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In today’s gadget-crazed culture, it’s easy to get lost among a frenzy of text messages, smartphone apps, and social media. According to a recent Student Health 101 survey, 58 percent of students check their smartphones multiple times an hour. Taking time away from the digital world can give you more time to focus on the activities and relationships that are important to you.
Unplugging for Academics
Constant use of technology can contribute to having trouble concentrating. A 2011 study published in the journal Learning, Media and Technology found that students who focused on their schoolwork without distractions learned and retained new information more effectively than students who texted, surfed the Web, or used social media while studying.
The study suggests that multitasking in this way places additional cognitive demand on the brain, which influences its ability to process and retain information. This stimulation overload can have a negative effect on memory and critical thinking.
Plus, the light emitted from phones, computers, and other devices can make it difficult to fall asleep, and being caught up in chatting doesn’t help!
Plug In to Relationships
In the recent Student Health 101 survey, over 60 percent of the respondents said they felt technology distracted them when spending time with other people. Veronica Bulmer, a professor at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario, says, “Use time with others to get to know them, instead of chatting on your phone. You can miss so much!”
In the book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, Howard Rheingold suggests, “Start small [and] find a place in your routine for a new behaviour.”
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Out of sight, out of mind: Ryan W., a first-year student at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, says, “When I’m in class, I keep [technology] in my bag so I don’t think about it.” Turn your phone and other gadgets off or keep them put away to help you resist the urge to check them.
- Schedule appointments with technology: Designate times to check your phone and social media accounts. Leave devices home when you exercise, spend time outside, or eat.
- Explain when you’ll be available: Let people know in advance how long you’ll be “off the grid.” This may help you relax.
Technology and gadgets are useful, but sometimes they take up valuable time. Unplugging on a regular basis will create space for other important things in your life.
Tips on explaining why you're unplugging
I'm going to be off the grid
If you regularly use technology to connect and communicate with family members and friends, you may want to let them know why and when you won’t be available. If your loved ones understand what to expect, they’re more likely to accept and support your decision to unplug from your digital devices. They may even join you!
Here are some tips to help manage people’s expectations:
- If there are people in your life that worry if they can’t reach you, tell them in advance when you’re unplugging and check in when you turn your devices back on.
- Explain that you’ll be unreachable for X number of hours.
- Post a note on your social network pages saying that you’re taking a rest from technology.
- Send a text saying you’re taking a nap, hanging out with a friend, going to a meeting, etc.
- Record a voicemail message that indicates when you’ll be available.
- Mention that you need some quiet “me time.”
- Suggest that your loved ones join you for an in-person activity.
Get help or find out more
York University, YFile, Unplug for one hour on World Mental Health Day, Oct. 10
Toronto Association for Health Promotion in Higher Education, Unplugged Hour, About Unplugged Hour
Rosen, L. (2013). iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us (Reprint Edition). Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. The MIT Press, Massachusetts.
Tech Timeout, Get Inspired