How often we interact with technology, and to what extent, is a personal choice—until it isn’t. Smartphones are addictive by design, engineered to keep us engaged. They’re not made to help us, they’re designed to entertain us.
“The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this?” asks Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology in an article for Thrive Global. “One major reason why is the #1 psychological ingredient in slot machines: intermittent variable rewards. If you want to maximize addictiveness, all tech designers need to do is link a user’s action (like pulling a lever) with a variable reward. You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing. Addictiveness is maximized when the rate of reward is most variable.”
We play our phones just like slot machines—refreshing emails, swiping right, checking our Instagram likes—we want attention, interaction, and entertainment. What we need though, is to be in control of our behavior. The best way to jumpstart? A detox.
Step 1: Take Note
Instead of deleting all your apps, switching your phone to grayscale, and totally going cold turkey, spend a week observing your own behavior. Ask yourself questions like, why am I taking my phone out right now? Am I stressed, bored, tired, anxious? Look for patterns in your behavior. Do you refresh your social media apps several times? Do you cycle through certain apps a few times each before putting the phone down? What do you get from these apps?
Keep a journal. It doesn’t have to be in-depth or super time-consuming; you just need to make some observations. The goal is to be mindful of your screen use. If you’re conscious of your actions, like if you open your phone out of boredom or because you need a break from what you’re working on, then you’ll be able to realize when you’re doing it, and stop yourself.
Step 2: Make Your Phone Less Fun
By turning off push notifications, setting your phone to Do Not Disturb mode, and converting your screen to black and white, your phone will suddenly become a lot less interesting.
It’s also a good idea to clean out your apps. No, we’re not saying to delete all your social media accounts, but getting rid of any apps you don’t use is a very good thing. Not only will it reduce clutter, but you’ll realize that you don’t really care about what you thought you did.
Step 3: Set Boundaries
Designate spaces and times where and when your phone is simply out of the picture. You can start with three major areas: during meals, in the bedroom, and while watching something on TV.
Each of these areas has a different benefit. We often eat our meals with others, so this will give you time to engage with those around you rather than engaging with your phone. In terms of the bedroom, our phones are often the last thing we look at in the evening and the first thing we look at in the morning. Research suggests both of these are bad for us, since blue light at night messes with our melatonin levels, and because interacting with your phone within 30 minutes of waking up sets you up for distractions.
And then there’s the phone/TV multitasking error we literally all make. You know the one: when you put on a movie and end up scrolling through Twitter the entire time. By putting the phone away when the TV is on, you’re forcing yourself to pay attention to what you’re doing, even if what you’re doing is passively watching The Office.
Step 4: Enjoy Screen-less Activities
This step is the most fun, because you’ll end up remembering what you liked to do before the age of smartphones. Below is a simple list of things to do; some you can jump right into, and some will take time and dedication to learn, making putting down that phone all the easier.
- Writing poetry
- Trying new recipes
- Knitting and crocheting
- Organizing your home
- Doing a puzzle
- Playing an instrument
- Playing tabletop games like Scattergories, Sprawlopolis, Scrabble, Solitaire, and Betrayal at House on the Hill
Accept the Process
Along your digital detox journey, you’ll definitely slip up. You may find yourself writing an email with House Hunters playing in the background, or you may start texting during a game of Scrabble. The best thing to do when you realize you’re slipping up is to take note, and make a concerted effort not to do it.
2 thoughts on “4 Steps for a Successful Digital Detox”
I crochet, but I use my phone or iPad to keep my patterns. This past month I have stated printing my patterns and
I’m organizing them into a book that I can use forever and not have to worry about loosing them in digital space. A side benefit is it forces me to keep track of the instructions without having the crutch of being able to highlight my place.
Starting that pattern book is an awesome idea, Jo Lyn! We’d love to see your creations.