How to treat the internet addiction and achieve a gradual hook-off from devices?
Empty talk and criticism are of not much avail. It is time for action...
Take a look at hands-on and painful actions we as a family have taken following a rather unusual event and, trust me, it worked...
How to disconnect to reconnect again?
Owing to modern technology and devices, we are now more connected than ever.
We enjoy a simple and easy access to information and know-how that makes our lives easier, needless to mention immeasurable benefits of 4.0 revolution.
Yet, as any other tool, it has its downsides as well.
We are exposed to data overload, our senses are overburdened with sensory inputs and our mind is on the brink of bursting out. We are aware of pushing the limits sometimes, yet we feel powerless, as if driven by some unknown forces we have no control over.
We are stuck to our screens, choking in alluring fumes of e-smog created by our devices.
As we check our statuses on social networks or read the latest news, we are hit by dopamine, the happiness hormone, which reins our behaviour as any type of addictive drive.
Our brain keeps asking for more, it cannot be appeased until we feed it with fresh data.
Before being able to digest what it was fed with, we load it with new stuff.
We have a tingling sensation, goosebumps in our fingers as we swerve in our seats while commuting to work, trying to leave our phones in pockets without touching it.
I am not a technophobe. I am a great consumer of modern devices and technologies, but I think we should really take a break.
I am relating my personal experience, as mobile phones and the internet threatened to destroy my marriage and compromise family relations at one point.
Hadn't I changed my habits, who knows what would have happened.
I realized that the solution could reside in a moderate and ethical use of tech and communication, something popularly known as digital minimalism.
It seems simple, but it is far from that.
All the more so since the entire family must be involved, literally all of its members.
Lest we forget that parents are key role models to their children, something we often ignore, failing to heed our own behaviour.
So, we should start with ourselves and lead by an example.
Let's see how...
Diagnostics and kick-off of withdrawal from smartphones?
At one point, my family held a crisis headquarters where some important decisions were made.
For the beginning, it was necessary to run a diagnostics scan.
All of us have installed the Android app called Moment which records in detail:
- the precise screen time and frequently used apps
- the number of times phone has been unlocked
- the exact time spent on particular activities
It took only a couple of days to conclude that we could all be classified as online addicts.
We all ended up with more than 4h of avarage daily use!!!
Soon I found the scientific term for this type of addiction - nomophobia,or irrational fear of being without your mobile phone.
Mayday, Mayday! The crisis HQ has unanimously passed certain decisions with immediate effect.
They have been written down on a large-size cardboard and set up at a visible spot. We had to observe the commandments.
We did not go for a cold turkey straight away. We opted for a step-by-step approach instead. We continued using our devices while observing certain rules.
1. Switch off your mobile data as soon as you get back from work
In the beginning, the switch-off was contained to 1 hour only.
We would go briefly online on as-needed basis, if e-mail or viber messages should be checked for work or some important info.
But soon we would switch off again.
We used to have audits as well, to make sure nobody cheated.
For instance, I secretly activate viber and send my wife a message only to see if she will get a notification.
If the sound goes off, it means she cheated.
Thanks to the Moment app, we could precisely measure the screen time.
No lies, no treachery!
There is also an app called NoLed which shows notifications on the screen-lock display in a form of icons, if a new e-mail/viber/messenger message is received.
It was an extra anti-fraud measure.
Phones would be often grouped in a single place, usually on the TV shelf. It is important to keep them out of reach.
Alternatively, you can place them in a transparent box for instance.
You wouldn't believe how helpful one small, insignificant step could be that drives you away from senseless picking up of a handset. As a speed bump that thwarts impulsive behaviour.
The current record is 2 hours continuously without mobile data.
Sometimes we check messages and then switch off again.
The same rule applies to my son as well - his screen time is restricted to 2 x 30 minutes a day on work days and 2 x 1h on weekends.
Another useful thing is to adjust colour to greyscale, the method I learned from Tristan Harris.
In an Android phone, it can be normally found in Accessibility settings (e.g. Samsung S9: Settings>Accessibility>Visibility Enhancements>Colour adjustment>Greyscale).
Black-and-white background will reduce your screen time for at least 30%, honestly!
No more glaring background of vivid colours and sharp contrasts that lure you into clicking.
Notifications and the number of unread messages are rendered almost invisible due to poor contrast. It seems too easy, but it actually works.
There is nothing accidental in the design of user applications. You can learn more about various means of manipulation used by suppliers of devices and applications at the website of The Centre for Humane Technologies .
Just like with mobile data, wi-fi router is also turned off when we get back from work.
No laptops, tablets, nothing...
Only e-readers are tolerated.
Once we reconnect after a pause, we try to use that time for some meaningful content we all take part in or for something we watch together. For instance, my son has a favourite YT channel that I like to watch as well - Primitive Technologies.The guy makes mud houses from makeshift materials.
