5 ways to kick your 24/7 tech addiction in 2014
You're a busy executive maneuvering down a crowded Shanghai street while manipulating an iPhone in your right hand and Blackberry in your left—the gunslinger of the Old West re-armed for the age of global 24/7 technology access. Could you lose one of those smartphones for a whole day and still find meaning in the universe?
Most people don't have a tech addiction and might not even admit to having the profile of an "addict," except in the most snarky BuzzFeed-approved terms. But most people, executives included, have some of the symptoms.
In a recent University of Maryland study, college students from around the globe were asked to unplug for 24 hours. Most struggled with the task. One student even likened the experience to being a crackhead going through withdrawal. Researchers at the University of Washington have even coined the term "pushback" to describe how some tech addicts are making a concerted effort to "unplug," go on a "digital detox" or take a "technology sabbatical"—even if it's just for a few hours a day.
"We have reached a tipping point in our culture about what relationship we want to have with digital technology and how much we want it to run and rule our lives," said Dr. David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. "There's been more backlash against the overuse and abuse of the technology."
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New Year's resolution: Should you go dark?
Over the summer, Timothy Maurer, vice president and CFP with the Financial Consulate, decided to go off the grid—or at least detach from Facebook. His wife joined along with him for solidarity.
The couple wanted to take a "less is more" approach to their lives, said Maurer, who blogged about his experience. They didn't stop connecting via social media altogether—Maurer still uses Twitter, for instance—but they wanted one less reason to check their smartphones and be distracted from their family and work. Like Maurer, 61 percent of Facebook users reported taking a break from the social networking site, according to a survey last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
"There is not one day that I have woken up and thought, I wish I had Facebook today," said Maurer several months after deleting his account.
Launched in 2010, the National Day of Unplugging in early March has drawn more and more attention each year, sparking 6,749 tweets—somewhat ironically—that were broadcast to 19 million people during the final two weeks of last year's event. Almost a third of the spaces have already been filled for next summer's Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults where they're required to turn in their smartphones when they arrive.
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"This is a time of year to renew your health, and part of your health is finding a good digital diet," said Dr. Kimberly Young, founder of the Center for Internet Addiction. "It's about using technology in a healthy and positive way that adds to your life and doesn't take away from it."
Easier said than done, right? How can you stop reaching for your smartphones more than 150 times a day?
With New Year's around the corner, here are five steps to setting boundaries with your devices.
The road to recovery beckons.
1. Tell time the old-fashioned way.
Get an alarm clock and a watch. Waking up with your smartphone means you're connecting to the digital world first thing in the morning instead of the people around you or even just yourself, said Levi Felix, founder of Camp Grounded. Likewise, checking your phone for the time means that you will be tempted to check Facebook, too. "If you wake up with a cell phone as your alarm clock, you're probably a good candidate to be a camper—and that's almost everyone," he said.
2. Stop using your smartphone in the bathroom.
Or in line at Starbucks. Or on the street corner waiting for the light to turn green. In other words, it's okay to be bored occasionally. If anything, it could spark your creative juices. "People have no tolerance for boredom," Greenfield said. "They can't tolerate not doing something, because they have the world in their pockets. It's very intoxicating."
3. Schedule a tech break.
Make a regular appointment to put down the smartphone or turn off the computer. Most likely, you will have to do it more than a dozen times in a row for it to become a new habit. "You have to pick how and when and where and why you use it," Greenfield said. "You become the master of the technology instead of the technology mastering you."
4. Disable notifications on your smartphone.
That gives you at least one less reason to check your phone. "The smartphone is like a portable slot machine," Greenfield said. "The buzz and beeps let you know there's something there. We've all become conditioned by our smartphone unwittingly."
5. Carry a journal.
The new digital lifestyle has become "I share; therefore, I am," Felix said. But you don't always have to snap a picture or check in to a spot to remember the experience. Participants at Camp Grounded are given a journal to help them record their camp life, especially when they're tempted to take a photograph and share it across social media. It makes for a fuller experience, Felix said.
He should know: The former executive at a tech start-up was inspired to start Camp Grounded after his always-on "Silicon Valley fantasy lifestyle"—he lived with his cell phone under his pillow—contributed to an emergency trip to the hospital. Felix was on his way to SXSW, but a tear in his esophagus landed him in the ER instead. His doctor told him to lay off spicy takeout and coffee, and to take it easy.
"It's reclaiming personal space and having permission to be unavailable for everyone and be available for the people you're with and for yourself," Felix said. "That transforms your life."
And the first step—before these five—is admitting you have a problem.
—By Ellen Lee, Special to CNBC.com