3 Reasons to Reign in Your Relationship with Electronic Devices

Here in Thailand, life tends to move a bit more slowly than other places. The cultural impulse is to keep things relaxed and light. “Jai yen” means, “keep a cool heart.” This phrase is used to calm someone who is getting emotional – angry usually – in public.  Keeping the group together is priority number 1 – and if someone begins to getvisibly upset, the instant response for Thai people is to try to appease that person, for everyone’s sake.

So, in 13 years living here, I have learned to relax far beyond my baseline. I don’t get upset much. I sometimes read with amusement of the rat races going on far away in the US, Europe, China … of people addicted to their laptops, phones and tablets at work. That is not me, I always think. Those poor, misguided souls…

Then one day at work I noticed something odd in the bathroom with me – my iPhone. Come to think of it, that phone had been reliably joining me in the bathroom since … well, when exactly did that even start?

Faced with the undeniable realization that I had been unconsciously unplugging my phone from its charger so I could hold it in my hand while walking the100 feet from my desk into the bathroom, routinely, on autopilot, was a wake-up call.  Once noticed, I could not un-see it. It bothered me so much that I ended that practice full-stop, same day. Then I moved on to audit of my relationships with all my devices at home.

I found I have issues.

According to Wikipedia, a digital detox is “a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic connecting devices such as smart phones and computers.”  It is often advised that a 24 – 72 hour period is the right amount of time for this.

A full-blown digital detox seems a bit complicated to set up.  Plus, I felt more likethat was off-target.  I was looking for a lifestyle tweak, smaller but with more staying power.  Not so much a detox as an intermittent fast.  By that I mean intentionally extending the amount of time each day that I avoid screens before and/after going to sleep for the night by an additional hour or two.

If you also suspect you might benefit from a reduction of screen time, here are 3 reasons it may be worthwhile to give it a try:

l. For better sleep quality.  Melatonin is a hormone our bodies naturally produce at night that helps make us sleepy.  But, you know what?  That blue light glowing from our phones and computers (and TV sets) has been shown to suppress the body’s production of melatonin.  The result?  Using devices up until the moment you try to sleep may mess with your circadian rhythm, your sleep cycle.  Nutrition and sleep expert, Shawn Stevenson, advises closing the screens and shutting down the phones a full 90 minutes before you plan to shut your eyes.  That can be extra tough when you feel like those couple of hours just before bed make up the main chance you have to surf the internet, watch Netflix, or let’s face it, get more work done. The rewards may be worthwhile though.

Cutting out some screen time at night is likely the number one thing you can do to improve your sleep quality immediately.   Shawn Stevenson, Sleep Smarter, Chapter 3, p 19.

2.  To break the addiction.  I remember not so many years ago in the days of the Blackberry (remember the Blackberry?) when a friend and I joked about how the real sign of a computer addict (or complete corporate nutter) would be to have your Blackberry next to your computer so you can check both at the same time.  Hmmm… Sounds pretty normal these days.  Dopamine is the chemical produced when we look for things, on the internet or anywhere.  When we find something we are seeking – a new piece of information (or a Like or a heart) – our brains give us a hit of opioid pleasure, the reward. This is exactly the type of addiction the internet – and social media, especially – is designed to perpetuate.  Since the brain likes patterns, it is all too easy to get sucked in. Before we know it, a quick 2 minutes on Facebook to leave a birthday greeting ends up being 2 hours of pointless scrolling.  That is 2 hours of time we will never have back.  At some level I’m convinced we see this for the waste of precious time that it is.  Perhaps a mindful approach to keeping our internet usage in check could lead to an increase in net overall happiness, if for no other reason, because we regain control of that time.   

3.  So that you can actually do things again.  Remember back in the days when people did things?  Because we had the time and space?  There are a number of things one could be doing at home in the evening other than affix herself to a computer  Things such as:  listen to music, have real conversations with other real people at home, yoga, go for a walk, listen to a podcast, read a book, take a bath, give someone you love a hug.  There is no shortage of options, actually.  As far as selecting an alternative activity goes, Shawn Stevenson points out that it’s important to trade screen time for a desirable activity.  Otherwise we will probably not stick with it.  So don’t decide to clean your kitchen cupboards during this time – unless of course you really enjoy it.

If, like me, you have found yourself on a laptop far too often in the evenings before going to sleep, it can be just short of exhilarating to force allow yourself 1.5 hours of device-free time before bed (ahem, once you get accustomed to it).  It won’t take long after taking on a digital reduction project before it begins to feel like what it is: a magical gift of time.

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