Either we watch a funny clip, or we play a game together, why not...
Music is always welcome, but the same rule applies to streaming services as well. When we go offline, we listen to the radio or prepared playlists on a hard drive connected to a stereo device.
2. Install the FAMILY LINK app
Paradoxically, this app is powered by Google, which in a way contravenes its business goals.
It only proves that tech giants are getting increasingly focused on their users' well-being, trying to use precaution.
It is primarily devoted to the control of time spend by kids online.
A whole family can be networked, with parents usually taking the administrative role.
It is installed on both parent's and child's device.
The most useful functionalities this app features are the following:
- breakdown of time spent on a device (on a daily, weekly and monthly basis)
- setting up a daily limit (upon the expiry of which the device is locked and only the account administrator can unlock it)
- setting up limits for specific apps (such as YT, maximum 1h per day for instance)
- parental control functions - installing an app is subject to the approval of a parent - administrator
- blocking inappropriate or unsolicited content
- setting up filters on browsers and search engines
- location service
If you explain it in a patient, calm and reasonable manner, kids would normally not make any fuss about introducing this type of control.
I would dare say that they kind of find these restrictions desirable. The rules are set, observed and impression is gained that an external authority has set objective criteria.
Completely opposite to the situation where you take their phones in a repressive way, or scold them for too much screen time.
3. Sign off from viber groups and turn off notifications
At one moment, viber groups have become a terrible nuisance.
The messages kept coming. Even when I muted the tone, vibrations could be felt, visual notifications, etc.
I am particularly annoyed with the fact that anyone can invite you and shove you into a viber group without your prior consent.
Parental groups from your child's school, sport groups or people from your work or high school...
I signed off from many a group myself and muted the others.
Some of them muted me, for instance when I sent a lascivious content to a parental group instead of my hommies group, ouch..(Delete for everybody)
Likewise, all redundant notifications should be muted and phone-induced distractions reduced to minimum.
One of the most useful things you can do for yourself and your family is to remove social network apps from your phone. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, off they go! You can use them from your computers when it is absolutely required.
4. Prepare a schedule for meeting your friends in advance
You remember how we hung out with people before (in pre-mobile era) and how we arranged our meetings.
Usually verbally or by calling their landline numbers. There was little or no room for postponement once the meeting was arranged.
It was considered impolite to cancel a meeting without having a very good reason.
What is it like now?
"Sorry buddy, there is something I got caught up with, can we meet some other time? Some day next week, please. We'll keep in touch, I'll text you mate, sorry..."
Fast communication allows us to treat arrangements and schedules with ease and neglect.
Particularly if private encounters are concerned, with no urgency prefix. We'll-deal-with-it-later kind of approach.
That is why we see each other once a year, usually at our kids' birthday parties.
We are all locked in our commitments and tight schedules, which are nothing but lame excuses.
I am often too lazy to dial a friend's number, it is more convenient to text him/her a message instead.
Well, actually it isn't. It is just easier to come up with an excuse and text one.
If I call him and start fabricating a story, he will sense by the tone of my voice that I am choking in white lies, he will corner me up and there will simply be no way out.
God forbid it, then I will have to admit that I am just a lazy sod or that I have suddenly changed a plan.
It is easier this way, you simply send a viber message with a smiley at the end and the job is done.
What is even worse, nobody complains since no one is innocent. People recognize their own malpractice and buy a credit for a future escapade of their own.
Everybody's doing it, to a lesser or greater extent. My friend Istok Pavlovic had written an outstanding article in the Politika daily covering that topic, so-called asynchronous communication.
And last but not the least - choose your company, it is up to you alone!
Avoid the people you don't like, who drain your energy.
That will make you stick to your arrangements more steadfastly, since you will be seeing the people you really care about.
It doesn't necessarily imply that you will close the doors to others. Simply make a natural selection at a given moment as you find fit.
5. Spend more time outdoors
Get out whenever you can! Take a walk, play with your kids, sit by a forest or a water.
Reset yourself! While you are out in the fresh air, try to avoid picking up your phone.
You know the joke: What does a gamer say when he gets outdoors? - Man, what a great graphics!
Take a dive in that graphics, rest your eyes, relax your brain and all your senses.
For sport lovers, ideally you should pump your muscles up with lactic acid and your lungs with oxygen.
Let the sweat take all your stress away, together with the excess of information and nonsense.
If you have time and required conditions, take a pet.
If other people can't, a dog will certainly make you get out.
Even if you take a house pet, like a cat or a hamster, you will still have commitments and your time will be occupied.
6. Play games
But not on consoles or social networks!
I mean board games: Monopoly, Risk, cards, chess, Yamb, submarines...
I managed to preserve most of those games. But even if I hadn't, they can be found at regular shops even nowadays.
