turer Julie Al­bright is the au­thor of the book “Left to Their Own De­vices: How Dig­i­tal Na­tives Are Re­shap­ing the Amer­i­can Dream,” which ex­plores the im­pact de­vices have had on young peo­ple’s real-life con­nec­tions.

“I didn’t used to use the word ‘ad­dic­tion.’ I didn’t like the word ‘ad­dic­tion,’ “she said. But at this point, she feels it fits, par­tic­u­larly for Gen Z, the old­est of which are fin­ish­ing col­lege now. A soror­ity house mother on cam­pus men­tioned to her that the girls seemed to have lost the art of con­ver­sa­tion; that they speak briefly to one an­other at group din­ners but all quickly grav­i­tate back to their phones. She said the dean of re­li­gious life at USC told her he gets a ques­tion from a stu­dent at least once a week now that he never re­ceived five years ago: “How do I make friends?”

In some ways, phones broke us. As we’ve used the lan­guage of ad­dic­tion to de­scribe how we use them, so too has that vo­cab­u­lary ex­tended to fix­ing the prob­lem: World­wide Google searches for “dig­i­tal detox” have been ris­ing steadily over the last five years. At the same time, rates of de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and other men­tal health is­sues among teens and young adults — the group that col­lec­tively spends the most time on their phones — have spiked.

But in any case, a world of coaches, books, pod­casts, well­ness pro­grams, camps and re­treats have sprung up to help those of us who need a lit­tle ex­ter­nal as­sis­tance to guide our “dig­i­tal detox.”

As with so many prob­lems in our lives, the cause can also fa­cil­i­tate the so­lu­tion. Andy Pe­tranek is co-founder of the Whole Life Chal­lenge (wholelifec­hal­lenge.com), a six-week on­line game in which you com­pete against your friends, fam­ily and other play­ers to try to de­velop bet­ter habits in ar­eas like nu­tri­tion, ex­er­cise, sleep and well-be­ing. Twenty-eight thou­sand peo­ple par­tic­i­pated in the Jan­uary chal­lenge this year. En­roll­ment costs be­tween $29 and $59, de­pend­ing on how far in ad­vance you sign up; reg­is­tra­tion for the next chal­lenge, which launches Sept. 28, ex­tends through Oct. 9 for late­com­ers.

Pe­tranek opened a CrossFit gym in L.A. in 2004; he started the Whole Life Chal­lenge as a way to in­cor­po­rate over­all well­ness into his clients’ lives. (Michael Stan­wick, who was the gen­eral man­ager of his gym at the time, is the co-founder.) For the nu­tri­tion as­pect, there’s a list of per­mit­ted foods; to get your points in ex­er­cise, be ac­tive for 10 min­utes a day. The well-be­ing piece is a lit­tle more am­bigu­ous. Every week, a new well-be­ing prac­tice is an­nounced. Some­times, Pe­tranek said, it’s de­clut­ter­ing or med­i­ta­tion. Other times, it’s re­lated to dig­i­tal detox: No phones dur­ing meals for a week. Turn off phone no­ti­fi­ca­tions for a week. Move so­cial me­dia apps off your home screen for a week.

One was “no so­cial me­dia for a week,” which “gen­er­ated a very strong, in­ter­est­ing re­sponse” among par­tic­i­pants, Pe­tranek said: “Peo­ple re­sponded to that as if we told them they could no longer com­mu­ni­cate with their grand­chil­dren.”

If you need one-on-one help, you could find some­one like Lau­rin Sei­den, a life coach based in L.A. (lau­rin­sei­den.com) who’s been coach­ing since 2007. In 2014, she started hear­ing com­plaints from clients about phones and so­cial me­dia. Over time, she said, it seems as if feel­ing teth­ered to phones and so­cial me­dia has gone from be­ing some­thing peo­ple are con­cerned about to some­thing peo­ple just live with as a fact of daily life.

“Now it’s just the norm. It’s al­most like we’ve been numbed to the noise,” she said.

She tries to get clients to tease out their goals and val­ues: what they re­ally want out of their lives ver­sus what they’re do­ing to achieve it. Fre­quently, she said, that in­volves a hard con­ver­sa­tion about phone time. Sei­den charges $500 to $700 per ses­sion or $375 a ses­sion in pack­ages of 10.

Some peo­ple might just need a re­set from their phones. En­ter Camp No Coun­selors (camp­no­coun­selors.com), a 21-and-over week­end camp where phones aren’t wel­come. Dave Kush­ner, di­rec­tor and “head camper,” said Camp No Coun­selors started in 2013 as a big trip for a group of friends. The idea: Wouldn’t it be awe­some if we rented some old camp­grounds for a week and re­lived sum­mer camp? They in­ad­ver­tently picked a place with no cell ser­vice. At the end, they re­al­ized be­ing forcibly re­moved from their phones felt re­ward­ing, not pun­ish­ing.

(Los An­ge­les Times/Tri­bune News)

Los An­ge­les Times-Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Peo­ple rarely put down their phones, even when strolling on the Santa Mon­ica Pier.

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