While greater productivity is definitely a massive benefit from the proliferation of the internet, it has also come at the cost of greater electronic interfacing. There is little we do these days that don’t require technology in some fashion, and this means we rarely get a break from this ubiquitous innovation. This isn’t good for us, and it can be especially damaging for our brains. It also is self-reinforcing, as the more we use technology, the harder unplugging from technology becomes.
There are certainly ways you can limit the distractions of the internet while you’re working. However, we at Wing also advocate cutting off from electronics entirely, even productive applications like your Slack or Gmail. While you obviously can’t completely go hermit-style and eliminate your digital footprint, there are small steps and actions you can take to try and unplug.
What Do We Mean By Unplugging from Technology?
Before I jump into it any further, I’d like to clear up any misconceptions about what I mean by unplugging from technology. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not telling you to become a hermit and denounce technology. I’m not even telling you to delete social media from your phone or install a permanent distraction blocker.
Obviously, in the culture of work-from-home thanks to COVID-19, it is becoming increasingly hard to separate from electronics. You have to spend hours of the day sitting in front of your computer. Even in off-hours your boss may not be opposed to reaching out to you. In this environment, I understand that separating from your computer or phone may seem unnecessary or even detrimental. But, I do believe that it’s worth it, especially since I’m not asking for a complete divorce.
Ultimately, what I mean by unplugging is simply taking specific, deliberate time out of your day to avoid interacting with electronics. This means televisions, reading tablets, phones, or even music. Focus on reading a book for two hours, or do some unguided meditation. Or, go for a picnic with your in-person family, and tell them to leave their phones behind too. You don’t have to take drastic measures, but we at Wing do believe that being able to take a step back from your technological usage is the first step in really understanding what possible effects it could have on you.
Why Is Unplugging From Technology a Good Idea?
Before we tell you to go completely cut out a major part of your life, we’re going to first provide you with good evidence for why. The more obvious reasons, such as the limitless number of distractions on the internet, doesn’t need much elaboration.
However, there are many, many more reasons for a technological cleanse than simply avoiding distractions. With the incredibly unforgiving grip that technology holds over us today, many of the negative side effects of our phones and laptops may seem benign to us. However, we at Wing have a long list of possible things that electronics are doing to your brain, and we don’t wish them upon our worst enemy. As long as you are aware of it, you may begin to see these effects in your own life.
Reason #1: Electronics Promote Anxiety
One of the greatest boons of our generation is how much connected we can be because of our electronic tools. However, this can also be reversed: the constant connection to others can be the cause of much distress. The truth is, when we have our phones with us and our social media tools activated, we find it difficult to not feel like we’re missing something. I’m sure you’ve experienced the feeling of anxiety that you get whenever you aren’t on your phone.
This effect of phones can be seen in the phantom vibration syndrome, where people feel like they got a notification on their phone even when they haven’t. It’s a demonstration of how we are always thinking about our phone, anxious for the next alert.
Ultimately, this anxiety that builds up in us causes us to check our phones almost 24/7. It can also lead to an unhealthy habit whereby some find mental stimulation in seeing new messages/emails. Once you get that message and respond, you’ll find that you go right back to where you started: anxiously waiting.
Don’t get me wrong: this may sometimes be beneficial. You don’t want to miss out on a message that may be an emergency. However, if it really is that important, than people will usually call (which is a lost art that actually is more productive than texting now). The truth is, most of the time you’ll find yourself anxious for no reason. You can wait a few hours before reading that text from your friend Debra. Even if your brain tricks you into thinking that it’s something worth waiting anxiously for, taking a break from electronics can teach you to be more controlled in how you await notifications.
Reason #2: Electronics Make You Stressed
Stress and anxiety go hand in hand, so this section may seem similar to the last. However, anxiety is mainly a result of you constantly expecting to hear from other people. What I mean by stress, meanwhile, is a little more deep-rooted in what the technological pace of society has done to us.
Electronics, overall, increase the pace of your life. The multitude of things that can come at you at once might be overwhelming. Work from home doesn’t necessarily help, as you may find your workload increasing now that your company has gone virtual.
Because the line between “home” and “work” has been blurred, it is more important than ever to learn to take time off from your electronics. Many individuals are increasingly finding themselves taking work calls even during off hours. This fuels their stress in a similar way to the aforementioned anxiety: it constantly causes them to think about whether or not they may be getting a call from upper management soon.
Additionally, technology simply facilitates a faster, more hectic work life. In real life, if somebody who’s looking for you sees you talking to another person, they will decide to leave you alone until you’re not occupied. Similarly, if they notice the pile of work on your desk, they’ll tread lightly out of respect for your time. This consideration goes almost completely out the window during work from home. Without even realizing it, people can add more and more stress on you. They can send you emails or Slack messages at inopportune times, since they can’t look across the web and gauge your workload.
