Picture this: You’re in bed at a reasonable hour, ready to get a jump on the following day. You begin to drift off when BAM. Your phone buzzes and lights up the entire room with a Facebook notification. Somehow, it’s now three in the morning and you’ve spent most of the night online: reading the synopses of movies you’ll probably never watch, stalking your cousin’s friend’s dog. Whatever your vice, it seems that technology enables it with ease.
Even in everyday life, it’s hard to digitally disconnect from the convenience of smart phones and tablets. According to a recent study conducted by nonprofit A-GAP, an organization that encourages people to live life unplugged, 73 percent of the respondents kept their cellphone or tablet either in, or directly next to their bed each night. Even 23 percent of those interviewed didn’t use the restroom without bringing their phone in tow. While none of these actions themselves are necessarily dangerous, they might point to a larger issue: a serious digital dependence. We spoke to Marygrace Sexton, the founder and CEO of A-GAP to see just what we can do to break the cycle.
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NB: Why is technology dependence considered a problem?
MS: The average American consumes over 10 hours of media a day. With this much information overload occupying our mind, we don’t have time for deep thinking or space to listen intently to those we love. And the cost is both mental and physical. While it’s not a medical term, physical therapists are seeing a lot of what they’re calling “Tech Neck,” pain and neck wrinkles associated with leaning over to check phone screens all day. Think about it: Are you ever really fully present to the people around you if you are constantly monitoring a phone or smart watch?
NB: Are there any major warning signs that point to a cellphone addiction?
MS: The biggest indicator that something’s wrong is when relationships with others around you begin to suffer or become non-existent. Are you ignoring the needs of your spouse, significant other, children, friends or even co-workers? You’re making connections with others on an electronic level rather than on a personal, face-to-face one.
Another sign? When recruiting for A-GAP Experiences [private retreats aimed at squashing screen addictions] we tell people they will have to turn in their phones and be without them for the whole weekend. Many people claim they can’t do a whole weekend without their phone. That’s a sure sign right there.
NB: What are the easiest ways to unplug right this second?
MS: Put the phone down and take a walk. I can’t think of a healthier first move. You’ll be amazed how revitalized that will make you feel. If you have a landline, forward your cell phone to it when you get home, then put the cellphone away. This way, you can still get important calls, without having to attend to texts, social media, etc. that will distract you all evening if you let them.
Commit to checking your phone only once an hour, rather than responding to each email or text as it comes in. Leave your phone in the car when going out with people, do not look at a phone when having a conversation with someone in person and try to leave your phone alone when you come home to rest.
NB: Are there any minor moves we can take every single day to help reinforce our non-dependence on cell phones?
MS: Put the phone in your pocketbook not your pocket. Gentlemen can put phones in their briefcases, backpacks or gym bags. Always charge your phone outside of the room you’re in and place it on Do Not Disturb throughout the night. That will lead to better quality sleep that is better for overall health and physical appearance. Not touching your phone while driving is safer for you, as well as others on the road or in your vehicle. Turn off your notifications. People are 3x more likely to check apps with notifications on.
NB: What is the ideal balanced relationship with technology? Should I be checking my phone 1,000x a day? 100x? 10x?
MS: I believe if you start with three times a day you will realize how insignificant your cell phone is. Even professionals should set limits as to how often they check emails. Constantly looking for emails destroys creativity and productivity. If that sounds too drastic for you, try decreasing usage by 10 percent the first day, 30 percent the next, then 50 percent after that. The whole idea is to develop a healthier relationship with technology in the best way you can.