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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Switching off

Baby steps to a digital detox…

My moment of epiphany came when scrolling through Twitter, I came upon an article on internet addiction, described it as the most widespread malaise of our times. As I scrolled through the piece on my phone (where else?) I realized that I was exhibiting all the classic signs of internet addiction.

What was the first thing I did on getting up in the morning?

I checked my phone to see if any mails or calls had come through while I was asleep.

Did I check my social media feeds even before I brushed my teeth?

Oh yes, indeed. Most mornings, I dropped into Twitter before I visited the bathroom.

Did I turn off my phone at night?

Are you kidding? I don’t think I have turned off my phone for a good year at least. It stays on 24/7, and remains in my vicinity day and night (it has its own little sweet spot on my nightstand, within easy reach, when I go to bed). 

As I read on, getting increasingly concerned, I decided then and there that it was time to conduct a digital detox of sorts. I needed to wean myself off my addiction to the Internet before I got my brain rewired completely (and developed attention deficit disorder in the bargain).

So, over the last week or so, I have been taking baby steps on my way to a digital detox. And here’s what you need to do, for starters, if you would like to join me.

Turn off notifications: This has made an enormous difference to how I use my phone. Earlier, the ‘pings’ that would announce the arrival of an e-mail or message, an Instagram like or a Twitter mention would distract me countless times during the day. And no matter how hard I tried to resist this siren call when I was working, it was hard not to click on to the phone to see just what was happening in the virtual world. After all, I told myself, it could be something important. (Spoiler alert: it hardly ever was.) But once I turned off the notifications and let the sound of silence fill its space, I found that I could concentrate much better on my actual work, without breaking off to check my social media feeds.

Turn wifi off on my laptop: Once the Internet is not accessible on your computer, the incentive to take a ‘break’ to surf through news or gossip websites, or even play a game of online Scrabble or Sudoku drops considerably. Speaking for myself, I had a tendency to conduct ‘research’ alongside writing my next book. But before you could say ‘Google’ I had fallen down the rabbit hole of the Net, navigating from one site to another to pursue topics that had no real relevance to what I was working on. Well, that’s all in the past now. Now, I’m all work on the laptop and all play when I’m on my tablet. And that’s working out pretty well for me. Try it.

Keep your phone out of the bedroom: This is essential if you want to wind down and get a good night’s sleep. The blue light emitted by your phone screen inhibits melatonin production and, thus, prevents you from falling asleep. So, if you insist on scrolling through Facebook or Twitter in bed, well then, you are going to stay awake a while longer. The only way you can get your quota of eight hours sleep is if you stop looking at your phone at least a couple of hours before you retire to bed. And if you have your phone within easy reach, the temptation to take just a little looksee will be hard to resist. Much better to leave it in the living room before you head for the bedroom. If you need to read something before you nod off, reach for a book instead.

Assign time limits to your social media usage: The best way to do this is to get your social media apps off your phone. If you can’t access your feeds on your phone at a moment’s notice you will, perforce, check into Instagram and Facebook less often. But if that seems like a step too far, well then, you will just have to exert some discipline. Ease yourself out of your habit gently. Allow yourself to check in at hourly intervals at first. Then take a couple of hours in between logging in. And then, when you have weaned yourself off that constant dopamine fix that instant approbation gives, just click on every morning and evening – just enough to keep in touch, and just enough to avoid being sucked in again.

Carve out a period during the day when you set your phone aside so that you can just be in the moment. Leave it at home when you go for a walk. Switch it off as you have lunch with your mother. Don’t take it into the kitchen when you are cooking dinner. Place it facedown when you have breakfast with the children. Prioritize your real life over the virtual one. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

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