There's a problem with the phrase digital detox. Much like a fad diet or week-long juicing cleanse, it implies that we should take a short break from technology in order to improve our relationship with it -- like that's all we need. As we've seen from the rise of digital detox camps and luxurious low-tech resort getaways, it often means enjoying some type of vacation in a WiFi-free environment, penning notes in a journal you likely won't touch again, having photos of you taken with a Polaroid camera, and re-learning how to tell time on your analog watch.
Don't get me wrong: the intention is good-spirited, and I think it's wonderful that businesses have been formed as a result of humanity's craving to go offline. But the truth is, a digital detox does no more to improving your relationship with technology as swearing off your favorite snack for a week does to your waistline. Sure, you notice something, but the difference is minimal.
Instead of a digital detox or a digital diet or whatever alliteration could be made of what it means to take a break from technology, why not consider just doing something else with your excess screen time? This summer is a good time to start.
1. Go outside
Not to the gym, not to the yoga studio, outside. With nature. Without distraction. According to the National Wildlife Federation, spending time outside can reduce stress levels and anxiety, increase your fitness level, and even make you nicer.
If you live somewhere with sprawling hiking trails and hillsides, you're part of a lucky few -- and I hope you're taking advantage of such beneficial geography. But for those of us within city confines, it's (somewhat) more difficult to enjoy or feel motivated to spend any meaningful time outside. If that's indeed how you feel, then here's what you can try:
- Cycle: Cities around the world have dramatically improved their infrastructure in favor of cyclists. With separate lanes protecting cyclists from the road, municipal laws that put cyclists' safety first, and even traffic lights specifically for bike lanes, the world is a much more bike-friendly place than it was a decade ago. Also, many cities today have a bike sharing program which allow a new cyclist to rent a bike for a day or a week to experience cycling without the commitment of buying a new bike.
- Walk: Still not digging the city cycling idea? Walk instead. Going for a walk in a natural environment -- like around a park, path or trail -- provides the greatest mood-boosting benefits. Sure, whatever is keeping you indoors and behind a screen may be fun (and averting your boredom), but moving your legs is something humans are just supposed to do. So if you haven't done much of it today, put on those sneakers and head outside, my friend.
- Play: Did you know that most cities have a calisthenics park? You may have noticed a set of not-so-child-like monkey bars, poles, and benches in a park one day and wondered what they were for. Well, these parks are for exercising, and they make going to a gym seem mundane. Aside from being completely free, the benefit of hopping onto one of these monkey bars is that it's both fun exercise and it's outdoors. (Google will tell you if you have one nearby.)
Before a job that required me to indulge in screens for the better part of my day, I never read. It took me weeks to get through just half of a wonderfully interesting book and then another few months to finally finish it. The problem was never the books I would try to read -- it was a result of a lifestyle that was not habitual. In my experience, finding time to read has been a matter of creating a habit around it.
I've now finished about one book a month since the beginning of the year, and plan to increase that rate through the summer.
Here's how you can do it, too:
- Used: A used book will likely run you less than ten dollars, so the investment needed to get your new habit started is the equivalent of refraining from buying one burrito this week. Go for it.
- Subscription: Like a gym membership, getting a book delivery subscription will motivate you to read more often, and it's also fun to get a box of books delivered to your doorstep each month.
- Swap or borrow: You probably have a friend or relative who's read a good book at one point. Ask them to borrow it. Or, once you've kickstarted your collection from either of the above suggestions, swap your latest book for one of theirs.
Volunteering is a great way to get yourself doing something different from your regular routine, and also doing something good. While volunteering is more often considered an altruistic activity -- selfless and compassionate for the sake of the greater good -- it can also be the complete opposite. Sometimes volunteering can be enjoyed for what you can get out of it, too, and that's okay.
Here's an example of volunteering opportunities in your city that can be enjoyed for your own sake:
- Sporting events
- Music festivals
- Street festivals
- Local events and fundraisers
As a volunteer, you'll (very likely) get free access to watch or enjoy these events and even receive other perks for your time -- and there's nothing wrong with that.
4. Get a hobby
In Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, he points out how very successful people have had greater access to opportunities that give them an advantage to "learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot." He emphasizes how people like Bill Gates and The Beatles show a similar pattern in the significant amount of time they've spent practicing and improving upon a set of skills.
In 2015, the average person spent 109 minutes on social media everyday, which means that a typical social media user lost 650 hours of learning opportunities last year. So while it's true that screens are an important gateway to learning, they are also incredibly distracting and can lead to a staggering amount of wasted time.
By cutting your social media scrolling each day in half (or more!), that time could instead be spent brushing up on skills you already have or learning new ones like:
- A new language
- An instrument
- Playing a sport
When technology takes up time that is otherwise a good opportunity to learn or improve a skill, it becomes a lost opportunity. And who knows -- maybe your hobby could turn into a business.
Alanna is the Co-Founder and Marketing Director at Flipd. Read more posts about offline balance and productivity at blog.flipdapp.co.