Author: Alison Fung
with Dr. Guanghai Wang,
Clinical Psychologist and Sleep Specialist
and Lei Jin, Educational Psychologist

As technology permeates almost every aspect of our lives, it’s time we reassess our usage of technology and how it fits into our day-to-day life. Read our previous series on children and technology.

Do you find yourself checking your phone while you’re in the company of other people? Maybe you’ve become hooked to a television series and somehow five hours have passed by without you realizing? If you’re reading this, chances are you’re on your laptop, phone or tablet, and you’ve been glued to your screen for hours. This fascinating (and slightly terrifying) report from researchers Millward Brown in 2014 surveyed 12,000 users between the ages of 16 to 45 in 30 countries who owned or had access to a TV, smartphone, and/or tablet , and revealed that globally, the typical user spends short of 7 hours a day looking at screens. Meanwhile, the infographic below, from Mary Meeker’s presentation on Internet trends, shows the average use of screen minutes in 30 countries, with those in Indonesia spending the most time in front of their screens, and Italy spending the least amount of time.

Source: The Atlantic

There have been many articles of late denouncing technology and condemning its harmful effects, such as studies on how too much screen-time leads to physical damage (e.g. digital eye strain) and research on how technology can negatively affect our mental health (in extreme cases, people’s obsessive attachment to the Internet may be considered a behavioral addiction). It goes without saying, however, that tech is also making our lives more convenient than ever, whether in the workplace or in our social lives. As the line between our digital lives and real lives becomes increasingly blurred, the key is finding a healthy tech-life balance. Finding the right balance isn’t about rejecting technology outright, but about gaining control over how you use technology and how it fits in to your life. Here’s a quick guide to reaching a healthy tech-life balance.

1. Know the quality of media

Recognize what exactly you’re using each medium for and how it makes you feel. Skyping your family from far away or keeping in touch with friends is a higher quality use of your time than, say, scrolling aimlessly on Instagram. A range of recent studies have shown that social networking sites such as Facebook have amplified negative psychological states and behavior, like anxiety, low self-esteem, and narcissism. If you feel like you’re spending too much time scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, you can limit your time on it, or even delete the app from your phone or disable your profile.

2. Turn off notifications

According to a study of 1,000 adults between the ages of 18-65, a quarter of respondents become stressed when away from their email or phone for more than 30 minutes. We’ve all experienced the fear of missing out, but realistically, what will you be missing out on? The truth is, you don’t have to reply to that message straight away, you don’t need to respond to that comment, and you don’t need to check to see how many likes you got on Instagram. Not many messages are truly urgent; if you must be reachable, turn off your notifications but keep your ringer on in case of a phone call.

3. Avoid checking work email after hours

A healthy tech-life balance can help with a healthy work-life balance. To separate work from personal life, close your email once your work day ends, or change when you receive notifications about new emails in your phone or laptop settings.

4. Schedule “downtime”

Technology can have an adverse impact on the quality of our sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that we switch off all devices an hour before bedtime. Blue wavelength light from electronic devices increases the release of cortisol, keeping us alert, and stops melatonin from being produced, which is necessary for falling asleep. At the very least, turn your phone on silent, or put it on airplane mode an hour before you go to bed.

5. Find more real life friends

“Basically, the more relationships you have in real life, the less you may need to be on the internet, especially for the purposes of social interaction,” ELG specialist, Lei Jin says. She recommends setting aside dedicated time each week for friends and family.

“If you are shy or have no interest in meeting new people, you can try to find people with a common interest, such as enrolling in a course, joining a sports team, or getting involved in volunteer work.” And once you’ve made new friends… 

6. Engage in conversation

How often have you found that you’re out with your friends at a restaurant and at least one of you is on your phone? Put your phone away and engage in face-to-face conversation. If you need an extra push, try playing the phone stacking game.

7. Try a new sport

What’s a sport you’ve always wanted to try out? Exercising and playing sports can help you minimize time spent on the internet or on your phone, allowing you to overcome your tech addiction. During your free time, Lei Jin suggests taking part in physical activities — preferably team sports, such as basketball, volleyball, tennis, and badminton. Team sports will encourage you to develop relationships and motivate you to go regularly. If you’d prefer not to join a team, try jogging, hiking, swimming or skating. Taking part in more hands-on activities means less time on your phone.

8. Be present

Being online 24/7 and being constantly overloaded with information and tasks is a huge factor in stress. You may have heard of the term “mindfulness,” which has become something of a buzzword, but there’s a reason for its increase in interest over time, as people seek to become more present in the moment. Practicing mindfulness and learning how to focus on something without getting distracted is a useful tool for de-stressing and reconnecting with the real world.

9. Make these lasting habits

As with any habit, it’s hard to make it stick. Create one small habit at a time. Make it specific, measurable, give yourself a reward and track your progress. Make yourself accountable, whether it’s by announcing your digital detox to all your friends, or by putting money on it. Whatever works!

Now that you’ve finished reading this guide, it’s time to put your phone away, switch off your laptop, and step back into reality. No excuses!

Check out the second article, which suggests four apps to help with your digital detox.

If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have an internet addiction, you can check it against this well-known Internet Addiction Test (IAT) or contact us t ELG. If you or your child are having difficulties related to technology addiction, sleep problems, or obsessive behavior, you may require professional help from a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, or sleep specialist.