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Digital Detox - Fighting tech with tech

13 Jan 2017 11:00

How re-thinking our relationship with technology could be the best way to ‘digitally detox’

As we become ever more reliant on our tech, an increasingly common New Year’s resolution is the ‘digital detox’. While cutting the cord for a while might be beneficial, could we use technology more intentionally without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

A recent study of students in Switzerland found that 16.9% were addicted to their smartphones1, while a study in the US found that high rates of smartphone usage were associated with reduced sleep quality, depression and anxiety2. And, of course, we’ve all caught ourselves paying more attention to our phones than to our loved ones.

So, can we re-take control of our tech?

The right mindset

Mindfulness is the skill of being aware of what you’re experiencing instead of being lost in thought or consumed by emotion, and using that awareness to live a better life. And, just as the gym is where you build the muscles in your body, meditation is where you build your mindfulness muscle.

And the neuroscience agrees. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce size of the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with fear and stress; while increasing the size of the prefrontal cortex, which deals with awareness, concentration and decision-making3. But, your mindfulness muscle won’t do you any good unless you know how to use it.

10% Happier is a mindfulness app with a difference. Alongside the usual guided mediations, you get video courses from some of the world’s greatest meditation teachers on everything from the basics of mindfulness practice to how to actually apply mindfulness to daily life - including your tech. You even get access to a real human personal coach.

Pioneered by meditation app Headspace and taken to a deeper, richer place by 10% Happier, apps like this are - ironically - putting smartphones at the forefront of the mindfulness revolution.

Mindfulness app in use on mobile phone

Kicking our smartphone habit

Smartphones are great - until they become a bad habit. Researcher dscout found that the average person taps, swipes and clicks their phone a whopping 2,617 times a day for 2.42 hours across 76 separate phone sessions4. Fear of missing out and hits of dopamine drive us to incessantly check our phones and surf between apps.

A smartwatch can be a great tool for kicking this habit. Because they’re only designed for quick interactions, using a smartwatch for reviewing and acting on notifications forces you to focus on what you actually need to do - sending a quick reply, checking your appointments, choosing your music. Any more than that just isn’t an option, not least because your arm will start to ache.

And people who own smartwatches agree. In a survey by Field Agent, they said that a key factor in smartwatch satisfaction is that it makes them less dependent on a smartphone.


Get closer to your customers 

Humans are a social species. But, when it comes to shopping, it sometimes feels like we’re losing that social aspect - from the rise of ecommerce, to ever more elaborate in-store checkouts and even self-service options.

Not that these aren’t good things - they can free up time and energy for the important things in life. But with a survey by Verint finding that four out of five consumers see human interaction as a major part of customer service5, it’s important that we also use technology to help bring people together.

Barclaycard Anywhere is a great example. A small Chip and PIN device that connects to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, Barclaycard Anywhere gives you exactly what you need to take card payments - no more, no less. This stripped-back approach allows small and medium sized businesses to create more intimate, authentic interactions with their customers. And because it’s wireless, you’re not tied to a physical location - so you can even go to your customers, rather than them having to come to you.

Customer service during shopping

Magical Moonlite

The humble bedtime story is a tradition worth protecting. Studies indicate that they can help important cognitive developments in children, including language development, storytelling abilities and the understanding of others’ mental states6. But with one survey indicating that only one in three parents now read to their child every day7, it’s a tradition that could be on the decline.

With various devices and apps now available that promise to read your child a bedtime story, the problem now has myriad modern-day solutions. But there’s one thing missing - the parent. So is there a way of sprinkling a little 21st-century magic onto the bedtime story, without losing the precious opportunity for parent-and-child bonding?

Kickstarter sensation Moonlite could point the way. It’s a small attachment for the parent’s smartphone that uses the device’s flash to project story images onto their child’s ceiling. As the parent changes the images on the projector, the accompanying smartphone app moves to the next page of the story and plays appropriate sound effects to create an immersive storytelling experience. And because the parent controls the device and actually reads the story to the child, the magic of parent/child interaction is retained.

parent and child using the magical moonlite app

Outsourcing our self-control 

Many of us work on computers, can make focusing on the task at hand without being distracted by the temptations of the Internet extremely difficult. And, with studies showing that multitasking is a both myth and comes with a mental cost in terms of focus and energy that can kill productivity8, it’s no wonder that A Game of Thrones author George RR Martin writes exclusively on an ancient DOS computer running obsolete word processor Wordstar 4.0 just to avoid the lure of the Internet9.

Fortunately, technology can come to the rescue yet again, by allowing us to effectively out-source our self-control.

A great option is a free, open-source app called, aptly, SelfControl. First, you decide which sites are your biggest temptations, and add them to SelfControl’s ‘black list’. Then, whenever you’re working on something that requires your attention, you can set SelfControl to block your browser from accessing those sites for anything up to 24 hours. Simple (and brutal), but very effective.

For writing, there’s perhaps an even more brutal option - Flowstate. It’s extremely simple - just pick a time limit between five minutes and 180 minutes, and start typing. That’s it. Except, if you stop typing, your words will start to fade. Stop for more than five seconds, and you lose everything. The only way to save your work is to keep typing until the time’s up. No wonder Flowstate’s own testimonials affectionately describe it as everything from “Elegant” and “Relaxing”, to “Perverted” and “Diabolical”.

Re-taking control

Technology is advancing more quickly all the time; sometimes faster than we can adjust to its presence. That can lead to the feeling that it’s the gadgets that control us. But with a little thought and effort we can learn how to use our devices intentionally, so that they do what they’re supposed to do - enhance our day-to-day lives.

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26690625
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26132913
3. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/what-does-mindfulness-meditation-do-to-your-brain/
4. https://blog.dscout.com/mobile-touches
5. https://www.verint.com/news-events/press-releases-2016/new-global-study-from-verint-reveals-customer-service-and-channel-preferences-of-more-than-24000-consumers-across-12-countries
6. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-21/edition-5/no-fairytalethe-benefits-bedtime-story
7. http://www.rif.org/about-us/news/press-release/new-survey-only-one-in-three-parents-read-bedtime-stories/
8. https://qz.com/722661/neuroscientists-say-multitasking-literally-drains-the-energy-reserves-of-your-brain/
9. https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/may/14/when-is-it-time-to-give-up-on-a-book