Get ready for some hard facts. Statistics reveal that on an average, we touch our smart phones about 80 times a day. Staggering, is it not? Does that number make you cringe or raise your eyebrows in disbelief? Think again. When was the last time you voluntarily switched off your Wi-Fi or mobile data, or fought the urge to check your phone in the midst of a meeting or an outing with friends or family? Are you a selfie addict or someone who needs to chronicle every waking moment of his/her life through a photo? There is a very large number of people who start having panic attacks when their phone battery drops to less than five percent. Heaven forbid your cellphone completely dies out and you are left feeling irritable and desperate with itchy hands that are dying to plug in a charger and get back to the business of swiping the screen.
If it is your smart phone that wakes you up in the morning, gives you fitness, medical and diet updates, keeps you connected 24/7 with your virtual friends or work, directs you to your destination and even puts you to sleep at night (short of tucking you in), then you need to take a deep breath, sit back and ponder. Has technology enslaved you? If yes, then a digital detox is highly recommended. It is a period during which an individual voluntarily refrains from using their smart phones or computers, and reduces stress by spending time with their friends, pets and family, travelling the world or pursuing their passions. If you are wondering about the need for such a detox, just take a look at some recent headlines: ‘Boy kills mother because she refused to give money to buy a smart phone’, screams one. ‘15-year-old commits suicide because parents refused him access to his online games’, goes another one. Yet another one says, ‘Couple gets divorced because of husband’s excessive use of messaging platforms’.
Recently, in a first-of-its-kind instance, a 26-year-old man approached the National Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru, saying that he was getting addicted to online games. Digital addiction has now become a social malaise. There are also physical manifestations of smart phone addiction and web overload. “There will be fatigue, pain in the neck, dryness of eyes as well as psychological symptoms like a feeling of distress, irritation, and unease when the phone is not available. Social implications decline in outdoor activities, decrease in communication within the family and negative response when concerns are raised about a user’s online activity. There is also a decline in professional or academic pursuits due to preoccupation with the smart phone,” warns Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, professor of Clinical Psychology at Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) clinic at NIMHANS. He shares the case history of one of his patients. A 19-year-old student, pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in Engineering, described as sociable and performing adequately in academics, reported at the SHUT clinic along with his parents. Dr Manoj elaborates, “He was brought to the clinic by his parents. The reason was that he was spending around eight to 10 hours per day on his smart phone.” As reported, he used to get 200 messages a day or approximately 6,000 messages in a month. On an average, he used to take three to four minutes to respond to each message, which meant that around 10 hours a day were spent on texting and related activities. Manoj continues, “He explained that those messages were sent by his friends. They were enquiries about his academics or general exchange of information with friends, he said. He also reported a feeling a loss of control over using the smart phone.”
The dysfunctions arising out of texting such a volume of messages were seen in the form of finger pain, neck strain, sleep disturbances (delay in initiation of sleep up to two hours or difficulty in maintenance of sound sleep caused by an irresistible urge to respond to messages). This problematic use of smart phone also caused decreased communication with parents and a decline in academic performance due to loss of interest in reading academic texts and completing assignments.
No doubt, there is a continuous in-flow of technology in our day-today routine, that has made our lives more convenient, but the flipside is that the same ease has made it difficult to switch off the data deluge that comes from countless notifications and email pings. There is no age bar; toddlers as young as one or two are known to be addicted to games or videos available on the smart phone.
Arun Sebastian Kaiprampadan, business management consultant at SATYA, voluntarily took a one-day detox realising the danger of internet addiction. He explains, “For long, my wife Sumy had her concerns about my next love (mobile phone or laptop) and being always online on social media. She was the first one to prescribe a #DigitalDetoxChallenge for me.” Luckily for Kochi-based Arun, his consultancy firm took up the business consultancy of SATYA- Svasthya Ayurveda Treatment Yoga & Agriculture. And he put up the challenge at SATYA. The campaign was designed as a free sign up challenge for people to spend their day at SATYA Art Cafe, or indulge in a paid ayurvedic wellness retreat. Arun signed himself up first. “Sumy was still not sure whether I would last a whole day without a mobile phone, laptop, Wi-Fi or connectivity. It wasn’t that easy for me either; the first few hours were really tough. You desperately want to know how your previous posts are performing on social media. With me working on social media marketing campaigns, I used to check my profile and page insights every half an hour on an average.
But with time what happened was something unbelievable. I realised offline is the new luxury with nothing to reply to, nothing to track, nothing to post.”
Just one day brought a huge difference to Arun’s life and he explains how: “The immediate beneficiary of the new me was my baby daughter Amy. Earlier, when ever I spent time with my daughter, I would mix catching up on social media with taking care of her. Looking back, I realised, I was supervising- telling her frequent ‘no’s’, ‘don’t touch that’, ‘don’t go there’ and ‘don’t do that’. Without the Wi-Fi, I felt more connected to myself, my own needs and my daughter’s needs. My ‘don’t go there’s’ disappeared and we walked together, completely disconnected from the outside world but more connected with ourselves! Now I am a better listener even with my daughter, though she still has a limited vocabulary,” he grins.
Arun feels social media gives its users constant suggestions to listen to and watch suggested videos based on one’s likes and dislikes, thus keeping the users hooked. Digital detox ensures that all technical suggestions are done away with and prompts one to listen to one’s inner self and relax. And yes, he has a super happy wife at home.
If the hardest part of doing a digital detox is the planning and deciding how, where and when, then worry not — there are variable options. A medical practitioner can help for sure; there are also detox centres and wellness programmes that can help combat digital addiction.
