Ten years ago, the words ‘digital detox’ barely figured in the English language. ‘Boundaries’ were walls to be broken, not put in place to promote good mental health. And now? How times have changed. Today we know that in a world of distraction, few things are as all-consuming as the shiny device we hold in our hands.
Yet the internet has transformed our lives for the better, creating an ease of connection unimagined in years gone by. At its best, it’s brought people and cultures together, built understanding, reduced stigma and helped those who feel lonely find a sense of belonging. It’s made activities and services more widely accessible, regardless of location, physical ability or age. In the current pandemic, it’s come into its own.
So why, when it comes to wellbeing, are digital boundaries even a thing? In a word: balance.
It’s not news that, in our ‘always on’ culture, many of us spend too much time online – even more so in lockdown. But there’s a growing awareness – backed by lived experience and informed research – that ‘too much’ is affecting our quality of life: our attention spans, our relationships, our simple ability to get things done. Away from work, mindful of our own preferences and responsibilities, the choice lies (literally) in our own hands. Ultimately, we choose for ourselves how we use that energy and time.
So digital boundaries: where to start? Online (where else?), there’s no shortage of advice on the art of the successful digital detox. But for informed, respected insight on the most effective things you can do, the Center for Humane Technology (CHT) is hard to beat.
Founded by former Google insider Tristan Harris – described as ‘the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience’ – the CHT is an independent, non-profit organisation working to ‘realign technology with humanity’. Harris has briefed world leaders and tech company CEOs on his way of thinking. His two TED talks have been watched more than 4 million times.
The CHT’s practical tips show the changes we can make to our devices to break their attraction. These include: turning off all notifications, except from people; going ‘grayscale’ (no colourful icons for those apps); and deleting social media from our smartphone completely, accessing it only via our laptop or PC instead.
If the last seems a stretch at the start of a new way of being, take comfort from this: that it can be useful to consider what you could gain, rather than lose, from that single action. What could less time on screen give you more time to enjoy? How might you feel once you’ve set yourself free?
Now, there’s a thought worth a moment’s reflection – just as it’s time to close down, sign out and log off.