VOS: A Digital Diet: The benefits of going offline

A Digital Diet: The benefits of going offline

Emotional wellbeing

February 2021

A Digital Diet: The benefits of going offline

Computers in old science fiction movies - and in real life, at the time - used to be the size of a room or building, and the only dangers associated with them were that they may try to take over the world. Now, we can fit them in our pockets, and despite their value for finding information quickly, getting directions, contacting friends and family at the touch of a button, or sourcing emergency help instantly, there is a real risk of developing an addiction towards our devices.

This week, guest writer Patrick Bailey explores the benefits and pitfalls of technology, and why it’s important for us to put our devices down - even if it’s just for a little while.

How digital devices improve our lives

Few people can deny that digital devices have enormous benefits, made all the more meaningful during the COVID-19 pandemic. They allow us to stay connected with our loved ones and colleagues, and we’ve been able to take care of many errands while social distancing. They have also enabled so many of us to continue working and earning a paycheck safely.

Today’s personal computers, smartphones, and printers allow us to achieve the following:

  • Telework. As many as 37% of American adults can now plausibly do their work remotely without leaving their homes. About 20% do.
  • Telehealth. Some physician visits and treatment programs can be conducted online, at least the preliminaries, via Skype or Zoom.
  • Teleshop. In addition to ordering products from Amazon or other online businesses, groceries and take-out can be ordered online and placed in the trunk of your car without even having to leave your vehicle.

The downside to using digital devices

However, it is a growing concern that we spend more time online than would perhaps be advisable, and this is similar to the awareness that many of us spent a great deal of time watching television. The health concern here is heightened when you consider the reality that many of us will stare at our smartphone or computer screens for most of the day, at work or on breaks, and then will potentially continue to do so when we finish work, even while eating or talking with others.

Some professionals consider this to be a digital addiction (although the first physician to write about it did so as a joke or parody) and letting go of our digital devices has been commonly referred to as a “digital detox”.

A growing body of research highlights that this could lead to mental health issues, with a 2016 poll revealing that 50% of teens and 27% of parents felt addicted to their mobile devices.

Even if you do not feel you have an addiction to your device, there are still some potentially harmful outcomes that are important to be aware of, such as:

  • Blue Light. While the light from your electronic devices are bright and (like the sun) are not meant for you to stare at directly, there’s no real risk of blindness or macular degeneration. The real danger is that it could disrupt the quality and quantity of your sleep or circadian rhythm, and can potentially even increase the chances of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Computer Vision Syndrome. Like carpal tunnel syndrome of the eyes, CVS is caused by repetitive eye movements - focusing and refocusing, glancing back and forth between the computer and a book or notes - and this puts a physical strain on your eye muscles.
  • Digital Device Eye Strain. For some reason, people blink less than half as often while staring at electronic screens, which means they are not well hydrated, can get dry, and cause eye strain. The glare, flickering, and contrast can also cause issues.

The social etiquette

Then there are the social aspects.

Do you think it is rude to be staring at your phone while talking or dining with others? In some contexts, it could come across as though you are not paying attention, that you’re half-listening (and we humans all share a fundamental need to feel listened to, appreciated and understood), or that whatever is on your screen is more important.

Because so many of us - even those who don’t have to stare at a screen for a living - carry a computer in our pocket, we can form a habitual attachment to this device and struggle to even put it down for long periods of time.

So, I ask you - what would it mean to you to go screenless for a day, week, or month? A digital diet, if not a detox?

The benefits of a Digital Diet

  • Increased focus. One excuse for the ubiquity of mobile electronic devices is that it aids multitasking, doing more than one thing at the same time. Unfortunately, multitasking may be a myth, and the reality is that we’re predisposed by evolution to shifting focus from one task to another quickly. “Single-tasking” may increase productivity, save time, and improve relationships.
  • Better sleep. Using any blue light-emitting device (even a TV) right before going to bed can lead to you having a restless sleep. Researchers suggest that turning off all devices at least one hour earlier, leaving the smartphone out of the bedroom entirely, and reading a physical book before going to sleep can aid a more restful night of quality sleep. After a week, most people report being happier.
  • Extra time. We average about 24 hours per week on our devices, and arguably a sizable fraction of that time is spent down the rabbit hole, following unintended tangents.

Original source: This is Calmer

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