What this ultimately results in is an unhealthier work-life balance that engenders a high amount of stress. Obviously, taking a break from technology won’t necessarily save you from your work. However, unplugging from technology would still be a calming commitment that may help you see the larger picture. Hopefully, taking a step back will allow you to prioritize your tasks better and lower your cortisone levels.
Reason #3: Electronics Give You FOMO
Now, you might be in the camp who doesn’t know what FOMO is or doesn’t see why it applies. Before we have that debate, I want to show you a very quick and short video on what FOMO is.
So, I know what you’re thinking.
“Fear of Missing Out? That’s for teenagers and adolescents who obsess over vacuous indicators of reputation like social media likes. As a working adult, surely I’ve overcome any vestiges of my embarrassing childhood.”
And you may be perfectly right. FOMO for the kids today speak to their constant desire to be beloved and connected, which is a bane of technology in its own right. However, for individuals who have long since graduated adolescence, this is a dark past best kept bottled. On the other hand, even if you no longer crave the attention of others through social media validation, almost everyone undergoes feelings of FOMO somehow. And technology is doing its part to make sure of it.
FOMO doesn’t just have to be the validation that teenagers are obsessed with. For driven professionals, FOMO can come in various forms. Your coworkers going out to eat, and you hearing about it, is one of the most obvious examples.
What if you were busy traveling for work, or finishing up a deliverable, and you have to miss an event? A seminar by an eminent vision leader, for example, or a cocktail party thrown by a friend. Being able to see evidence of the event that you couldn’t go to inevitably creates a sense of missing out that you have no control over. Instead of putting behind that project you really wanted to work on but couldn’t, technology forces you to see your friendly coworkers working on it instead and sharing updates.
That pit in your stomach? That’s FOMO, and it could be a lot more manageable if your laptop or phone wasn’t shoving it in your face all the time.
Reason #4: Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
In a similar vein to the above reason, unplugging from technology is a good way to prevent the frequent spiral of outward comparison that many of us face. Teenagers do this when they look at their friends’ social media online. Professionals do this as well, even if we think that we’re over it.
One of the strongest sources of comparison and imposter syndrome comes out of the working man’s Instagram: LinkedIn. Nowadays, LinkedIn is a one-stop shop for people to give professional updates. For some, seeing the amazing things others do on their feed inevitably leads to a comparable lack of self-worth. Sure you can be happy to see your friend get promoted or attend an exclusive event. However, it can also cause a sense of invalidation or lowliness in comparison. Even for those who are working 9-5 jobs, “professional” social media like LinkedIn can act like its more casual counterparts, creating a powerful feeling of depression and worthlessness.
Another way that technology can make you compare yourself to others is through more impersonal means. The news, for example, can talk about extraordinary people who make you feel inferior in comparison. You can see someone on a fictional TV show who you look down upon because your status is comparably higher. All in all, technology abounds with ways to spark your human desire to contrast yourself with your surroundings. Unplugging from electronics can be a great way for you to calm down, step back, and see the bigger picture.
Reason #5: Refocusing your Interpersonal Connections
One of the most devious tricks of electronic messaging is that it actually negatively affects your interpersonal life. Mainly, it harms your in-person interactions, especially at home with people you are used to. When you’re on your phone or on the computer all the time, you’ll find yourself too distracted or too busy to spend quality time with your children or your friends. This may seem counter-intuitive, especially when you’re spending that digital time messaging real-life humans.
However, electronic messaging lacks much of the nuance of a face-to-face interaction. Body language, tone, and subtle cues are completely absent, and the actual language used in texting can be very different from ordinary speech. While I completely trust you to be able to hold a conversation in both forms, it is important to remember that face-to-face communication is ordinarily more effective.
Even in a national quarantine, electronics doesn’t have to be the answer to how you interact with others. Sure, you’re working from home and need to communicate virtually with your coworkers. Still, you might have a family or roommates that you need to talk to. Take some time off of electronics and focus on some non-virtual interactions! If you take a break from your digital connections, you may find yourself much better at managing your real-life ones.
Reason #6: Get Better Sleep
This reason requires little introduction. Using electronics before bed is an infamous way to keep yourself up at night, for a variety of reasons. The blue light is well known for damaging many a sleep cycle by stopping melatonin. The mental stimulation that a phone can be bad when you’re trying to go to bed with a calm mind. Even when you are sleeping, the anxiety arising from electronics can force you awake multiple times throughout the night. All of this combined together creates a vicious cycle of consistently low-quality sleep.
A variety of studies have demonstrated the negative affects that using a phone before bed can have on your sleep. Not only does lack of quality sleep at night cause you to become more irritable and tired throughout the next day, it can even affect your focus and your actionable tasks in small ways. A lot of people who believe that they’re cursed with damaged sleep cycles may want to try cutting electronics out of their bedtime routine. It may prove to work wonders.
