How & Why to Go on a “Digital Detox”

Way back in 1971, a company in the US named American Telephone & Telegraph thought they could improve phone service by dividing cities into cells, or zones of service. The company we know as AT&T had no way of knowing they were laying the groundwork for today’s smartphones. Theodore Paraskevakos was likewise responsible decades ago for creating a technology that is used every day… texting.


Paraskevakos was the creator of caller ID, a feature you use to identify who is calling you, so you can decide whether or not to answer your phone. His brainchild converted numerical data into electronic pulses which could travel via telephone lines. When those pulses hit the phone on the receiving end of a call, they were converted into numbers and letters on a digital display. This creation was born in 1968, debuted in 1971, and is used so prevalently today that its most common modern application, texting, has resulted in medical conditions that serial texters often develop.


Do You Get Text Neck or Blackberry Thumb?


“Text neck” is a term doctors are using to describe the neck pain that is caused by the classic texting posture. Many smartphone users stare down at their phones while texting so frequently that they begin to experience upper back, neck and shoulder fatigue and pain. The condition is concerning, especially for children practically born with a phone in their hands. Some doctors believe irreversible, permanent damage to the spine is possible, leading to a lifetime of pain and limited mobility.


“Text claw” describes persistent pain that owes itself to the fact that text fanatics keep their wrist in a fixed position for a long period of time. “Blackberry thumb” refers to dull pain in the thumb that is the product of tapping a physical keyboard like the ones made famous by the once popular Blackberry cell phone. Pain and weariness in the eyes, back, shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers can all trace their way back to chronic cell phone usage in many cases. 


The above health problems drive home the desperate need for a periodic unplugging from technology.


Exactly What Is a Digital Detox?


Just as physical detoxing helps remove toxins, poisons and harmful chemicals from your body, digital detoxing removes the negative effects of technology overexposure. The health problems created by a digital overdose which were mentioned above are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg where mental and physical health issues related to technology are concerned. 


A digital detox means dramatically reducing or totally eliminating your exposure to technology, digital devices and consumer electronics for a significant period of time. This can be a few hours each day, one day each week, every weekend or an entire week.


Studies show that unplugging from technology boosts your brainpower, improves feelings of happiness and peacefulness, and creates more free time for yourself. It improves both mental and physical health, and since a recent study shows that 65% of Americans suffer from digital eyestrain, a techno-detox can improve your vision. Another reason for freeing yourself of digital dependence is the positive impact this practice has on how efficient and productive you are.


Can Unplugging Make You More Productive?


Multiple bodies of research show that frequent and regular exposure to digital technology encourages multitasking. Multitasking was a popular catchphrase in the 1990s which we now know is a killer of productivity and efficiency. Distraction goes up when you are trying to do many things at once, and the results of all of your activities are watered down. You can become more focused and productive with a regular dose of digital detoxing.


Constant Digital Distractions Kill Your Creativity and Bash Your Brainpower


Did you know that unplugging can actually help you retain more information? While it is true that the Internet and the constant information streams you receive every day can reveal new information, this relentless exposure to digital data trains your brain to remember only in the short-term. You become used to a constant and endless barrage of new information, so you end up with a brain that cannot retain information over time. Your brainpower bottoms out, focusing on nothing more than what is going on right now.


Technology also offers a digital death of creativity. There is a reason that authors, musicians, painters and creators of life-changing inventions often have their best ideas in the shower, or when they wake up first thing in the morning. Sleeping and showering offer moments of digital detoxing, where your brain is free to pursue creative efforts.


The Social Benefits of a Digital Detox


The possibility that Facebook, Twitter and other electronic, virtual hangouts might not be the best places to socialize may sound like heresy. In one study, an incredible 82 out of every 100 people said they believe the use of cell phones while socializing is ruining the art of conversation. How do you feel when someone you are talking to answers their smart phone while you are in the middle of a sentence? 


Watching reality television gives you an unreal expectation of people. Second Life and SimCity are virtual worlds where people can create any reality they can dream up. Some users get so bogged down in these fake worlds that they have lost the ability to socialize with real human beings. Video game players can become so addicted to their gaming that they actually die in front of their monitors. Reports of video gamers dying from heart attacks because of constant digital input and overconsumption of energy drinks and soft drinks for 3 or 4 days at a time has become commonplace.


Even if your gaming addiction doesn’t kill you, it is ruining your social skills. If hanging out on Facebook rather than speaking to people face-to-face becomes your premier method of socializing, it is time for a digital detox. Unplugging regularly leads to a better life/work balance, improves your communication skills, helps you become more people-oriented, and makes you a better social animal.

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