I grew up without a television. My parents believed that television would stop conversations, destroy creativity and sap our energy. Today we see similar reactions to digital media, but there is a difference: smartphones and social media are with us all the time. Many complain about the downsides of being always connected. Digital detox has become a trendy subject and many look for ways to make their relationships with their gadgets less intense.
In my book: Digital detox: The politics of disconnecting, I explain why digital detox has become a trend and discuss six ways to take a break.
1. Offline periods: Retreats and holiday destinations offer ways to take an offline break and some just do it with their friends. The aim is often to kickstart a healthier user pattern.
2. Time-limits: You only want to check a few sites but you are still there half an hour later. Many try to set time-limits, but it is difficult as it requires strong willpower.
3. Screen-free zones: Do you take your smartphone to bed? To meals? To the toilet? Should any part of your house be turned into a screen-free zone?
4. Delete apps and platforms: Some declutter their wardrobes or kitchens; others recommend that you declutter your screen and delete the apps you can do without.
5. Mute and block: Beeps and notifications are there to interrupt and turn your attention to the screen. Muting and blocking is a common way to reduce interruptions.
6. Go analogue or retro: Vinyl, board games, colouring books and old Nokia phones are used to limit digital distractions and enjoy some retro fun.
Why people do it? The most important reason seem to be that people want to be more present in their lives, more attentive in conversations and more observant of the world around them. They want to replace FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – with JOMO – Joy of Missing Out. Many also talk about productivity: to waste less time, read more books, be more focused at work or in school. Privacy is the third reason: self-restricting smartphone and social media use can be a way to share less data and also to know less about others’ private lives – not all details from your life is that interesting to others.
Why you should not feel guilty if you fail? When I tell people that I am writing about digital detox, people often tell me that they are terrible at self-regulating and have “no willpower”. Some are ashamed of their media habits. One reason why I wrote the book is to show that it is common to struggle with technology and not easy to achieve the right balance. We are increasingly dependent on our gadgets and social media platforms to get through the day, and smartphones are hard to control because they mix useful applications with endless entertainment. My parents could just kick out the TV – while very few would want to get rid of the internet.
Digital Detox: The Politics of Disconnecting by Trine Syvertsen (Emerald Books, 30th March 2020, PB, £16.99, ISBN: 9781787693425)