I did a little experiment recently… and thought I would share with you what I’ve learnt.
As part of my #30DaysWild Challenge (a campaign by the Wildlife Trusts which I do every year) I decided I would ditch the phone and laptop for a whole 24 hours and see if I could be gadget free for a day. It’s interesting how as soon as I said to myself “I’m not going to use my phone today” I became fueled with an incredible urge to pick it up and check every app… for absolutely no reason whatsoever!!
So why do this? Does it actually matter if we’re glued to our phone’s 24-7? And why is this relevant to the environment?
UK adults spend an average of 8 hours 41 minutes a day on screens (more time than they sleep), two hours of that on social media alone and 25 hours a week generally online. The fear of being without your phone has been given a name – nomophobia – and there’s undoubtedly a growing dependency on our devices as we check our smartphone’s every 12 minutes! 60% of UK adults feel they spend too much time on their phones and personally I would agree, even though my own screen-time statistics are somewhat lower than average.
There is much evidence to link increased internet and/or social media use to anxiety and depression, and I think the simple fact that ‘switching off my phone for a day’ feels like a challenge, indicates that this is a problem… it’s becoming an addiction!
Like many others, I often ‘check my phone’ within minutes of waking up… so on the day of my challenge the first thing I noticed was the internal resistance as my mind started racing through, almost with panic, all the things I COULDN’T DO without my phone! No reading emails or articles… no meditation and yoga videos via YouTube… no kindle or audible (even though I rarely use those, not being able to was suddenly a problem!)… no access to online study…. NO GOOGLE!!!!! (Or rather Ecosia – I now plant trees whilst looking up those facts that I need to know immediately but will probably soon forget!)
After I’d had a little word with myself I soon realised that none of this was essential – even work could wait for just one day. So instead I started making a list of all the things I COULD do without my phone… and do you know what, the list went on… and on… and on… I could have kept myself entertained for a week! It’s pure habit that has made me come to rely so much on digital media… and a ‘fear of missing out’ on something important – when actually the important stuff is all around me.
I confess, I did use my phone to check the time, take some photographs and message a couple of friends but my total usage was no more than 30 minutes – compared to my average of about four hours a day. When I noticed the urge to ‘pick up’ I went for a notebook instead and wrote about how I was feeling. This only happened a few times but it was always when there was a “gap” or pause between tasks… I felt the need to somehow fill that gap with something rather than just letting it be.
We had a fairly busy day planned, so I guess that did make it a little easier as I noticed keeping occupied meant I was less likely to reach for my phone… I also read some magazines, that are usually left unopened for months, and played my guitar.
Exercise, meeting friends or getting out in nature are all great ways to avoid the temptation of technology. When we’re not distracted by our devices we are more mindful of what’s going on around us – our conversations are more meaningful and we notice much more. I found a website called itstimetologoff.com (credited for the statistics above) who recommend a 5:2 digital diet – with a 2-day detox at the weekend. If, like me, you feel your digital consumption is getting out of hand then this might be worth a try.
Other Ideas You Might Want to Consider:
- A Specific Detox: If a particular app, game or tool is taking up too much of your time, focus on restricting your use of that item
- Social Media Detox: Focus on restricting, or eliminating, your social media use for a specific period of time
- Set Limits: If you’re unable to disconnect completely setting limits on when to allow or limit digital use can be good for your mental well-being. For example, no phones over dinner or switching off an hour before bed.
- Remove Distractions: Turning off push notifications is another great way to disconnect gradually. Set aside a specific time each day to check your messages and mentions instead of being continually ‘on call’.
There is without doubt heaps of evidence suggesting that humans are generally happier and less stressed when we keep our screen use in check… but what about the impact on the environment? I decided to do a little research… and what I found has definitely made me review my own habits!
I’m no scientist so I won’t bombard you with data – it’s out there if you care to look – but essentially all our phones, laptops, tablets, video streaming, game playing and photo sharing (to name just a few) is gobbling up energy at an alarming rate. One hour of video streaming uses roughly the same amount of electricity as running two domestic fridges for a week and our total digital energy consumption is set to have a greater impact on climate change than the global aviation industry.
90% of that energy however is consumed during the manufacture of our gadgets and ‘electronic waste’ is the fastest growing sector of the waste stream… our desire to always have the latest model, the fastest connection or best camera, etc. etc, means that devices are often disposed of prematurely. As with many other industries, (I know, I’ve mentioned this before!) our mindless over-consumption is unsustainable.
So how can a Digital Detox Help?
It’s a no-brainer really… the less we use our phones, the longer they last! This means less waste, less manufacture, less energy use… and we save money too! Stop and think next time you’re offered an upgrade… is it really necessary? The planet will thank you and so will your mental health!
Of course we still need technology. I’m using it to write and share this post and without it no-one would be able to read my ramblings (possibly not such a bad thing!) but can we reach a healthy balance?
This has been a real eye-opening experience for me and I will definitely be working to reduce my screen-time and change some habits. One last thing I have found useful is an article about increasing the battery life of your phone… maybe you know all this already but I’ll leave it here just in case.
If you feel inspired to review your own digital consumption please let me know in the comments.
Until next time…