Reason #7: Rebuild your Physical Health
Of course, I’m not denigrating the physical health of any readers of this blog. However, it is true that your physical health can be very adversely affected by heavy use of technology. By “physical health,” I can mean anything from your fitness to your eyesight. Technological use has a large range of detriments on your health, for various reasons.
How Does Technology Harm Your Physical Health?
First and foremost, electronics can make you lazier and less inclined to exercise. If you’re on your laptop or your phone, chances are you’re not exactly lifting weights or going for a run, unless you explicitly decided to beforehand. More likely than not, you’re relatively sedentary as you surf the web, and this can be a problem in an environment like work-from-home. The effects of a lack of movement during your day can come back to bite you, as you may find yourself becoming less and less fit without realizing it. Obviously, this dilemma has an obvious solution: go to the gym or go on a run! However, making your brain remember to do these things may require a bit of a break from technology.
Secondly, technological screens have been well-documented to harm your eyesight. Digital eye strain is a real thing, and unless you give yourself a break from electronics it may be a very harmful phenomenon. This is especially the case in the dark, when the only source of light is your phone screen.
Finally, we can turn back to this list’s reason #6: phones can harm your sleep schedule. Sleep is one of the most important aspects of your health, and losing out on sleep can cause many problems and deficiencies within your body without you even realizing it.
Caveats: Sometimes Technology Does Help
Of course, there are many ways that technology can actually be a benefit to your physical health. We’ve designed apps for counting steps and measuring your heartbeat. Some apps even provide the motivational push you may need to get out of your house and onto the hiking trail. Videos by fitness gurus can teach you new, unprecedented ways to work out. Many of these gurus’ lessons are things that you could’ve never discovered on your own. These are all definitely boons to your gym routine. However, ultimately, the effects of phones on your physical health is a net negative. Unplugging from technology can be a great way to reset your physical routines into a healthier lifestyle.
Reason #8: Get Your Emotions in Check
Technology isn’t the healthiest option for stabilizing emotions. Notifications can give us scary whiplash, as each ring can harbor sad, scary, or happy news. Even if you’re having a great time at a dinner with friends, an alert from your boss can suddenly remind you about your awful work situation, which puts a massive damper on the occasion.
While electronics do make us more connected with our fellow human beings, this means that we’re often at the whim of these fellows beings as well. The constant slew of notifications, many of which could be positive, negative, or anywhere in between, can be harmful to our ability to live in the present. Being happy in the moment is inevitably putting some other, more stressful matters on the backburner. Electronics can actively bring those stressful thoughts to the forefront.
Being able to take a break from electronics could allow you to calmly live in the moment, at least for a little bit. You can spend time to yourself or your family, without the worry wrought by every little notification and message.
Reason #9: Electronics Harm Your Memory
Studies have shown that both your short term and long-term memory may be affected by electronic use. This point mainly relates to phones, which have been scrutinized more intensely.
Specifically, technology has acted as a form of “external memory” for many of us. This means that we rely on technology to remember and learn a multitude of information. For instance, we use Google when wondering the simplest questions or write down all of our needs on electronic notes. While this is one of the greatest conveniences of technology, it’s a double-edged sword. Relying so heavily on this external memory has actually caused us to become less and less reliable in internal memory.
This may seem kind of hokey: our brains aren’t exactly becoming dumber because technology is becoming smarter. However, it is scientifically proven that our brains tend to forget things easily nowadays because we believe that we’ll easily find it on search engines. This specific phenomenon has been labeled the “Google effect“. This quite intuitive explanation of what phones can do to our memory is more than enough reason to try and cut back on the amount of technology we use. Unplugging would be a great way to try and rebuild that internal memory that your body no longer relies on.
Reason #10: You are more creative when offline
The high quantity of entertainment at our fingers nowadays can be overwhelming. When you have four streaming services set up on your devices, you may find yourself struggling to keep up with the shows you’re missing out on. However, every moment you spend trying to maintain pace with the technological wave is a moment you could’ve spent being creative or exploring your passions.
Electronics can be a blessing because they provide us with so many possible options for actions. You could check your email or watch Netflix or call a friend, all through the click of one button. However, the sheer possibility technology provides us frequently makes us forget about the offline options we have.
When your brain is being bombarded by electronic stimulation, it’s difficult to take time to yourself. It becomes harder to be creative or to chase hobbies that may require offline exertion. The more time you consume, the less time you have to create. Consequently, the less you create or practice the hobbies you love, the more distanced you’ll feel from them until you lose that passion completely. This is a dangerous cycle, and taking time off of electronics can help you recognize your hobbies or talents that had been supplanted by technological time.