Bindiya Murgai is a mental fitness coach who travelled to England to study Life Coaching and NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). After successfully completing her formal training in mental health and fitness, she decided to harness her collective expertise and experience to help individuals enhance their well-being and mental fitness. Bindiya, based in Ketti Valley in Tamil Nadu, staunchly states, “The most overwhelming commonality that I find is that people all across the world are feeling more and more socially isolated, and much of that has to do with rapid changes and technology. Even though we are more virtually connected because of technology, in real life, we are a lot lonelier. She believes in developing a practice that is not medicine-oriented and her reasons are: “We have rapidly become a hyper quick-fix society. Everyone wants to pop a pill to fix problems that often don’t require any medication at all, and sometimes, medication cannot help. Digital addiction is also one such example, and weaning off needs a systematic programme, and usually no medication at all,” she stresses. She offers two types of digital wellness programmes in a calm and quiet environment.
A digital hygiene is where an individual, family or group wishes to cultivate better digital hygiene in their daily lives. This programme usually lasts two-three days. The focus here is to help the participants create better digital boundaries between the real and virtual world, gain mindfulness training, and learn techniques that make them maintain these boundaries in a practical and sustainable manner.
The second digital detox, that takes five to 21 days, is for people who are over-dependant or addicted to technology and spend hours on their digital devices (like phones and laptops — largely on social media, YouTube etc). “They are typically people who are terrified of being without their smart phones, who can’t leave the phone down even while engaging socially or while eating/ studying/watching a movie, sleep with the phones close to them, wake up at night to check their phones, and find it hard to enjoy a moment without sharing it on social media,” she explains. The increasing number of children getting hooked to smart phones, she opines, is because parents are giving kids as young as one-year-olds, access to these devices. She forewarns, “These devices are being used in place of toys, they keep the children busy, they don’t need someone to play with, caretakers need to be less involved, and everyone is happy for the time being. The children are too young to understand the downside, and because it’s natural for them to become device-dependent for entertainment, and later for social engagement.”
She does not desist from explaining the repercussions: “As they grow up, loneliness, poor interpersonal skills and communication, stress, anxiety, early-age porn addiction, distorted world view, alcohol and substance use, suicidal ideation, ADHD, phobias, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and aggression may manifest.”
He experienced problems in starting and completing routine activities in a timely manner. He started avoiding social interactions, i.e., did not reciprocate a social gesture. He used to get irritated whenever his parents asked him to stop playing games,” says Dr Manoj. He stresses that it requires acknowledgement on the part of the user to understand a smart phone or computer dysfunction and work towards its control.
Bindiya explains about the effect on the adults: “Adults are as prone, if not more, to digital over dependence, but unlike in the case of children, they don’t have fear of being monitored. There are several reasons that lead to this, such as easy accessibility to devices and the internet, control, privacy and flexibility (they can go online when they like, and browse through any sort of material without anyone knowing), excitement (can range from the thrill of stalking someone you like, trolling, to gaming, gambling, watching porn, being on dating sites, getting instant gratification), and finally, sheer boredom.” The consequences include depression, anxiety, alcohol and substance addictions, compulsive behaviours, sleep disorders, ADHD, anger issues, and/or dissociative experiences.
Sometimes, a change of scenery in some verdant location far from the range of mobile networks is a sure shot recharger and if you love travelling along with a spot of photography, then Captain Suresh Sharma can show you the stars and make one exchange virtual tweets for real birdsong through a mobile ‘wellcation’. The Captain is on a mission to conserve nature through tourism and photography- courtesy his Luxury Overland Taurus Truck that will take travellers through Rajasthan, Spiti Valley, Ladakh and Gujarat. The truck has a kitchen and toilet and can accommodate eight people. For those who want to stay away from technology—- the truck gets parked at isolated spots with no internet connectivity where the travelers can get intimately acquainted with nature without email pings or chat notifications to distract them. Captain Suresh talks about the need to detach from technology: “Mobile phones and laptops are like a knife — in a murderer’s hand, it can murder but in a surgeon’s hand, it can save. It is no faul
t of the knife though.” He strongly feels that going on a 10-15 day holiday, taking a complete break from technology, can help recharge the body and mind. There is no compulsion in his truck to keep away from devices. “I have some IT clients who get leave on the one condition that they are available 24/7 on their cellphones. It is a situation where even if they want to get rid of their cellphones, they simply cannot do it!” For all the others who desire a clean break from their devices head over to experience nature on the move with Captain Suresh.
From the rolling hills, snowbound peaks and verdant plains, time to come back to the stark reality and some medical jargon. Dr Pulkit Sarma, Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Spiritual Therapist at Imago-Centre for Self at Pondicherry and Auroville, says, “Digital dependence and smart phone addiction are as bad as drug addiction. It harms the person physically and psychologically and sabotages their growth and development.” Dr Pulkit has a word of advice for parents. “Remember that an example is much more powerful than words — when children find that the adults around them are hooked to gadgets, they too start finding the gadgets irresistible. If you wish to keep your children away from this dangerous addiction, be a good role model for them. Moreover, whenever the child is upset or disturbed, do not offer smart phone as a mood enhancer but find other ways of soothing the child.” Last but not the least seek professional help, he warns, “In case the addiction is severe and you find that in spite of all your
efforts, it continues to overpower you, then seek professional help.”
A digital detox is all about enjoying the present unhindered by tweets and blips and pings. So the next time you see a beautiful sunset or enjoy a high energy dance performance or catch up with friends, leave behind the urge to capture the perfect shot on your smart phone....