A nation that doesn’t switch off

Samuel Lehane
Sep 4, 2017 · 10 min read

Don’t get me wrong, technology is great and can do tonnes of incredibly useful things for you. BUT, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a lot of people’s patterns of use may not be healthy. Some quick stats first, the science comes a little later:

  • Over 80% of mobile phone users claim they couldn’t go a day without their device. When was the last time you did?
  • Over 65% of people check their phone every 6.5 minutes, even if they haven’t got a notification. That’s over 150 checks a day…
  • Traditional TV viewing eats up over 6 days a month! 6 days! And some people say they have no time.

It’s clear, a lot of people are becoming almost addicted to technology. Addiction doesn’t tend to end well… Try putting your phone down for 20 minutes beside you and sit in silence doing literally nothing…. The thought of that for many is unbearable, is it for you?

Hmm, this isn’t good is it? I will outline why it can be important to unplug from technology for periods (by listing the bad stuff first) and give some advice on how to unplug.

So, the bad stuff — 10 reasons why being plugged in constantly can be bad for you. They all don’t happen to everyone, mind, but I think we all experience a number of these.

  1. Feeling envious, jealous, lonely. Technology and particularly social apps (Facebook and the like) can cause unhealthy feelings around envy, jealousy, FOMO and loneliness. Many turn these feelings into positive action (“That’s awesome, I’m gonna do that!”), but many don’t. We’ve all posted a photo of our fancy dinner or beach holiday at some point to try grab a few likes. 1 in 3 people feel worse and more dissatisfied with their lives after visiting Facebook. Checking it a few times a day only compounds those feelings. Facebook has over 1 BILLION users. That’s a lot of sad and jealous thoughts. Interestingly, it’s been found women who use social media can frequently suffer from the “cost of caring” when others express stress or misfortune on social media — they can get stressed through empathy. For that alone, I am going to limit my time on it fo sho! Worth noting that Instagram is the worst offender in terms of being detrimental for young people’s mental health. Not surprised. M.Y.O does have a strict no photoshop policy, mind. It’s all natural baby!
  2. Not being alone and thinking for yourself. Being always connected does not allow you to be fully alone, to process your thoughts and think for yourself — what is generally called solitude. Solitude can be a good thing, as it can ground you and make you feel more aware of your internal well being and enables you to be present.
  3. Less time creating and innovating. So, you may know, we all have two mental states — our brain can create and can consume. Often, it is doing both. Think about it — we are always either consuming inputs (movies, texts, youtube videos) and / or creating outputs (thinking about your weekend, working on a problem, building something). Tech can help with creating for sure, but most tech time is consuming — playing video games, watching YouTube, scrolling through Facebook feeds, the Daily Mail scroll of shame etc. FEED ME. That keeps your brain occupied and doesn’t leave as much capacity for it to think clearly and be creative.
  4. Worse friendships and relationships. Nothing beats meeting people in person. Tech is great for keeping in touch with people in far flung places you can’t visit. But so many friendships are maintained over social media or Whatsapp, without ever really seeing the person, giving them a high five or even a hug! It can all be rather superficial. Isn’t there something a little more special about meeting someone face to face, making eye contact and chatting or doing something together?
  5. Worse relationships with your children. If you use your phone a lot around your kids, there is some evidence to suggest it may be detrimental to your relationship with them. I don’t have kids, but still good to know for when I am around my nieces and nephews.
  6. Selfishness. It’s also been found that using your phone a lot can lead to more selfish behaviour. “The cell phone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong.” This can naturally reduce our inclination to feel empathy or engage in helpful behavior toward others, because we feel we don’t need to try as hard to feel like we belong. Bloody hell. We’ve all seen the videos of someone being beaten up or in trouble — why isn’t the person videoing helping!?
  7. More snubbing! Phubbing. The act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention. Hands up who has done that?
  8. Worse sleep. This is a BIGGIE. In a nutshell, the more time you spend on your laptop / phone closer to sleep time, the worse your sleep can be. Scientifically (yes, science), the light from phones, tablets, laptops at night confuses the Circadian Rhythm — which is responsible for a good night sleep. Harvard, they are smart people, found that as well as causing poor sleep, all this blue light at night increases risk of cancer, diabetes and depression. Apparently red light at night is the way to go as it doesn’t confuse the circadian rhythm as much…who knew red light districts have some science behind them! To note — blue light isn’t actually blue light. It is what makes the sky look blue, but is emitted from the sun, digital screens, fluorescent and LED lighting and we don’t normally see it as blue. In short — blue light from the sun during the day is good, but artificial blue light at night is not so good and can keep you awake.
  9. “Text Neck”. Wow — that’s a thing! It was coined by Dr. Dean Fishman after diagnosing it in a 17 year old. I don’t think you want that. Crouched over a laptop or phone can be bad for your back / posture.
  10. More strained relationship with partner. A recent study about phubbing your partner (Pphubbing) came out with the following, which says a lot — “What we discovered was that when someone perceived that their partner phubbed them, this created conflict and led to lower levels of reported relationship satisfaction” it went on to say that “these lower levels of relationship satisfaction, in turn, led to lower levels of life satisfaction and ultimately, higher levels of depression.” Not great eh?

