There is now firm evidence to suggest that a permanently plugged in life is more susceptible to poor mental health. For many, a digital detox provides much-needed space to think and de-stress.
One in three sick notes written in the Uk today is for a mental health issue, and we are not alone. There has been a global increase in the reporting and treatment of mental health disorders, with many studies indicating that our permanently plugged in lives are the culprit. The workforce in the developed world is stressed, and this may be set to rise when more of Generation Z (born from the 1990s onwards) enter the labour market. They have the highest ever recorded levels of depression and anxiety, with UK hospitals also treating almost twice as many young girls for self-harm than they did twenty years ago. Incidentally, these young people have never known a life completely offline.
But Internet misuse is affecting all of society, not just teenagers. Overconnectedness makes us less able to connect to other people and as social animals, humans need a physical community to thrive. Every day we have meaningless interactions online instead of real-time, real-life conversations. There is now a tendency to use technology as anaesthesia to distract us from the boring parts of existence, a long journey, or a slightly depressing day at work. Our tech addictions constantly stimulate us, leaving little space to think and process emotion. We are actually losing the ability to feel deeply and also understand those feelings.
Is technology stopping us from thinking?
Most worryingly overuse of technology has been shown to limit our natural cognitive abilities. The Internet makes money by encouraging and developing A.D.D consumption of information. The more clicks there are, the more pages are viewed, the more opportunities there are for data to be collected and sold to advertisers. The last thing that a search engine or a social media platform wants is leisurely reading or concentrated thought. When information was not always at our fingertips, we were able to retain it, or even have fun guessing it and improving our reasoning skills through debate. Now our minds are more automated, used to continually filtering data rather than recalling or analysing. The result is that we are losing the ability to think creatively.
Phones down, helping the workforce to work
A stressed workforce unable to concentrate and create is never going to achieve its full potential. From a business perspective, our always-on culture and penchant for overuse of the CC is lowering efficiency. In the UK, we have the longest working hours but are the least productive country in Europe. As a result, many companies are adopting a phones down approach in meetings to encourage concentration. They are also instigating email free weekends, some are even going as far as blocking access to servers outside office hours. In a radical move one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers, Daimler, has started automatically deleting emails that land in their employee’s inboxes while they are on leave. Companies realise that if they want their employees to be more productive, they need to get them away from screens and back to conversations.
How will we work with technology in the future?
Many cultural commentators think that in the future we will look back on smartphone use the same way that we now look back on smoking. It is interesting to note that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were very strict about their children’s use of technology, and Jobs never let his children own or use iPads or iPhones. Perhaps this should have been a signal to all of us.
Growing numbers increasingly understand that we need to manage technology rather than let it manage us, as a result more of us are opting for a Digital Detox. Whether this is a week or two without our favourite tech devices or simply limiting the time we spend staring at our smartphones. We now know that what was designed to make our life easier often eats into our time and headspace.
If you think that you or your colleagues would benefit from a digital detox here are some ideas to get them started:
- Make a list of gadgets; identify the things you can do without and the areas you can cut down on.
- Now make a list of all the things that you enjoy doing but are not currently. Make some plans to do them with your friends and family.
- Tell your friends and family what you are doing and the best way to contact you. Consider setting out-of-offices on different platforms, so people know when you will be checking your social media and emails.
- Declutter your digital life, tidy up your social media, defriend people you don’t know. Leave online groups you don’t engage with and stop following or subscribing to blogs or mailing lists that you don’t read. Consider even suspending your account for this time. Apply the same treatment to your desktop and phone. Delete emails and apps that are redundant.
- If you’re addicted to scrolling, limit the time you spend on social media. Apps such as Social Fever, AppDetox, and MyAddictometer can help.
- Get in the habit of not having devices to hand. Ban phones from specific areas in the house, such as the bedroom or dining room. Consider switching them off during meal times and at night. Get out of the habit of using them when you are meant to be doing important things like communicating with your family or sleeping.
- Turn off “push notifications” and “alerts” on your smartphones and tablets, so you have to decide when to check emails and other messages rather than be continuously alerted and notified.
- Leave your device when you go to meet a friend. Your friends might even be more inclined to stick to arrangements and times if they know you are not as easy to contact.
- Make it a priority to engage and listen. Give colleagues and friends your full attention.
- Participate in the world around you, don’t forget to look up, and if you must look down why not consider a good old fashioned book.