When you’re immersed in a virtual world behind a glowing screen, it becomes nearly impossible to connect to the real world around you. Smartphones are useful tools, but more people are absentmindedly scrolling through feeds and emails out of habit rather than necessity these days.
If taking stock of 2015 included the realization that you might’ve spent too much time staring at your smartphone, a digital detox may be in order.
As with most other problems, understanding the root of the behavior is key to correcting it. So why exactly have smartphones become the drug of choice for so many?
According to Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, instinct may be driving the compulsion to constantly check smartphones.
"One thing my research made clear is that human beings have a deep, primitive desire to know everything that's going on around them," said Carr. This instinct, he adds, was probably a useful survival tool for cavemen and cavewomen—but in this digital age, we’re faced with an endless stream of information. For many, that’s where the obsession begins.
“I'm sure one of the main reasons people tend to be so compulsive in their use of smartphones is that they can't stand the idea that there may be a new bit of information out there that they haven't seen,” says Carr.
To prevent smartphones from stealing your ability to engage in contemplation, reflection or even just be alone with our thoughts, experts suggest ocassionally taking some time off from them.
The most important aspect of detoxing, according to Holland Haiis, author of Consciously Connecting, is to stop putting it off.
“Leave your phone at home so you can connect to the activity you’re doing, even if it’s errands,” said Haiis. When it’s time for bed, Haiis suggests removing your phone from your bedside table. Checking it immediately in the morning, “catapults you onto the merry-go-round.”
The allure of a vacation, Haiis reminds readers, is that it's a time to truly disconnect and start doing instead of being. "After all," she says, “the world looks completely different when you’re not looking down all the time.”
Managing smartphone use
If you’re looking to cut back on your smartphone time but not willing to go as far as a digital detox retreat, experts suggest these steps to control usage:
Be conscious of the situations and emotions that make you want to check your phone. Is it boredom? Loneliness? Anxiety? Maybe something else would soothe you.
Be strong when your phone beeps or rings. You don't always have to answer it. In fact, you can avoid temptation by turning off the alert signals.
Be disciplined about not using your device in certain situations (such as when you're with children, driving, or in a meeting) or at certain hours (for instance, between 9 PM and 7 AM). "You'll be surprised and pleased to rediscover the pleasures of being in control of your attention," Carr says.