New year, no apps? A digital detox as a New Year's resolution

Would you consider powering down your social media accounts as a New Year's resolution? A University of Regina professor said he understands why people would want to, and offers up a bit of advice on how to scale it back or make the experience more positive.

You don't have to go cold turkey, but there are ways to rein in screen time

University of Regina professor Alec Couros says people can also choose to replace what they view to be negative apps with positive ones that focus on about things like learning or fitness rather unplug completely. (Karin Larsen/CBC)

With the new year comes new resolutions, and some people are choosing to unplug and embark on a digital detox. 

"Some people will do it totally cold turkey, that they won't touch any technology," said University of Regina professor Alec Couros, adding some may simply choose to "trim the cord."

He understands why people would want to take a break. 

"We are sent so much information from so many sources," he said, noting that makes it difficult to focus well on anything.

"After a while you're just going to be exhausted and you no longer have the capacity to do good work or to study or to do the things that are moments important to you, to give someone a hug, and to spend some time, quality time, face-to-face." ​

University of Regina Alec Couros says there are some apps that can help monitor and restrict phone usage, as well as reward kids for not using their phones. 'As we try and get away from the apps, we're probably going to ask the apps to help us kind of detox from them,' he said. (Brian Rodgers/CBC)

How to scale it back

People should understand how much time they spend looking at screens and what they're doing with that time if they're trying to scale it back, Couros said. There are even apps that can monitor what apps you use and for how long.

"Once you do an assessment, you might have a better idea of what's pulling you away from the things you think are more important."

'I make a conscious effort only to go to my phone when I choose to go to my phone, and not be on a reactionary loop where it's just, if it buzzes then I 'm always caught into it.' - Bradley Boileau , Regina resident

Then people can decide what to delete completely, what to remove from just the phone and what to limit.

"Another thing that a lot of people successfully do is just turn off notifications," he said.

"The idea that notifications continue to pull you toward your device can be very unhealthy and very damaging."

Making choices

Regina resident Bradley Boileau isn't interested in a digital detox, but said he makes the choice when to use technology.

"I make a conscious effort only to go to my phone when I choose to go to my phone, and not be on a reactionary loop where it's just, if it buzzes then I'm always caught into it," he said.

Regina resident Bradley Boileau thinks most people will likely continue to use social media in some way. 'It’s just so quick and it’s just so easily available and maybe that’s the trick: it’s just so prevalent,' he said.

"I put my phone not even on vibrate just on complete silence. I choose when I engage."

Boileau said he can't see people pulling away from social media entirely because so much communication exists through the platform now, for personal and business connections.

Missed connections

Couros said simple changes like keeping the phone out of the bedroom and buying an alarm clock can also help.

"If you are woken up by your phone, you're probably going to look at email. You're probably going to look at tweets."

Many who choose to take a hiatus often come back, and sometimes they have felt invisible to others and that can be scary, he said. 

"I think there's an expectation for people to be online, or perhaps they just missed people because it's one of their ways of connecting today," Couros said. 

Furthermore, many people are now required to use social media, or at the very least email, in their work, which can make it difficult to go cold turkey. That's why he said it's important to find balance and find ways to reduce use.

"It's whether we are going to be used by the tools, or we're going to be the user of those tools," he said.


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