Should you detox from digital accounts this Christmas?

After a year like no other, when the pandemic has forced us to rely on digital technologies more than ever, should we rationalise their use over the holiday break?

Griffith University experts Dr David Tuffley and Dr Kathryn Modecki believe there may be some merit to limiting the use of devices if your goal is to recalibrate after what has been an extraordinary year.

“COVID-19 has generally taken a toll on our mental health. It has tended to change work habits for many individuals in particular. At the same time, this is how we reach out to friends and to loved ones and stay connected and find information,” Dr Modecki, from Griffith’s School of Applied Psychology, said.

“Technology has helped us in a number of ways this year and there is a lot of good that comes from it. I don’t recommend a full digital detox but suggest we can be more mindful about how we use it.”

“Take smartphones for instance. We use our phones in a multitude of ways, and so the concept of going cold turkey is not necessarily useful. Instead we can think about the different ways we engage with our phones and how these tend to make us feel.”

Dr Kathryn Modecki

“If you’re taking a more mindful approach to using your phone, and trying to reduce your use in relation to less satisfying forms of engagement (think doom scrolling or passive social media consumption for hours and hours), then consider trying to reduce some of those forms of engagement.”

“Again, think about what you’re looking to achieve from your phone use. If you’re seeking connection, maybe it is worth ringing someone or sending a text, even just to arrange a (safe) physical meeting.”

“If you’re bored and mindlessly scrolling, you could consider using a Meditation app instead.”

“In my interviews with parents, I find that using an objective measure–for instance, setting a timer–to actively set a limit on phone use, or use of a particular app or function works well. This can be especially beneficial with kids, but many of us might benefit from setting just a few boundaries so that we are making best use of our technologies”.

“Our lab worked with the ABC on Australia’s Biggest Smartphone study and it was clear from the data that generations are using smartphone devices really differently, so it makes sense that a detox might be different for different people,” Dr Kathryn Modecki explained.

“Because they’re such an integral part of daily life for many of us, the idea of going without them 24/7 is arguably unrealistic.”

Dr David Tuffley

A science communicator with a focus on the social impact of technology, Dr David Tuffley says the fear of missing out may be more powerful than the reality of taking a break from it.

“FOMO or Fear of Missing Out is at the heart of why digital detoxing can be so hard for some, but social media addiction can be managed,” Dr Tuffley said.

“With so many platforms and channels, even reducing your use by a little could make a lot of difference.

“How you carry out a digital detox is up toyoubut it could mean turning your phone off, only checking emails during certain times of the day, disabling notifications on your phone, tablet or device and getting outside,” Dr Tuffley said.

“Detoxing from digital devices is about focusing on real-life social interactions without distractions.

“Leave your phone at home and spend time in nature. Getting away without your phone or anything else that beeps and calls attention to itself can really help to restore a person’s baseline.

Over the holiday break he suggests doing a combination of the following:

  • Stop ‘multi-screening’ (have two or more screens going at once)
  • Stop following social media accounts that get you riled up
  • Switch off push notifications
  • Don’t bring the phone to meals
  • Remove your phone from the bedroom (get an alarm clock instead)
  • Go for walks in nature — tech free
  • Allocate time during day to be tech-free
  • Read print books and magazines