Some friends have told me - it won't work, kids are no longer interested.
It is not true at all, my son was delighted and still is. Thanks to Yamb, he has mastered the multiplication chart without learning it by heart.
I think the problem lies with parents, they are reluctant to sit on the floor and keep the dice rolling.
Try it once, you'll love it. Make some popcorn, chill out drinks, invite some friends and great fun is guaranteed.
I have heard of a cafe in Belgrade where people meet up to play board games http://www.c22.rs/
I will have to go there to check it out.
7. Print out your favourite photos
How many photos you store in your phone exactly? And how about your computer?
What happens when you want to find a photo from your last summer holiday?
There's no way I can find it, it takes hours on end and it is driving me crazy.
Praise goes to the ones who are organized enough to distribute it in neat folders. In my case, it normally comes down to scrolling and searching by date.
At least once a year, you should make a selection of 30-50 photos and have it printed at photo stores, before they get closed.
Then again, we will probably have 3D printers at home, so we can print a souvenir in real size.
All jokes aside, these photos will make your beloved ones very happy.
It especially applies to grandparents. Try to give them the photos of their grandchildren and wait for their reactions - they are priceless!
8. Indulge in a neglected hobby
If you do not go for sports, most certainly you have a hobby you have neglected.
My wife likes to paint, I like feigning a handyman, fixing things or doing some easier carpentry works.
It is perfect to find a hobby that another family member (child for instance) can join.
Try to make a bow and arrow with your child, a slingshot, a bird house, go fishing, it is neither difficult nor expensive, it only takes a strong will.
If there's nothing you can come up with, there's a YT channel 5-minute crafts.
Or simply take a long walk in nature some place nearby. Become a member of a trekking club and expand your horizons even further.
In addition to spending some quality time, you will do/make something useful and break away from screens.
You will feel great.
Try to stay completely focused while doing something.
Beat up the distractions in advance, switch off your phone, notifications and all other attention-robbers.
Live in that moment, be fully present, remain blind to the world's riches calling your name.
Do not be afraid of missing out on something.
The only thing you can miss out is life and that special moment that goes to eternity as a nice memory.
9. Avoid tabloids and negative news
This is probably the most difficult part.
It is very hard to stay in a cocoon nowadays and turn a deaf ear to current affairs.
Even if you manage to do it at home, once you step out, you will be fully exposed to contamination.
Blaring headlines will stare at you from kiosks, emanating blood, sins and fears.
Office gossips will be immersed in the realm of politics, showbiz and sports...
The only thing you can try is to load all filters and try to avoid sensationalist websites and pages.
Even when you know something, pretend you have no idea.
Disarm and discourage potential interlocutors to go into further discussion, or simply ignore this type of petty talks when someone starts them.
Take a sceptical approach towards everything you read. Do not trust everything you see, especially on social networks.
They are full of fake news or biased images and incomplete information that lead to certain conclusions.
Let the doubt work in the background, like an anti-virus software, scanning all malicious codes.
Let them bounce off your firewall of reason and caution.
10. Read books. Join a library or buy a Kindle
There is nothing better than reading books. And there is no better source of information either.
By reading breaking news and social network posts, you are actually killing your brain cells, without storing anything permanently on your hard drive.
Writing a book, even a poor one, takes time, efforts, research and proof-check of the information collected.
A book is worth more than a thousand of instant lessons, including the one you are currently reading.
I refrained from e-ink readers for a long time, but I finally succumbed and bought a Kindle.
For a simple reason that I no longer had any space left in my flat to accommodate all the books, or sometimes it was hard to find anything interesting in local libraries.
Now I can have any book I like at a click of a button, and I can share it with my friends as well. And these e-books can cost you nothing, but I cannot disclose everything now...
What have we achieved so far?
Let's be clear, this was a process that lasted almost one year with certain interruptions. It may seem to be easy, but it isn't at all.
Try it for yourself!
The overall result is that it opened up a whole new world to us, the world which was around all the time, but it was neglected.
Why would we otherwise be so nostalgic about our childhood and young age?
It is due to the complexity of experience, of sensations, remembering when we used to relish in the outside world with all our senses.
We can remember colours, fragrances, tastes and sounds alike.
We just need to awaken our senses and open up to the real world, at least when making breaks from the virtual one.
The goal should not be to completely shun technology, it is almost impossible nowadays.
We just need to learn how to use it, rather than be used by it.
We should make a sound synergy with tech in order to be able to enjoy all of its benefits.
Even if it may not appear so, we are living in the best, the safest and the most comfortable era in human history, so why should not we make best use of it.
The iGen – Jean M. Twenge
Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
How to Break Up with Your Phone – Catherine Price
The Shallows (What the Internet is doing to our brains) – Nicholas Carr