Technology addiction is a by-product of the booming digital media revolution but you can teach yourself to switch off, as Laura Brodnik discovers
Sarah* views the world through a screen. The 29-year-old city lawyer admits she checks her phone more than 100 times a day and says her technology addiction has seeped into every part of her life. “I missed New Year’s Eve fireworks because I was on Facebook, my ex-boyfriend and I stopped talking because I was always online and, I’m ashamed to say, I even check my phone while driving,” she says.
“I’m seeing a counsellor because I spend most of my work day on my phone. For me technology is a way to cope with stress but it’s having a negative impact on my life.”
Sarah is not alone in her addiction. According to marketing company ExactTarget’s 2012 Digital Down Under Report, Queenslanders spend an average of 19.7 hours a day online and one out of every five minutes on social media.
Dr Andrew Campbell, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Sydney and expert in the field, partnered with online well-being initiative The Daily Switch last month to provide tips on how to switch off from technology. Campbell, too, is a self-confessed techno-freak and says his turning point came after his wedding in 2007 when his new wife put her foot down about his constant online habits.
“When I got married my wife said to me ‘that’s it. You need to switch it off’. Now we turn off our phones at night,” he says.
“I’ve found that people cannot stop checking their technology because they want to be connected. The biggest consequence is that they can never relax. Over time this leads to stress and anxiety problems and can trigger depression. The overuse of technology leads to bad relationships and this has a domino effect on the rest of your life. It can make you stop exercising, leaving the house or having regular meals.
“There are going to be days where you want to binge on technology. If you want to have a day online, then do it. But make sure you balance it out with other days of work, exercise and seeing friends.”
Digital detox steps
- Recognise the problem. If you fall asleep iPad in hand, your friends have stopped inviting you out because you’re glued to your phone or you’ve given up exercising because you can’t bear to be away from the computer, then it’s time to admit you need help.
- Start small. Turn off all your technology for a set time each day, even if it’s only 20 minutes.
- Separate work and social technology use. Checking your professional and personal email accounts simultaneously means more screen time and less time to relax. Set up a schedule to divide the two.
- Enlist the support of family and friends. Next time you’re out, make switching off a group activity. Try placing all phones in the middle of the table and the first person to touch theirs pays for dinner.
- Banish phone time on public transport. Don’t whip out your phone to pass the time on a bus, train or even in a taxi. Instead, look out the window and appreciate your surroundings.
- Save big news for face to face meetings. Don’t fire off a group message when you have a great story to tell. Make an effort to tell people in person. Their reaction will be better than any emoticon.
- Remove technology from the bedroom. You’ll get a better night’s sleep if you keep your phone and iPad in another room.
- Use your technology to remind you to switch off. Set an alarm on your phone that will remind you it’s time to turn off and take a break each day.
- Don’t turn to social media for help. When you have a problem, don’t resort to posting a Facebook status and spend hours sifting through replies. See somebody face-to-face.
- Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. There may be an underlying cause behind your excessive technology use. A counsellor or psychologist can help you with the problem.
- Set up a reward system. Restore balance to your life and only engage in recreational technology time when you’ve ticked all other boxes. If you’ve spent an hour outside then you can have half an hour of computer time.
- Get active. Sign up for activities which make it harder to check technology, such as outdoor exercise groups.
* Name has been changed for privacy