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It’s more difficult than ever to disconnect from our devices, which have become so ingrained in our lives. Is it even worth attempting?

In February, it was revealed that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff had gone on a ten-day “digital detox” at a French Polynesian resort. Taking a break from technology is a dream for a small group of people, but it’s an impossibility for the majority, especially now.

A digital detox entails avoiding technology almost entirely, such as screens, social media, and video conferences for several days. The intentions are good: reducing stress or anxiety and reconnecting with the physical world. Although there are no scientifically proven benefits to periods of tech abstinence, the digital detox has become a sought-after challenge.

However, since 2012, when researchers first used the term, the task has become far more difficult. Even with early versions of apps and social media, screens were already important. However, attempting a digital detox in 2012 would have been a piece of cake compared to now, when our lives are more than ever intertwined with technology. We pay with our phones in stores, work on computers and tablets, and communicate with others via apps. And, since the pandemic, our life-tech connection has grown even stronger.

Where would you even begin with a digital detox in 2023?

A digital detox, experts say, is no longer feasible for most people, short of fleeing to the remote wilderness for a few phone-free days.

“Technology has become an inseparable part of our lives. “We bank with an app, read restaurant menus on phones, and even sweat with exercise instructors through a screen,” says Seattle-based screen-time management consultant Emily Cherkin. “We’re setting ourselves up for failure if we say we’re going to go a week without using our phones.”

It’s so embedded in our lives, we’re setting ourselves up for failure if we say we’re going to go phone-free for a week – Emily Cherkin

As people become more reliant on technology, a digital detox no longer appears to be a viable goal. However, there may be a more realistic solution that will reduce our technological obsession without forcing us to completely disconnect.

Screens, screens, screens

The pandemic increased the amount of time people already spent on their devices. People looked at screens more during the lockdown, especially when there were no other ways to connect. Even though people are free to leave their homes and socialise, these habits persist.

According to a 2022 University of Leeds study, 54% of British adults use screens more than they did before the pandemic, with half of those polled looking at screens for 11 hours or more per day. Fifty-one percent use screens more for leisure than they did before the pandemic, while 27% use screens more at work.

This increase in screen time has also altered how we interact with one another. Critical relationships are increasingly being digitised. as we’ve formed communities in WhatsApp groups, replaced bi-monthly family meals with weekly FaceTime calls, and more. Covid-19 forced many of our connections into the digital realm, and many of those, such as group chats and video calls, continue to exist in these tech environments. That means a digital detox would entail not only taking a break from mundane Slack chats with your boss, but also cutting ties with your closest friends and family for a period of time.

As online dating has become more popular – and, indeed, increased during the pandemic – technology has also become important in making friends. According to data obtained by BBC Worklife from Bumble, the dating app’s friendship matchmaking spinoff Since 2020, there has been a significant increase in traffic to Bumble BFF. By the end of 2021, nearly 15% of Bumble’s 42 million users were looking for friends on BFF, up from less than 10% the previous year. Male pursuers increased by 26% by the end of 2022.

“For better or worse, a lot of technology right now is a form of accessibility,” writes writer Chris Dancy, who monitors his own connected existence with over 700 sensors, devices, and apps. “For many parents and children, I hate to say it, but many partners and friends have forgotten how to navigate relationships without it.”

A shift in perspective

The combination of hybrid work and hybrid relationships renders the traditional concept of digital detox not only obsolete, but also nearly impossible. Digital detoxes are promoted as an anti-anxiety panacea that will draw people away from distracting screens and reconnect them with the present moment. However, as people’s lives and screens become more intertwined, the idealisation of disconnection may end up causing more anxiety when it is not achieved.

“I can’t turn off technology. “We are on screens for a variety of reasons,” says Sina Joneidy, a senior lecturer in digital enterprise at Teeside University in the United Kingdom. He takes a unique approach. “It’s more about detoxing from a ‘desirous attachment’ to technology for me.” Joneidy is a Buddhist. explains that ‘desirous attachment’ occurs when a person desires something because they believe it will bring them happiness – when, in this case, it is simply a blue light dopamine hit.

Rather than abandoning technology entirely, Joneidy practises digital mindfulness. “I make certain that my use of technology is intentional,” he says. For some people, digital mindfulness may be more practical than a full detox: less concern about cutting out technology entirely, and more emphasis on being intentional with its use. Instead of being seduced by the addictive, mindless scroll, Joneidy believes that digitally mindful users can use technology to enhance their lives rather than feeling tethered to a device.

Digital mindfulness may be more practical for some people, in lieu of a full detox: less worry about cutting tech out entirely, and more focus on being intentional with its use

Even if people can’t completely avoid screens, experts say that paying attention to specific tech-use patterns can help them use technology more intentionally. “I started using a lot of different tracking tools on my phone,” says anthropologist Amber Case, who lives in Oregon. She realised she was clicking on Instagram 80 times per day, so she downloaded One Sec, a plugin that requires users to take a deep breath before opening and accessing their phone’s apps. It forces the user to pause for a moment before logging in and helps them get out of autopilot mode.

Case also suggests breaking the habit of scrolling through your phone as a form of relaxation. and suggests that when you don’t need your phone, you should leave it somewhere else. “People will dip into their phone like they would a cigarette,” Case says. “They’re filling what could be empty time with other people’s ideas.” Instead, she suggests taking a minute to stare into space and be bored.

Experts agree that the ultimate goal should not be to turn off technology completely – or to internalise the pressure to do so. People still need to send an email or send a text, but they can do so without being distracted by online content wormholes.

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