Remember when the TV was the only screen in the house? How did we ever live without computers, tablets, and smartphones? Now more than ever, technology has brought the world to our fingertips. The line between the "real world" and the one online has blurred.
Many of the things we used to do in-person—school and work for example—can now be done online. For instance, I attended a concert from the comfort of my basement the other night (with my cat!). I learned how to play the ukelele on my iPad for goodness sakes. (Shout out to the Yousician app!) But of course, all of this connectivity, opportunity, and convenience has a downside.
Between texting, emailing, messaging, gaming, searching the internet, watching videos, and using social media, our brains have way too many tabs open. Even if you're not a full-blown addict, I think we can all admit to problematic consumption.
It's not our fault that we get sucked into scrolling mindlessly through social media—the algorithms are designed to be habit-forming! Even when we're not staring at a screen, we have on-demand access to endless audiobooks, music, and podcasts so that we never have to be alone with our thoughts.
"24/7 technology is bad for us and bad for the culture. We rush to fill any unstructured moment we have with work and entertainment, feeds and updates, pulling out devices that distract us from bigger-picture thinking. We're constantly reacting and responding without reflection. We've created a culture where we've all but relinquished our free time. We need to reclaim it." - Tiffany Shlain, 24/6
Were our great grandparents saner sans screens? For all of the advancements technology has given us, it has also taken our attention. In some ways, digital devices have stolen our ability to be present. Like everything else in this world, we need to find a balance and create boundaries. As the New York Times observes, "Like sugar, technology makes life more enjoyable. But it’s better in moderation, and modern life pushes us toward excess."
In her book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, Emmy-nominated filmmaker Tiffany Shlain (founder of The Webby Awards, which Oola won in 2015) suggests we take a weekly tech break. The (culturally) Jewish author's family has been taking what they call a Technology Shabbat for over a decade, ever since Shlain got involved with The National Day of Unplugging.
Every Friday at 5pm, Shlain, her husband, and their two daughters turn off of their devices and don't turn them back on for 24 hours. She describes it as a rejuvenating day of rest where you get to reset, much like a reboot.
In her book, Shlain writes that "researchers have compared the sense of technological dependency—the feeling that we must be accessible and responsive at any time—to that of drugs and alcohol." In addition to paying our bills, checking the weather, reading the news, and finding our way from point A to point B, we use our phones to stay connected 24/7 via email, text, instant message, or ya know, phone calls. But is there such a thing as being overly connected?
An article on Technology Dependency out of Concordia University observes that "some are concerned that we are losing important aspects of the human experience, becoming impatient, impulsive, forgetful, and even narcissistic." As the New York Times puts it, "Constant activity isn’t an enjoyable or productive way to live."
"You can buy anything, make anything, do almost anything anytime. And because we can do anything anytime, we feel we need to everything all the time." - Tiffany Shlain, 24/6
We're so busy darting our attention from screen to screen that we don't pause to think about the effect of excessive-tech use. What is it doing to our relationships? How about our democracy? Many studies, mostly conducted on teenagers, have found that as screen time goes up, so does anxiety, while well-being and self-esteem go down.
"Excessive media use is not good for us physically, mentally, or emotionally," UC Berkley asserts, adding that "taking a media break is a powerful way to improve our well-being." Screen-Free Saturdays (or whatever day) offer a way to reclaim your attention, time, and perspective. According to Shlain, "Living 24/6 brings back balance, resets your focus, and gives you the space to think about how you want to live your life."
Shlain offers more advantages to going device-less for day:
Addiction psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Jud Brewer specializes in anxiety and habit change. He calls our tendency to whip out our phones when we're bored or anxious an anxiety-distraction habit loop. To break the cycle, he suggests mapping out "the trigger-behavior-reward process that creates and perpetuates your unwanted habits."
"This involves noticing the trigger (anxiety), the distraction behavior (eating, drinking, watching TV), and the reward (feeling better because you are distracted from the trigger)" he explains. Ask yourself, what reward are you getting out of constantly checking your phone?
Shlain offers these tips for unplugging:
I think we can all get on board with a little break, but if going cold turkey for a full day seems impossible, ease in gradually with these weekly challenges. Or perhaps start small with a phone-free Friday or tablet-less Tuesday.
If you're worried that your kids will never go for it, Shlain would remind you that you are the parent, and parenting is ultimately modeling behavior. If your spouse is super against one day without their devices, that's a sign that they really need to do it.
Perhaps you already know how you would spend a tech-free day, but if you need some suggestions, Shlain says to think about what you want more of in your life and cultivate that, sans screens. Here are some more of Shlain's suggestions:
Once commonplace, now some of these suggestions sound ever so indulgent.