It’s official: There’s a national day to unplug

Call for digital detox reflects the need to break our device addiction, if only for a day

For years I’ve been calling attention to the downside of digital dependency. Yes, our jobs now depend upon devices; yes, digital technology has given us many amazing new ways to keep in touch with each other, but the damage it’s doing to us is very real. Here are eight ways our devices are harming us and what you can do about it:

  • Digital technology is addictive. That’s not a bug; it’s a feature. As the founding president of Facebook, Sean Parker revealed, the addictive nature of social media, in particular, is by design. It captures our attention to sell advertising, not to connect or inform us. “The thought process was: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’”
  • Notifications don’t just deliver information, they also give us a micro-dose of dopamine, the body’s “reward” hormone. We learn behaviors by anticipating a reward. If the reward is delivered, it reinforces the behavior to become habitual. If the reward is not delivered, we will adapt our behavior to recreate it. Ironically, the most addictive behaviors are created when the reward system is inconsistent. We keep trying—and trying again—to get that reward.
  • Social media use harms our mental health and has been linked to depression, anxiety, isolation, loneliness, low self-esteem, and FOMO (fear of missing out). Teenage girls and young women are especially vulnerable. These same results used to be linked to reading women’s fashion magazines, which generally arrived only monthly. Social media is available 24/7, however, so it’s up to us to “Just say no,” and disconnect to protect our own mental health.
  • Device dependency disrupts our sleep. In part that’s because the most popular time to “doom scroll” is in bed, right before falling asleep. Due to the addictive nature of scrolling, it’s easy to fritter away more time than you intended, meaning you actually get to sleep later. Second, to the extent your scrolling reinforces negative feelings, they can influence the quality of your sleep, as can the blue light emitted by our devices, which can disrupt sleep patterns. Third, scrolling tends to stimulate the brain, when your goal is to be winding down. So, the best advice is, don’t scroll in bed!
  • Twenty-four-hour connectivity blurs the boundary between work and personal time. Too often we feel as if we have to make ourselves available to our employers and colleagues after hours and on weekends. Employers should set an example and not call, text, or email during those times unless it’s an emergency. But if they cross this boundary, you do not have to respond until you’re back “on the clock.” Your behavior will tell them what to expect in the future. After a few instances of no response on weekends, they will learn you’re not available after-hours.
  • Device dependency displaces more rewarding activities. According to a recent survey of 1,000 Americans by National Today data scientists, 75% of Americans spend three or more hours a day looking at screens; 48% spend 5 hours or more per day looking at a screen, while 13% spend 10 hours or more. All of that screen time means less time for everything else: sports and other outdoor activities, hobbies, in-person socializing, sleep, and even more rewarding self-care. Life is happening in front of you! Put down the phone and engage it!
  • Device dependency reduces creativity. As Glennon Doyle wrote in her best-selling memoir, Untamed, the thing she worries about most when “we hand our children phones [is that] we steal their boredom from them. As a result, we are raising a generation of writers who will never start writing, artists who will never start doodling, chefs who will never make a mess of the kitchen, athletes who will never kick a ball against a wall, musicians who will never pick up their aunt’s guitar and start strumming.” All creative pursuits require down time—time that is not usurped by outside stimulus—so that there is space for our own creative impulses to arise and be acted upon. That process might start as boredom. But what follows is creativity. Yet another reason to put down the phone!
  • Device dependency takes attention, intention, and power away from YOU. Our reliance on external information and stimulus makes it appear that everything important is happening outside of us, g., outside of you. But the truth is, you are the most important actor in your own life. You are—or should be—the driver of your day, your thoughts, your dreams. But to follow your own inner guidance, you have to create the time and place to listen to it. That means turning down the external noise machine and tuning in to “the still small voice within.”

Can YOU unplug for a day?

The problem with addictive behaviors is that they’re compulsive. We do them without even thinking about them. That’s why Jewish Community Reboot in 2009 declared the first Friday of March as National Day of Unplugging. Their goal was to encourage people to take a 24-hour break from digital technology, and instead, spend more time with their families and friends, enjoying other activities. This year, 2023, the National Day of Unplugging has gone GLOBAL! Organized by the Unplug Collaborative, there is now a worldwide call to “elevate human connection over digital engagement—so we all feel less alone.”

Both the members of Community Reboot and the Unplug Collaborative recognize that technology has a place in our lives; they simply remind us it should be a tool that we use—not a master we turn our authority over to. The Unplug Collaborative website offers an entire array of things to do without your device on GDU (Global Day of Unplugging). The common theme is to make it a day of celebration, rather than sacrifice. Yes, you’re going without your smartphone, AND you’re doing something better instead!

Nevertheless, unplugging can still be difficult—as breaking any habit is likely to be. So here are a few pointers to help yourself out:

Put your phone in a box. See if you can go 24 hours without responding to it.

Get together with others who are unplugged. You can make it just for fun, or create a challenge out of it: first one to check their phone has to pick up the tab for your group activity.

Give yourself something better to do – preferably out of cell phone range. Take a hike, get out on the water, visit an art museum, go to a concert, take a class, or try something non-digital you’ve never done before! The best way to not miss your phone is to live the kind of life that other people only post about!

After all, you’ve got better things to do than text!

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider, who should also be consulted with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.


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