The events of 2020 pushed the issue of screen time to the forefront of many peoples’ lives: time spent using technology spiked nearly 60% from 2018 to March 2020 according to data compiled by display technology firm EyeSafe. After a year of being neck-deep in remote work and virtual entertainment, people are ready to start having healthier relationships with their tech.
Making that happen, however, is often easier said than done. If you’re gearing up to have a tech-healthy summer this year, you’ll need a strategy for doing so. Here are 6 key tips that can help you on your journey towards better technology usage:
1. Respect the smartphone.
It’s easy to take your smartphone for granted, but don’t forget just how powerful it can be and all that it’s capable of. As kid-friendly phone provider Gabb Wireless points out, the modern smartphone has more computing power embedded within it than the entire Apollo 11 rocket did. If you just think of the smartphone as another piece of tech in your arsenal, you’re ignoring just how much time you can spend on it mindlessly.
Just because your phone can do something doesn’t mean that you need to take advantage of that. Spending hours on your smartphone checking email, reading the news, communicating with coworkers, and so on makes it all the more difficult to separate your personal and professional lives once you clock out. Set limits for yourself on when and how you can use your smartphone in order to focus on the essentials. If it helps, consider getting a work phone to use during office hours instead of using your personal smartphone around the clock.
2. Have set “tech-free” times.
While it’s important to use technology properly while you’re engaged with, knowing when to disconnect is just as crucial. The brain, almost like a muscle, needs rest from the constant stimulation that technology provides it. Setting aside chunks of tech-free time can give you the chance you need to unplug and let your mind fully relax.
This is particularly true for families. A recent survey from Pew found that the majority of teens and one third of parents think they spend too much time on their smartphones daily. Instead of just hoping to spend less time on tech in the future, take action and excise tech from certain parts of the day. For families, this represents a valuable time to connect and bond together; for individuals, this break can be a much-needed respite from the constant notifications of smartphones and computers.
3. Supplement with other activities.
Of course, tech-free times are much easier to cope with when they’re filled with engaging activities. While there’s nothing wrong with setting empty blocks of time for unplugging, finding the right replacements can go a long way towards removing the temptation to return to your screens.
The activities you opt for are up to you, but it may be ideal to choose ones that help balance out the stress that can come along with overreliance on technology. Reading, playing board games, or engaging in a tactile hobby like knitting can all be relaxing diversions, but going out into nature is the stress reliever ne plus ultra. In fact, outdoor adventure organizer OARS reports that several consecutive days of wilderness activities can result in decreased levels of cortisol, a hormone commonly associated with stress. For those getting sick of working in front of a screen, some regular time outdoors can help soften the blow significantly.
4. Use engaging technologies instead of passive ones.
If you do find yourself using tech to pass time or as entertainment, that’s alright — just remember that not all screen time is created equal. Instead of using tech on its own terms, try to find a way for tech to keep you engaged with the outside world at large. Curate a tech experience that extends beyond your screen.
The most familiar example to many will be video games, which a report from Johns Hopkins claims can promote wellbeing, closeness, and intimacy when played with friends. Games aren’t the only ways to stay connected with friends virtually, though: the Teleparty feature of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu allows you to watch movies and television shows simultaneously with others. The foundation for an unhealthy tech relationship is made up of mindless inputs and scrollings; use technology in a social, engaging way in order to make the most of it.
5. Monitor usage and set limits.
Setting boundaries and rules is one thing, but practicing them is another entirely. Once you decide what you want your tech usage to look like, you need to have a regime in place to monitor your activity and adjust things accordingly.
On most devices, the monitoring won’t be the difficult part: Apple products, for example, come with built-in screen time tracking features. When it comes to setting limits, though, different goals will require different solutions. If you have sites on which you’re spending too much time, use a browser plugin to block or limit access to them. Set alarms and reminders for stepping away from your devices, and then look at your screen time stats to see if more severe measures are needed.
6. Keep sleep sacred.
It’s as simple as it sounds: keep technology and sleep completely separate. This may seem easy enough, but it’s advice that’s going largely ignored: some 4 in 10 Americans bring their smartphones into bed with them according to data from the National Sleep Foundation. Technology like this is naturally stimulating, and the blue light from modern devices can negatively interfere with the body as it gets ready to sleep. Keep devices out of bed and work to limit tech usage in the hour before you go to sleep; this will ensure that you’re fully restored for the start of each day this summer.
The last thing you need this summer is to have it dragged down by the same technology which could be making it great. By following these tips, you’re setting yourself up for healthy tech usage in the coming months and beyond.