Ways to have a healthier relationship with your devices
I| n a Pew Research Poll conducted last summer, 47 percent of U.S. Facebook users ages 18 to 29 said they had discontinued using the service for several weeks or longer at some point in the previous year.
Meanwhile, in a study in PLOS One, Kenyon College researchers found that college students said they would require an average of $1,000 in exchange for giving up their Facebook accounts for a year.
It seems we have complicated feelings about our social media habits.
We love our technology, but we also resent it. It comes into our lives and makes things smoother and easier, but it also changes us in ways we often don’t anticipate and don’t like. By the time we become aware of those changes, though, it’s too late, or at least it feels as though it’s too late. Going back to a life before Facebook, Instagram, constant email updates, text messaging, etc., seems unimaginable.
Of course, we don’t want to get rid of all technology, and we need to see work emails, but many of us crave a healthier relationship with our tech. The new year has just begun, so this is the optimal time to do it.
The average American spends nearly 11 hours a day interacting with some type of screen, so establishing a more mindful approach to one’s devices is arguably as beneficial as signing up for a gym membership or abstaining from alcohol for a month or two. And giving up some social media and other screen time can free up time to hit the gym, read more, work harder, or actually speak to human beings.
If you’re looking to reboot your tech behaviors in 2019, here are a few ways to use your smartphones, laptops, apps, and feeds without getting used by them.
Take a social media hiatus
Many of us say we feel social media has become a drain on our well-being, yet we still find it hard to walk away. That’s partly because Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are addictive by design.
One simple way around this problem is a temporary hiatus. Psychologically, it’s easier to contemplate giving something up for a few weeks than doing it forever, even if you’re likely to arrive at the end of that break feeling like quitting for good would be surprisingly painless.
By this time last year, I had almost entirely stopped using Facebook. A few weeks ago, the reports about data mining and privacy breaches finally persuaded me to deactivate my account. The only negative consequence I’ve experienced is finding myself spending more of my newfound free time on Twitter. So, in January, I’m taking the whole month off from Twitter and Instagram as well.
Turn off notifications
Shutting off alerts from all your apps is the simplest and most regret-free ways to restore a large measure of your digital sanity. Even calling them notifications is buying into the fiction that they exist for your convenience rather than the app makers’.
Call them what they are: engagement prompts and growth-hacking tricks.
Social media apps are plenty addictive enough without dings, buzzes and badges demanding your attention every few minutes. If you turn off Facebook notifications and then forget to log into Facebook for a few days, that’s a pretty good sign you’re not getting much utility out of Facebook.
You might feel that you need to know about new emails or Slack messages as soon as they come in, but unless you’re awaiting a recently harvested organ for transplant, you’re better off checking your various inboxes on a schedule that allows for uninterrupted spans of focused work.
Stop wearing your wearables all the time
Wearable fitness trackers are not unlike social media: When you first start using one, it’s easy to grasp the benefits, from more physical activity to better sleep. The problem is when they become a daily habit.
If you’re going to be giving a company vast amounts of data about your personal behaviors, you should be accruing proportionately large benefits over time, and that’s simply not the case with most wearables that exist now.
Save the wearables for when you have a specific purpose for them, such as losing weight or training for a race.
Establish no-phone zones
The quality that makes smartphones so indispensable is also what makes them so nefarious: They do everything. Cooking, exercising, watching TV — they can help with almost anything.
But they also are time wasters and a hindrance to relationships and productivity.
It’s great that we can find out how much screen time we’re logging each week by checking our smartphones, but a simpler and more effective remedy is to pick a few places where you often find yourself falling into a scroll hole and designate them smartphonefree zones.
If you’re having lunch or dinner with friends or your family, keep the phone out of sight. Don’t bring it into the bedroom when it’s time to sleep. At work, put your smartphone in a drawer and don’t look at it when you’re trying to focus on a task.
Chances are your mood will improve, your productivity will soar and your relationships will become more meaningful. Jeff Bercovici is the San Francisco bureau chief of Inc.