(This is the extended version of a guest post published on the Consciously Digital blog. You can follow the movement on Twitter and support the crowdfunding campaign to publish Homo Distractus, a book by Ted Talk speaker and digital expert Anastasia Dedyukhina to teach everyone how to find balance in their relationship with technology.)
Digital parenting is a new trending niche in the parents’ world. The key question is how to allow our children to take advantage of the power of technology without being victims of it? For years there has been extensive talk of limiting the screen time, but that doesn’t cover even half of the issue nowadays. It’s about exposure to contents, media, how to safely navigate the immensity of the internet, and how kids’ focus and learning abilities are affected by new devices. I am a mother to two children aged 2 and 4, and here in Finland, where I live, many children have a smartphone by school age. I’m very prompted by the topic of digital parenting and I already had to set rules and boundaries with my young children. As an individual, I started sensing something wrong about my relationship with technology years ago. I’ve now been Facebook-free for over three years and spent around six months smartphone-free last year before joining a new workplace where I could not live without. When I’ve read about the Homo Distractus project I got curious. This is a topic we are not talking about enough, especially if we put that in proportion of how much and often we utilise technology in our daily life.
Who is using who, when it comes to it? I wrote to Anastasia and we agreed she would challenge me to a digital detox mini-programme for a week. I wondered, how will this affect my work as an IT professional? How about my family time? Will it be liberating as when I gave up my smartphone? Here’s my account of the last seven days.
Usually I spend the evening working or blogging at my laptop and interrupt my flow several times by checking social media on my phone. When I’m too tired, I turn on the TV and watch some Netflix show or Youtube videos.
Beside giving up that, I also decided to do something really special for my challenge first day. After my kids’ bedtime I went out to a pub with my brother, something I hadn’t done in ages. On my way back, I completely turned off the phone and kept it that way until morning. When I got home, my first instinct was to check my social media, but I’m glad I resisted the temptation. The world definitely went on without me checking on Instagram.
This task was easy for me, as I disabled most notifications on my phone long ago. However, it was refreshing to disable even text notifications for a whole day! I went one step further and kept my work internal chat closed most of the times. I was the one deciding when it was time to open it and see if anyone needed my help. That helped a lot with my concentration and I could check a few things off my backlog. At home, I always keep my phone silent as I find notifications are distracting for my kids as well. A text message ping can disrupt nice playing and they are immediately dragged towards my phone.
I felt advantaged in that, as I reflected upon these for some time already and I truly believe every one of us should take some time to consider these questions. My guiding light is that I don’t want to be used by technology, but the other way around. I fell addicted to apps or tech-related habits several times in the past, but always realised when this was the case and I have been ready to cut the root problem at once. Around three years ago I canceled my Facebook account. It took time to get used to go Facebook-free and still to the day some acquaintances forget to invite me to events when they create them there. Honestly, I don’t care. Those are happenings my presence is not strictly required for, otherwise people would remember and pick up the phone to call me. I need technology in my work, but I have some personal rules on its use during my personal time and luckily this is in line with company policy. Tech is useful, but I keep reminding myself it’s not necessary. After all, I lived about half of my life with none of the apps or devices I have now, and I was fine.
I liked this rule and I tried it for few days. At work I’m constantly busy, so I rarely wander online. However, I observed a difference in my behaviour with my children at home. When I set precise boundaries for my leisure use of technology, I could focus my attention on them and on our plays. When I use my smartphone to relax and detach from them, they are really annoyed. They don’t want to compete with it and I can see that. I mentally set rules for when I would take my phone out to check on my social media accounts and I even tried to do that away from my kids. I observed I was much more engaged in play and time flew. I admit, as a parent I’ve used my smartphone as a “quick fix” to fight boredom or to claim some of my adult life back for an instant. However, it’s just an illusion. It may give a short pleasure, but you are back to the uncomfortable feelings in few seconds and you just annoyed your children, who are oversensitive to their parents’ attention shifts. I found it much more rewarding as an individual and more guilt-free as a parent to use my “social media time” in a regulated way. I really recommend to make this rule yours as general guideline, at least for the time you spend with your family.
This was a nightmare for me. I am the queen of browser tabs. You know how bad it is? Generally I have three browsers working, some with multiple windows and each windows fills the maximum number of tabs and counting. Oh, then there are the terminal tabs, where I code. For my job, I need some multiple tabs open, even for working on a single task. However, 90% of my tabs are just to blame on my obsessive multitasking. Some are blog posts or articles I keep open for weeks, before accepting the harsh reality I’ll never actually read them. There’s the ever-notifying internal work chat. When I got the task from Anastasia I did the unthinkable. I dragged my cursor to the small circle on the upper left corner of the screen. It shined red before I clicked… and there, all gone. Starting from zero, here. Since then I’ve made a resolution of closing the internal chat and just opening it regularly to check if I have important messages, without allowing notifications to break my focus. Moreover, I now plan to keep a minimum number of tabs open, to allow me to focus more on one task at a time. I’m really curious to see how this will affect my work in the long run!
Chocolate. No doubt, my reward will be chocolate. Jokes aside, as a parent I learned one bad day doesn’t make a difference. It’s important to set clear goals and be honest with yourself in assessing results. I found many of this week’s advice has improved my daily routines and time with my family. There will be that Sunday when I’ll be sleep-deprived and will not care much of being mother of the year and spend most of it browsing on Instagram pics. Or that evening when I’ll be utterly shattered by a stressful work day and want to waste my free time by reading tweets in my feed. But overall I’m motivated to keep a clear focus on goals and how I make the most of my time with the help of, and not ostracised by, technology.
I’m not a sport person, but I do like walks. Last summer I noticed that I was spending most of nights in front of the television. Crashing on the sofa and after a couple of hours moving to the bed. I do love TV series but I felt it was becoming a too passive way to spend my free time. I went for walks from time to time, even spending two hours outside. Even though I left feeling tired, the fresh air reinvigorated me and I came back home feeling happier and more peaceful. It allowed me also to discover what my physical limits were. I found out I could walk with no fatigue for several kilometers. Sometime it’s nice to click-jump Wikipedia pages or posts, but if you feel it’s becoming a dangerous habit, taking control of your body is a great piece of advice to start from.
I liked this experience. I made some of the advice a regular rule and overall it has improved my time at home and some of my workflow habits. I am now more than curious to read Homo Distractus to learn more and better ways to facilitate my relationship with technology. As a parent, I feel I’m in a hurry to fully understand and manage this reality, to allow my children to grow healthy ways to deal with tech and internet. I need to be more aware of its effects on my mind and become better at handling them. I must show them I’m in control with technology, if I ever hope them to be. How about you, are you up for the challenge of the digital detox?