When is enough enough?
Even after the presidential election is over, we still flip through grim news of the coronavirus surge. The rest of your daily routine is likely to be something like mine while you're stuck in the pandemic at home: split up between streaming movies on Netflix, watching home improvement videos on YouTube, and playing video games. All of these activities involve staring at a screen.
Life has to be more than that. With the holiday season approaching, now is a good time to take a breather and think about a digital detox.
No, that doesn't mean you have to leave the cold internet turkey. Nobody would expect that from us now. Imagine going on a diet and replacing bad habits with healthier ones to give our tired eyes the much-needed technical downtime.
"There are a lot of great things to do online, but moderation is often the best rule of life, and it's no different when it comes to screens," said Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of "iGen, A Book About Younger Generations Growing Up in the Smartphone Era.
Too much screen time can affect our mental health and take away from sleep and more productive tasks, experts said. For one thing, I'm experiencing it. Before the pandemic, my average daily screen time on my phone was three and a half hours. That has almost doubled in the past eight months.
So I turned to psychology experts for advice. From setting boundaries to finding alternatives to sticking it on our phones, here's what we can do.
Come up with a plan
Not all screen time is bad – after all, many students visit school through video conferencing apps. So, Step 1 assesses which parts of the screen time feel toxic and make you unhappy. That could be reading the news or scrolling through Twitter and Facebook. Step two creates a realistic plan to minimize the consumption of the bad stuff.
You can set modest goals such as: For example, a time limit of 20 minutes per day for reading messages on weekends. If that feels doable, cut the time limit and make it a daily goal. Repetition will help you develop new habits.
It's easier said than done. Adam Gazzaley, neuroscientist and co-author of The Distracted Mind: Old Brains in a High-Tech World, recommended creating calendar events for just about anything, including surfing the web and taking breaks. This helps to create structure.
For example, you can block 8 a.m. to read the messages for 10 minutes and from 1 p.m. for 20 minutes. for riding the exercise bike. If you are tempted to pick up your phone during your workout break, you know that any screen time hurts the time you have devoted to exercising.
Most importantly, treat Screen Time like it's a piece of candy that you indulge in occasionally. Don't think of it as a break as it can be the opposite of relaxation.
"Not all breaks are created equal," said Dr. Gazzaley. "When you take a break and get on social media or on the news broadcast, it can be difficult to get out of this rabbit hole."
Create no-phone zones
We need to charge our phones overnight, but that doesn't mean the devices have to be next to us when we sleep. Many studies have shown that people who keep phones in their bedrooms, according to Dr. Twenge sleep worse.
Smartphones are harmful to our sleep in many ways. The blue light from screens can trick our brains into believing it is daytime, and some content we consume – especially news – can be psychologically stimulating and keep us awake. So it is best not to look at phones within an hour of bedtime. Additionally, the proximity of the phone could make you wake up in the middle of the night and check it out.
"My # 1 advice is that there are no phones in the bedroom overnight – this is for adults and teenagers," said Dr. Twenge. "Have a charging station outside of the bedroom."
We can create other no-phone zones outside of our bedrooms. For example, the dining table is a great opportunity for families to agree to put phones down for at least 30 minutes and then reconnect.
Resist the hook
Tech products have developed many mechanisms to get us caught on our screens. For example, Facebook and Twitter have designed their schedules so that you can scroll through updates endlessly, maximizing the time you spend on their websites.
Adam Alter, professor of marketing at New York University's Stern School of Business and author of the book Irresistible: The Rise of Addiction Technology and the Business of Getting Us hooked, said tech companies were using behavioral psychology techniques that made us addictive Products.
He highlighted two important hooks:
Artificial targets. Similar to video games, social media websites create goals to keep users motivated. This includes the number of likes and followers that we collect on Facebook or Twitter. The problem? The goals are never achieved.
Friction-free media. YouTube will automatically play the next recommended video, not to mention endless scrolling on Facebook and Twitter. "Before there was a natural ending to every experience," he said, as if reading the last page of a book. "One of the biggest things tech companies have done was remove stop warnings."
What should I do? For starters, we can resist the hook by making our phones less intrusive. Turn off notifications for all apps except those that are important to work and interact with the people you care about. If you feel strongly addicted, take an extreme measure and put your phone in grayscale mode, said Dr. Age.
There is also an easier exercise. We can remember that outside of work, a lot of what we do online doesn't matter and it's time that can be better spent elsewhere.
"The difference between 10 likes and 20 likes is just meaningless," said Dr. Age.