With all this, I particularly empathise with busy Londoners in big corporate jobs and startups, where there is an expectation of being online nearly 24/7, which can be coupled with a lot of stress — so it can be incredibly difficult to fight the urge to switch off and stay offline. I use Slack, Asana, Gmail, Outlook, Eventbrite, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Medium, Mailchimp and tonnes of other apps related to my business on my phone. And it’s right there, always. But, I’ve started to unplug more from my phone and so far it hasn’t impacted productivity — my productivity has improved. And in particular, so has my sleep. You can do it too. You probably saw the news in France earlier this year about banning work e-mails after 6pm. I think they are onto something. Being busy in general doesn’t correlate to being as productive and efficient as you could be. From what I’ve read so far, it seems that considered and focused work in bursts, with some unplugged periods now and then can be better in the long run. This isn’t applicable to everyone, but I feel it worth being aware of.

Let your brain recharge

Essentially, stepping away from technology for periods and doing other things can allow your brain to recharge. Your brain is a muscle after all, so it’s good to give it a break every now and then. For example, (top tip!) walking in the park beside trees after reading something will increase the chances of you remembering it. It’s a little thing, but interesting. Whether your break from tech is done by getting creative, going for a walk in the park, exercising or whatever, it’s good for you. Remember, consuming does take effort, even though you think it might not.

So how exactly do we go about unplugging? Here are 8 suggestions! Do let me know how it goes and what works for you.

  1. Tech-free first hour. A great way to start your day can be to not check your phone to look at e-mails or social activity. The first hour you are awake can lay the foundation for the day. Have a proper breakfast, exercise, say hi to your family. You could try do some meditation during that hour (see below) or in general on tech-free breaks. If you can’t do it during the first hour, maybe try to power down for an hour during the day, that doesn’t include being in a meeting (nice try!).
  2. Meditation. Try meditating during your tech-free periods — although you may find it useful to use an app like Headspace / Calm to do that. Sounds like a contradiction I know, but it’s ok to use tech as an enabler for things like this. It may help clear your head a little. Turn off your notifications, turn it on quick as a flash, stick headphones in, then turn the device over. I’ll go into meditation a bit more in future blogs.
  3. No tech before bed. Not using tech, unless for meditation, for a minimum of one hour before you go to bed could make you sleep better. Honest. That includes Netflix. The recommended amount is actually 2–3 hours before you go to bed! Im not sure how many of us could realistically manage this, which is worrying in itself. However, baby steps!
  4. Use tech blockers. Use tools so you can go online to work, but not be distracted by unnecessary apps. Freedom blocks the internet or social media for a period. Flipd locks your apps for a period. Just popped Flipd on for an hour so I can finish this blog up.
  5. Tech-free for a day. Every few weeks, you could try to leave your apps off for the day and get out and do things. Update your Whatsapp / e-mail to say “call if urgent” and get out there. You’ll be better able to read that book you wanted to read, plan for the next month or play with your children if not distracted by your apps and will have some more peace of mind if people know to only call if urgent.
  6. Unfollow on social. If you do use social media a lot, you could unfollow the people that only make you jealous, angry or sad and just follow those that make you genuinely happy, connected and inspired (top tip). This is a rather sad video on bad effects of social media :(.
  7. Try to get your whole office into digital detoxing now and again. More companies are also starting to do digital detox’s, like the office where I used to work from in Virgin HQ. Every Week Virgin HQ turn off inbound and outbound e-mails for 2 hours and people are encouraged to get up and go for a walk, meet someone new or do something they normally wouldn’t. After some initial annoyance, everyone quickly adapted and actually started looking forward to it! Helps you realise that e-mail ping pong isn’t necessarily the most productive thing and Virgin is still doing pretty well! This company turns off their e-mails for a day each quarter and has seen a number of benefits. Stick an out of office on and get working on the to-do list that needs to reduce or have a proper catch up with colleagues.
  8. Find a tech-free hobby. It may help fill the void / reduce the urge to check your laptop / phone. Exercise, play a game (Exploding Kittens is good fun), get creative through arts & crafts (check out M.Y.O) or make some music. Loads of other things you can do too! Consider switching your phone off / on silent and get stuck in. You’ll be amazed by how you might feel after..

So there you have it. Some concerning things about why constantly using tech may be bad for you, along with some ways to help you get away from it more. Tech is a great enabler, don’t get me wrong, I am just suggesting you consider using it more wisely and consider spending less time using it if you feel it is stressing you out.

The benefits of less tech can be numerous, from better sleep to better decision making, better relationships and even better memory. This is a good article on what happened when a bunch of people detached from tech in the desert!

And finally, I’ll end with the below quote from the Dalai Lama which I love. Going tech-free for periods can allow you to be in the present, he outlines why that is important….

“Man…sacrifices his health in order to make money…Then sacrifices money to recuperate his health and is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present…. he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Thanks for reading! In the upcoming blog in this series, I’ll dig into the benefits of flexing your creative muscles, why meditation can be great and more. Watch this space!

Sam

I’m co-creater of M.Y.O, a creative space for adults, where you can enjoy the mindfulness benefits of being creative. We’ll be adapting as we go and will improve the lives of busy Londoners by providing a mindfulness and creative outlet, watch this space! If you’re interested to find out more about M.Y.O and our journey, be sure to follow me on Linkedin / Medium, subscribe to the M.Y.O newsletter here and like us on Facebook.

With thanks to Mammy and Diana M. for editing.

Samuel Lehane

Written by

Co-creater M.Y.O — a creative space for adults, social entrepreneur, startup mentor, qualified accountant

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