Digital detoxes usually involve going cold turkey for a day, a week or even six months, but is that the best way to reduce your use of technology?
Digital marketing consultant Joanne Tombrakos doesn’t think so – and she draws an analogy between food and tech to explain why not:
“If you go on a really stringent food diet or you just drink juice for five days, – which is unfathomable to me, but I know people do it – then you’re more likely to binge on the other end of it,” she told HuffPost Live.
“But if you learn how to eat healthy then you’re more likely to stay on course.
“Eating healthy doesn’t mean you don’t ever get to have a cookie or a cheeseburger, you still want these in your life.”
Tombrakos believes the same is true of technology use.
“I do believe in putting boundaries on it,” she says. “I use a little egg timer when I’m going on social media, I’ll set it for 20 minutes and then I’m off.”
“I think setting boundaries is the best way, because we can’t get away from the technology, nor would we want to, as it does so many good things at the same time that we may be wasting time.”
Psychologist and science writer Dr Margaret Leitch agrees that comparisons can be drawn between our diet and our “social media diet”.
“Unrestrained access to (an overwhelming number) of social contacts may contribute to anti social behaviour,” Leitch told HuffPost UK Lifestyle.
“However, I feel presence of social media is so pervasive it’s impossible to control. It is a lot like food: the second we try to cut ourselves off, all the more attractive it becomes.”
Leitch adds that just as eating when you’re bored can become and unhealty habit, the same is true of social media use.
“When there is a lull in our schedule – be that during a meeting, in the car, or even at a dinner party, we’re drawn in (seemingly unwittingly) to check in and see how everyone else’s fabulous life is going,” she says.
“It’s no wonder this contributes to anxiety: we check social media when we’re either under stimulated, tired, or simply bored, only to be thwarted with pictures of people with umbrella drinks, skydiving, or having an intimate moment with their new baby.
Anastasia Dedyukhina founder of Consciously Digital, agrees that our relationship with food and our relationship with technology have a lot in common.
“I think it’s a great metaphor,” she says.
“I sometimes say that in our relationship with technology we’re like little kids who have been left without adults in a candy shop for the whole night. There are so many great things around, the choice is so big! But of course the consequences will be seen in the morning.
“I also like to describe technology as a tool – you don’t carry around your hammer or saw with you all the time, do you? You use it when you need it, and then put it back into its place. Why don’t you do the same with technology?
Dedyukhina adds that trying to go for a complete digital detox is unrealistic in our day-to-day lives.
“I don’t think a complete ‘digital detox’ works unless you eliminate all the devices you have,” she cautions.
“Our will power muscle is actually quite limited. You may have heard about the quality of our brain called “neuroplasticity” – it means that our brain changes depending on what we do, and it puts our brain cells (aka neurons) into chains depending on the daily activities that we do.
“Our brain does that because it’s easier for it to process information through chains rather than through single neurons. So if you have been doing something for months and months, your neural chains responsible for this process are very strong.
“So even if you decide to completely eliminate digital from your life, if you have a device around you, your brain will still remember it and urge you to use it.
“Therefore, a much better approach is not to demand too much from yourself initially, and start building a new habit slowly.
“For instance, you can say that you’ll check your emails only twice a day. Or you’ll have one day per week when you won’t switch on the laptop after 6pm.”
Martin Talks, chief non-digital officer at Digital Detoxing believes the analogy can be taken even further.
“There are quite a lot of analogies between what’s happened to the food industry and digital technology,” he says.
“The industrial processes used by the food industry trick our taste buds into momentary pleasure, just like those status alerts or ‘Likes’ trick our minds into thinking that we have achieved something good.
“Just like we need to be careful what we put into our mouths, we should be careful what we put into our minds.”
But he disagrees with Tombrakos’ theory that a complete digital detox will led to a tech binge.
“There is still a role for a digital detox,” he explains.
“A digital detox could be likened to a fast: an opportunity to cleanse the mind and reflect on what is really meaningful and nourishing.
