In our day-to-day lives it’s hard not to feel like we’re always plugged in. Think about it. If you’re like most of us, you wake up in the morning to an alarm on your smartphone, and then you browse your social media feeds or catch up on work emails during breakfast.
Next, it’s off to work, where you spend more time in front of a screen. When it’s quitting time you check your phone to get a traffic update, and then when you’re home, relaxing in front of the TV, you’re simultaneously following up on more work emails.
So if you think you’re spending too much time in front of the screens in your world, you are pretty much just like the rest of us.
2018 research, from the Nielsen Company’s First Quarter Total Audience Report, found that the average American adult spends nearly half their day – an average of 11 hours and six minutes – in front of digital devices.1 That’s a lot of time spent with technology – especially when you consider it’s far more than half our waking hours!
While most of us agree that technology does make life easier and more convenient, we could also benefit from spending a little less time in front of our screens. Why?
Well, one good reason is that Internet dependency is on the rise as we grow more and more accustomed to always “being on” and available with our smart devices. But there are other benefits associated with taking a technology detox.
That’s why I decided to take a long weekend break from technology and share some of the things I learned.
My weekend away from technology
At first, the idea of disconnecting from my digital world seemed daunting. Between all the incoming texts, emails, social media notifications – and even regular old-fashioned telephone calls – I felt like I needed my smartphone just to function
But the more I thought about it, taking a weekend away from technology and not feeling pressured to respond to e-messages sounded great.
To avoid any and all temptation, I booked a campsite for the weekend, packed my tent and some essentials, and embraced my weekend off the grid. Here are the things I noticed after only three days without technology.
This was my favorite benefit by far. My weekend away from technology left me feeling less stressed and strung out. While I typically view technology as a blessing, it does have its drawbacks, such as the concept of always “being on.” It’s societal pressure that makes us think we always have to take every call, respond to every text, or follow up on every email – immediately.
This concept of always “being on” makes it impossible for us to take time for ourselves.
Sure, it was hard to adjust to at first, and the idea of spending an entire weekend away from my smartphone and laptop left me way anxious. Initially, I kept worrying that I would miss an important message or call.
But by Sunday, I didn’t miss technology at all. It was so nice to disconnect and de-stress for even just three days, and it’s something I want to make a future habit of.
Going to bed without your smartphone next to your head does wonders for your sleep. I was no longer being awakened by late-night texts or emails. But that’s not all.
The light exposure from smartphones and other digital devices emit blue light – a high energy form of light that disrupts our circadian rhythms and makes it harder for us to fall asleep.
Your eyes will thank you
A weekend without technology also meant less strain on my eyes. As someone who wears contacts and uses a computer for eight or nine hours a day, my eyes get worn out with what’s known as digital eye strain.
Digital eye strain is increasingly common and includes the symptoms of sore or dry eyes, headaches, light sensitivity, blurred vision, and poor sleep. Those three days away from technology definitely helped my eyes get some much-needed rest.
Benefits from a longer break
My digital detox lasted only three short days. To get a better idea of the benefits from a longer time away from technology, I spoke with my friend and Thorne co-worker, Dr. Jacqueline Jacques, about her experience going eight days without technology – all by accident!
“Two years ago, my boyfriend and I took a vacation to Havana, Cuba. Friends had forewarned us that the Internet in Cuba was very unreliable and cell phone service might be poor,” she said. “That description was generous. We pretty much gave up after the first day and ended up going the whole week with no Internet, cell phone, TV…nothing. My boyfriend is in the tech industry and he literally panicked the first day. But you end up accepting it when there are zero options. Plus – we were in Cuba, which was such an amazing place that we stopped thinking about it rather quickly.”
On average, Dr. Jacques said she uses some sort of technology about 6-7 hours a day during the work week, so it was a very pleasant change of pace to unplug from the world – although it did take some time to get used to it.
“The first day was really hard. I couldn’t effectively communicate with my kids. We could get an occasional text message out – to let everyone know we were fine and they probably wouldn’t be hearing from us! But once we got over being upset and frustrated by our attempts to connect, it was fine. You really notice how much you rely on having that connection, and there is some of it I missed – like talking to my kids."
"But you also quickly acknowledge how much of the rest of the world you don’t fully absorb due to being distracted by technology. There is also something uniquely nice about not knowing what is going on in the world every moment in real time. I realized that a constant news feed is actually more stressful for me than it is beneficial. That was a great insight. By the end of the trip, I actually felt a bit sad having to “plug back in” to the demands of everyday life. And by the end of the week we both realized that it made our entire vacation experience much more enjoyable – and frankly much more of a vacation – to be completely off the grid and out of touch.”
The benefits of being off the grid were enough to inspire Dr. Jacques to try a technology detox during future trips.
“I think being forced to be completely disconnected from the digital world enhanced every aspect of our vacation. If you ask my boyfriend – and we both travel extensively – he will tell you that Cuba was the best trip he has taken in his life."
"Some of that was definitely the place and the people, but I think being unplugged made every part of the trip more enjoyable. You get more immersed in your experience without being distracted by the rest of the world. You see more, you sleep better, and you have better conversations with the people you meet. I can’t say it was definitely connected to being disconnected, but my memories of that trip are sharper than those of most trips I have taken in the past 10 years.”
Other benefits from breaking away from technology
Beyond better sleep and less daily stress, some studies suggest regular breaks from technology offer other health benefits. One study found that just the mere close presence of a smart device can lower cognitive capacity.2
The distraction of having a smartphone nearby requires mental effort to actively ignore it, thereby inhibiting mental acuity. Taking a break from technology allows us to remain focused on important tasks at hand and can improve our productivity.
It can also deepen connections and the quality of relationships with others. Another study found that smartphones inhibit the development of closeness and trust and reduce the extent individuals feel empathy from their partners.3
If you do believe the above, then you can see that everyone will benefit from taking a technology break once in a while. When asked if she has any advice for first-timers considering a technology detox, Dr. Jacques said, “Take the leap and just do it. It’s easier than you think and has awesome benefits. If you can’t imagine taking a complete break, then consider setting up some “digital-free” hours in your day – like during meals or after dinner."
"Shut cell phones completely off at night. Here’s a good tip – don’t have a TV in your bedroom. If people were going to do one thing that would be great for their health, then it would definitely be no TV or smartphones where you sleep. We’d likely solve a lot of insomnia that way!”
- Source: Q1 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report. https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2018/time-flies-us-adults-now-spend-nearly-half-a-day-interacting-with-media.print.html [accessed 5/22/19]
- Ward A, Duke K, Gneezy A, Bos M. Brain drain: the mere presence of one’s own smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity. J Assoc Consum Res 2017;2(2):140-154.
- Przybylski A, Weinstein N. Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality. J Soc Pers Relat 2013;30(3):237-246.