Technology has always been ubiquitous, touching every part of our lives. After all, your car is technology. Your appliances are technology. The wheel is technology. The ability to harness the power of technology is one of the main things that separates humans from animals. But in the last few decades, technology has seemed to get more ubiquitous, in the form of television, computers, and the internet. Now, we literally can carry all three of those things in our pockets or purses as a smartphone. It can easily become a bit much pretty quickly.
This is where “unplugging” comes in. Unplugging is a trend that many are trying where they shun online life, either entirely or occasionally. It’s by no means a new phenomenon, getting its own day in 2009, which was followed by its own critiques, too. The fact is that totally unplugging is really hard, especially in today’s highly connected world. If it’s so difficult and connectivity is so central to our society (and beneficial to seniors where social isolation is such a big risk), why would you want to unplug?
Why You Should Unplug
Despite the importance of being connected, there are a few benefits of getting away from the internet, at least for a little while. These are a mix of mental health and social well-being benefits that can be critical to your overall happiness and quality of life.
Good for Your Mental Health
Much of the removal of the stigma around discussing mental health is thanks to the internet, but the internet can also fuel those mental health issues. In fact, studies have found that attachment to technology brought on a number of mental health risks. Studies have also found a correlation between anxiety and stress and a greater usage of devices, like smartphones and TVs. When you also consider a fairly well-established link between social media and depression, the mental health benefits of taking some time offline become clearer.
When you also consider a fairly well-established link between social media and depression, the mental health benefits of taking some time offline become clearer.
This benefit is more straightforward, but no less true. If you’re using the internet or your phone as a way to unwind a little bit or connect with others, that’s great. But sometimes, it can become easy to procrastinate or waste hours (though to quote John Lennon “time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted time”). If you unplug occasionally, you can use that time to do chores around the house or pick up a new hobby. While you don’t (and shouldn’t) have to be constantly productive, it can be nice to find a little extra time in a busy schedule by occasionally cutting back on tech use.
Getting good sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your body, and your tech use can get in the way of that. Specifically, the screens can directly affect your ability to fall asleep. Most screens emit blue light, which our brains connect with daylight. This upsets our circadian rhythms, suppressing melatonin and other sleepy-time hormones. There also runs the risk of distraction and interruptions that phones can produce, like reading a news story or social media post before bed and then not being able to sleep because you’re thinking about it. While you can mitigate some of these problems by turning on a blue light filter or putting your phone on Do Not Disturb mode, you can’t completely remove the risk of worsened sleep.
Reconnecting With Life
While our ideas of community have shifted to reflect the realities of online life, there’s evidence that disconnecting from technology can help your non-digital life become richer and fuller. Several studies in different settings found that just the presence a cell phone can negatively impact the quality, depth, empathetic connection of a conversation. Disconnecting from the digital world can also help you appreciate the real one because you’re more focused on the world around you, not the one emitting from your phone. This is backed up by a study that tasked a group of its participants to travel while digitally disconnected. Those who did reported a greater appreciation for their trip, their destination, and the relationships they developed.
Disconnecting from the digital world can also help you appreciate the real one because you’re more focused on the world around you.
Ways You Can “Unplug”
Knowing the benefits of unplugging is all well and good, but how can you go about it in a way that doesn’t completely turn you into a digital hermit or isolate you from modern society? Let’s look at a few strategies that may work for you.
This first method is suitable if you don’t really have a problem with occasional tech use, but you want to use less of it. The simple trick is to find the tech and internet venues that make you the happiest and cut the rest out of your life. If you enjoy reading the news online, but find that you don’t really like social media, get rid of your Facebook account. If you love reading our articles, but don’t need Netflix, cancel your subscription. You may love your email account as a way to stay connected with people, but don’t really use your computer for anything else. That’s totally fine, too. Finding a hierarchy of what’s important to you can help you to unplug from certain things without needing to completely disconnect.
The simple trick is to find the tech and internet venues that make you the happiest and cut the rest out of your life.
You can also go the route of having unrestricted access to the internet for certain amounts of time and no access at others. This can help you to prioritize how you use the tech and give you time each day to be unplugged. There are a few ways to go about this. You could set certain hours of the day where you allow yourself to use technology and have another set where you don’t. This could mean TV time, where you only tune in during set hours, or internet time, or both. Most phones also come with built-in screen time monitors that tell you when you’ve used the phone for so long and can even lock the phone for you.
The final method is more about physically limiting your availability of technology and would be useful in two instances. The first is if you’re particularly connected to your phone, where you don’t trust yourself to not use it if it’s near you. The second is if you want to limit your tech use to specific areas. For example, let’s say you want to improve the quality of your sleep. Make your bedroom an unplugged zone by not allowing phones or other screens. If you want to focus on reconnecting with family, make the living room or dining room a no screen zone, where you can all talk and connect without interruptions.
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Technology is everywhere these days, and it’s really hard to avoid it. Digital literacy is an essential skill in the modern world, but that doesn’t mean it has to dominate our lives. That’s why unplugging on occasion can be so healthy. It’s reclaiming that dominance in our own lives, controlling how much access we give to the digital world. With it, we can access the health benefits that can improve our health and well-being.