It’s Halloween, the time of tall tales and things that go bump in the night. And that got us thinking, is the overuse of our mobile tech just another scary story? Are we succumbing to moral panic over our smartphone use? One recent report even claimed that teenagers excessively using mobile phones were starting to grow horns from the base of their skulls!
Some commentators have claimed that the whole concept of a ‘digital detox’ is the tech equivalent of a juice cleanse and that neither of them work.
Others have said that digital detoxes simply don’t work because when they’re over we can’t return to a phone-free life, we still have to live with them.
And one group of academics say that despite being told that screen time hurts our kids there’s actually no evidence, and that there are only ‘minor’ effects on wellbeing from too much time on screens.
So, what’s the truth?
Part of the problem of course is that the research around the real effects of smartphone use is still developing because it’s such a new area. But there is a general scientific consensus that smartphone addiction is a real problem. The World Health Organisation last year recognised digital gaming, or Internet gaming, as a specific health disorder. And one large-scale study of Gen Z, teenagers, found that all non-screen activities that this group took part in correlated with greater happiness, with all the screen activities correlated with lower happiness.
As any look at phone habits throws up so many differing opinions and research results right now, how can we make the best choices about whether to try any form of digital detox?
The person who best knows whether you need a break and if a digital detox would be a treat, is you. In the same way that we know when we’ve been eating too much or not doing enough exercise, we probably all know when we’ve spent just a bit too much time on your phones. Not least because our family and friends tell us so. Keep an eye on how you feel relative to the amount of time you spend on screens and adjust accordingly.
But when you’re thinking about your own habits, you might be interested to know what people who work in tech for a living do about their screen use. Because they’re the experts, right?
Tech bosses like Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, and Jack Dorsey, have all come out on record acknowledging that their inventions have the potential to damage our well being. Some of the very first groups of people to try and find coping mechanisms for tech’s 24:7 infiltration into our lives came from the tech teams of Silicon Valley. It was a former Google ethicist Tristan Harris, who coined the concept of ‘Time Well Spent’ which has been enthusiastically adopted by tech employees who now spend their work lives building digital platforms, and their home lives raising their children not to use them!
Despite the contradictions in so much of the research there is a growing realisation that staring at our phones all day probably isn’t great for our mental health.
Not least because it’s the things we’re giving up to stare at our screens that are the problem. Time spent with loved ones, time spent outdoors in nature, these are the all the casualty of our screen-based lifestyle – and study after study shows they make us happy.
We’re unusual in that we’ve been running digital detox retreats for several years and carrying out research before and after on the participants. And all our research shows that time away from screens improves sleep, focus and concentration and happiness.
So try it for yourself. A digital detox could be just the treat you need.
To discover more ways digital detox can be a treat, our book Off: Your Digital Detox for a Better Life is out in the UK, the US and in five languages. Pick up your copy here.