“On our Digital Detoxing Adventures we get people trying meditation, practical skills, art, cooking etc – and all without a screen. It can act as a kickstart to help people re-evaluate their digital behaviours that can become very much auto-pilot.”
Lucy Pearson, founder of Unplugged Weekend, agrees with Talks that digital detoxes are not the same as depriving yourself of food – and rather than leading to tech binges she believes they can be just the shake up you need to take cntrol of your relationship with tech..
“Of course you can’t cut yourself off from technology forever – and you wouldn’t want to – but a short break can be just what you need to step back and assess the effect technology has on your life,” says Pearson.
“It may be just the kick start you need to realise that you might not have the right balance in your life at the moment, which will lead you to work on having processes in place to stop your gadgets controlling your life.
“It’s also good to have a periodic break from technology with your family, partner or even your friends, especially if you don’t feel like you’ve been spending too much quality time together.
“Doing a digital detox with the people that you care about gives you an opportunity to reconnect with them.
“One of the worst facts I’ve found out is that since smartphones and tablets came out couples are having less sex because they always take their devices to bed.
“But it’s not only your relationships that will benefit from a digital detox. It’s also really important to get to know yourself and be mindful about who you are and how you’re feeling.
“That emotional intelligence helps in every single aspect of life and if we’re constantly looking at a screen every time we’re alone, then we’re completely eliminating that time for ourselves from our lives.”
Jayne Morris, resident life coach expert for NHS Online Health Sector and author of Burnout To Brilliance: Strategies For Sustainable Success, agrees that there is a need for complete digital detoxes from time to time.
“A complete digital detox is fantastic for when you are feeling overloaded and want to restore balance,” she says.
“Taking a week out to totally unplug can truly work wonders.
“In general though we can all benefit from putting boundaries in place to protect our precious family by banning technology during meal times, family time, date nights and 30 minutes to one hour before we head to bed.
“I love the concept of treating technology like food by accessing emails or social media at set times of the day and setting limits to how much you will “consume”.
“I would suggest this in addition to, rather than instead of, a complete digital detox. From time to time I think we can all do with some time out to totally unplug, whether it is for a day, a weekend, week or more.
“My advice to those who would like to cut down the amount of time they spent on technology would be to start by leaving your phone downstairs 30 minutes before you go to bed, then leave it in the office and take a break at lunch and gradually build up to switching it off at other times too.
“I encourage people to ride the initial discomfort that may come when first doing this until they break through to the feeling of freedom that will follow once you realise the world hasn’t stopped and you haven’t missed out from taking some time out now and then.”
Dedyukhina adds: “My biggest piece of advice would be to remember that YOU always have a choice when and where to connect, and where not to, and you need to decide for yourself when you’re going to be pro-active, and where reactive.
“When we use technology, most of the time we are reactive – so it’s the technology that prompts us to do something, rather than us deciding that we will do that. You need to reverse this trend.
Dedyukhina believes there are four key pillars when it comes to cutting down on technology:
Time management is crucial – you need to set your online working time and also a controlled “distraction” time, when you allow yourself to drift on Facebook or Instagram. After that time, you need to agree with yourself that you switch off the device and something else.
Space management is all about where you are available and where not – for instance, it’s a really good idea to keep your electronic devices outside of your bedroom – it improves your sexual life and your sleep as well.
Self-management is all about you being conscious about why you are going online again – is it because you really need to do something, or because you are bored or upset? Statistically, we check our phones 221 times – how many of these times do we really need to check them though?
Relationship management is all about choosing the right channel of communication – for instance, you can save yourself some time by not getting into a back and forth emailing with somebody to agree with them on the date of a meeting, but actually calling them. It will save you time.
Unplugged Weekend have just released tickets to their 2015 retreat this October.
This August we’re running a Digital Detox campaign, where we’re championing switching off, spending more time with our loved ones and being more mindful around technology. From inspirational interviews to how it can massively improve your life, we hope to inspire everyone to get out there and reconnect with the world. If you’d like to contribute or blog, email uklifestyle@Nurturingfitness.com or tag us on social media using the hashtag #HPDigital Detox