control yourself: how to avoid needing a digital detox

I am a social media junkie and I love blogging, but I am also a bit of a hippie and I realize the power of shutting down and shutting off. A vacation where there ends up being no wi-fi, a day where you accidentally leave your cell phone uncharged and have 4% to make it through the day, and coffee shops without wi-fi are, in my opinion, gifts more so than ways to ruin a perfectly good, screen-filled day. I have noticed that there seems to be a lot of talk about the way our devices are hurting us. People, myself included, talk about how it can be stressful to be “always on” and how there are now very few jobs where you can simply work from 9 to 5 and leave things at an office. But I don’t think this is such a bad thing.

no interwebs

What I see happening is a lot of people blaming technology for issues of their own control. As I see it, I can turn off my cell phone and shut down my computer. Sure, employers might require us to perform certain duties with our cell phones, but for most of us we can set boundaries for ourselves and spend a lot less time than we do on our devices without failing to do what’s required of us.

internet water joke

Digital detoxes are all the rage, but I felt particularly grateful for technology today when I was able to coach someone who is all the way on the other side of the world. According to google maps, it would take me 23 hours and 25 minutes to fly to her, but thanks to Skype, we could bridge the 13 hour time gap and get down to coaching business. That’s pretty cool, right? Yesterday, I got to message back and forth with my best friend in the whole wide world who is currently on the other side of that world as well—Saudi Arabia is a little far for me to show up for girl talk in person. When I got snowed in yesterday, I could still work on my thesis because I have digital copies of most of my references. Today I got sucked into some chores around the house and was feeling unproductive when I realized that I was being very productive—I listened to a great podcast and ended up in a much better mood as a result. Technology is doing me well!

But there is the constant temptation of going on facebook while I should be writing, or the way that sometimes I can let in-person friendships slide because I’m spending extra time on the interwebs. And there’s Cupcake Mania. I see kidlets playing with iPads all the time and I wonder what they’re going to be like if they never play with other kids. So I do see the side where technology is a time suck and ruining our lives.

But I believe that we are in charge of our lives and we don’t have to be slaves to anything—let alone to something that can be such a positive force! So before you swear off technology and start acting like a wi-fi signal will give you cancer, I have a few tips for how to handle technology in a way that maximizes its benefits and keeps it from running your life.

  1. Simplify your stuff. Don’t download podcasts that you don’t want to listen to. Turn off the subscriptions to endless newsletters and coupons. Delete the people who rub you the wrong way on your social media. You are the gatekeeper of what makes its way onto your phone, your inbox, and into your life—make a point of filling your technology with the things that you actually use and that make your life better.
  2. Use airplane mode. Or anything that limits the temptation for you but keeps you as reachable as you need to be. I can turn my phone on airplane mode and be fairly certain the world will not fall down—I don’t have a child, a dog, or a chinchilla depending on me so most things can wait an hour while I do productive things. There are settings that block disturbances and ones that only let certain people reach you. Use them! The simple requirement of turning off the airplane mode—and demonstrating that you have 0 self control—should be enough to keep you off of Boom Beach for long enough to do something worthwhile.
  3. Share what’s worth sharing. Some people criticize the way that others use facebook and other social media to highlight the good things and hide the not so good things. I think social media can be a great place to discuss the issues that are important to us, but I feel better when I use it for the most part to stay positive. When I think about what I want to put out into the world, two things come to mind: authenticity and positivity. I want to be an encourager, so I try my best to stay out of pointless debates on twitter and to share things that lift me up in the hopes of being a little bright spot on someone’s newsfeed.
  4. Beware of the nerd safari. Do you ever find yourself reading link after link or watching video after video and simply getting lost in things you don’t remember even being interested in? This is perhaps a good way to expose yourself to new things, but with all the information in the world available online and with all the pointless things that seem to be floating around, choose what you consume wisely. I try to check in with myself and see if what I’m reading or listening to would be worth paying for (here’s hoping you stick around for the rest of my post!).
  5. Keep your guilty pleasures as pleasures. We can get into a trap of overdoing just about anything and I think technology falls into the same category as food or alcohol or TV-watching or just about anything that is okay in moderation but that can ruin us if we overdo it. I love Cupcake Mania, and I appreciate the built-in self control that comes with only getting 5 lives in it at a time. If I played it all the time, I would be losing too much time to it for it to be a pleasure. Giving myself a break to play a pointless game once a day or so is sort of like letting yourself have dessert—it’s a treat that way. But just like eating cake for breakfast lunch and dinner would sort of make it lose its luster, so would matching up coloured cupcakes if I did it all the time.

Think of controlling your technology use as a great opportunity to develop and hone your self-control. Think of the sense of control you’ll have over your life if you are the one who runs the technology instead of letting it run you. I can guarantee that a digital detox—is a short-term solution. Technology is a fact of life and we are far better off to get to work building long-term habits that help us make it a positive part of our day-to-day existence. Good luck!

Self control? This guy's got lots of it!

Self control? This guy’s got lots of it!

Do you feel bogged down by technology?
How do you manage your tech?
Have you ever done a digital detox?




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