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A Digital Detox Expert Explains How to Reduce Your Screen Time

By Sydney Gore

Right before the month of January swings around, a cloud of panic disperses over everyone as they get their New Year's resolutions in order. Going into 2018, I didn't set myself up for any big, life-changing plans. When harassed by friends about how I wanted to improve myself, I shrugged that I could benefit from making healthier decisions in general. Leading up to the big ball drop, I decided that I would give up alcohol and partake in Dry January as a way to clean out my system. I lasted for 19 days before indulging in a few glasses of red wine that my body completely rejected the next day. So by the time that I was approached about doing a digital detox, I questioned whether I had the strength to successfully commit to it.

Back when I was a freshman in college in 2011, one of my professors forced us to partake in one of these cleanses from all things digital. All I can remember from the experience is the confidence I initially felt at the prospect of going technology free for 24 hours, followed three hours later by the crushing disappointment that came over me afterward when I realized that I couldn't listen to music on my iPod. I quickly caved and proceeded to write a sappy essay reflecting on my weakness to music. (Sorry, Professor Lawrence!)

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This time around, I managed to stay mostly offline on all of my devices for a solid 24 hours, but it wasn't an easy task — my work revolves around the Internet so that means constantly being online to stay up to speed with what's breaking or trending. For this detox, I allowed myself to check Twitter for news purposes only and to use Netflix when I needed a break from the outside world. I only used my phone to communicate with others if they texted or called me first, and I actively avoided all of the other apps on my iPhone.

To make me feel a little less solitary, I met a friend for brunch and then spent the rest of the day running errands. Even though I usually get overwhelmed by large crowds of people, I felt productive as I checked things off my list and interacted with others in a public setting. However, it was alarming how often I caught myself absent-mindedly opening Instagram. The whole experience made me realize that I need to break these habits that have become so ingrained in my daily routine.

In the midst of my digital detox do-over, I reached out to Jess Davis the founder of Folk Rebellion, a lifestyle brand and movement aimed at bringing awareness to the benefits of digital-free living. Davis provided some guidance on reducing screen time, since she's an expert at living off the grid as demonstrated with Folk Rebellion's monthly newspaper The Dispatch. Learn more about the ways of the digital detox and how to mindfully use technology in the interview below:

The word "detox" has so many different connotations these days. What exactly does it mean to you?

For me it means temporarily going without something (food, screens, alcohol, media) to gain an awareness of my consumption of it once I incorporate it back into my life. It's not a quick fix crash diet or way of living, but rather a chance to open my eyes.

What defines a "digital detox"?

Going without screens, technology, and digital mediums for a set length of time.

Why do you think that digital detoxes are so necessary now?

It's imperative that humans learn how to regulate their tech usage the same way we watch what we're eating and drinking. The technology is growing faster than we can study it, but the early research is already showing that there are negative effects with overuse and misuse of technology.

The way people feel empowered to make conscious choices in regards to their usage is by first understanding their triggers, patterns and gateway drugs. The iPhone put the world in our pocket. It was only 10 years ago this invention changed EVERYTHING about the way we live, communicate, date, shop, sleep, eat, work and more. The bloom is a little off the rose now, and I feel it's only going to get worse as people start to talk more about their digital exhaustion, stress under waterfalls of emails, isolation from being socially connected but not leaving their homes, and more.

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When did you start implementing digital detoxes into your life? What was your reasoning behind it?

I was a digital brand strategist and the epitome of the super plugged in New Yorker. I wore busy like a badge of honor, communicated 24/7 through every new platform on behalf of my clients, and had absolutely no boundaries. I was the person who when a plane touched down, I powered up and texted clients that even though I was on vacation, I was available. Eventually I started to burn out. Not realizing what it was, I sought medical help for my brain fog, memory issues, malaise, and more. It wasn't until I went on a family vacation where they gave me an intervention. In the airport I had to hand over all my devices. To be clear, I did this kicking and screaming, literally. But on day eight, I woke up with a sharp and clear mind, energy, and an alertness I had not felt in years. It was my lack of technology which allowed me to heal. When I came back to NYC, I quit my job and started the Folk Rebellion mission.

How long should someone realistically try to go on a digital detox for? (What is a sufficient length of time?)

Any length is amazing. At minimum 24 hours, preferably a weekend, but in all honesty I didn't have my wellness awakening until day eight away from screens. (Ed note: This scares me because the average American vacation is no more than 7 days.) So the longer the better, but any little bit helps.

How can people that are required to be on devices all day for their job effectively implement a digital detox? Is there a way to establish some sort of balance and unplug while also remaining productive at work?

Yes, 100%. Right now we allow digital communications and screens to seep into every crevice of our days. The internet is 24/7, available everywhere, and instant. But that doesn't mean we need to be those things. I think there is a major education that needs to happen within the business sector. If you even start to scratch the surface on productivity and employee wellness, you will quickly see that less is more. A boss or company usually wants a healthy bottom line.

That comes with a healthy staff. With a little reading you can share with your team, boss and office, that less screen time and rules for emailing will help creativity, productivity, and morale. Some easy changes are to set official "off" hours. Even if it's as late as 9pm, giving permission to employees to not always "have to check" will be a weight off their shoulders.

What are some of the benefits of living "offline" for a short period of time?

Where to start? There are so many! Increased attention span, creativity, memory, focus, presence. Healthier relationships and communication. An unentertained brain allows space for ideas, innovation, and problem solving. The social, emotional, cognitive benefits are immeasurable.

What would you recommend to someone who experiences symptoms of withdrawal from a digital detox?

The most important thing is to not create a vacuum where the technology once was. You need to find something to replace the feeling in your hand, the stimulation of the brain. I recommend people learn how to make friendship bracelets again. It keeps their hands busy and lets their mind wander. It allows them that time to reacquaint themselves with being alone with their thoughts. Hobbies that keep their hands busy but their brains idle are great. Creativity and physical movement is also key. Lastly, they should focus on IRL connection with people.

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How do you apply mindfulness to technology?

Every time I choose to engage with technology, for me, it is just that —a choice. I am not automated, I am not allowing my tech or the people's pings, dings, notifications, or buzzes on the other end dictate how I am spending my day and time. So I practice mindful tech. And in my life I practice meditation and mindfulness. When I am feeling overwhelmed or ungrounded, even if for a few moments of pause, I stop and take some deep breaths and check in with my body and brain.

How were you able to remove yourself from a tech-focused lifestyle? What steps did you take to detach?

I started to see that every one of my hobbies was swallowed by my iPhone. I no longer wrote with a pen and paper, I didn't practice photography anymore, my music, my books, my everything was in that phone and it all felt the same. So I fell back in love with the tactile and tangible. I started to journal again, I bought loads and loads of magazines. I replaced my kindle with stacks of books beside my bed. I got an alarm clock and a watch. All of these little changes allowed for some fun shopping, (specifically the record player!), and gave less power to my phone. The less reliant I was on it for the things I used to love, the less I was attached to it.

Folk Rebellion is a lifestyle brand and movement that empowers people to live off the grid. What are you hoping to accomplish for your brand going into this new year?

We just launched our monthly, subscription-based print newspaperThe Dispatch, By Folk Rebellion. It is our biggest project, and one I am most proud of yet. Social media and our website are great for connecting with people, but it felt counter-intuitive to our mission, and with all the noise and micro bits of content, we were just scratching the surface of what we wanted to do. So, I created an analog alternative for the screened-in generation.

Additionally, we will be taking off the grid escapes to places like Italy, the Russian River Valley, and the Adirondacks. Our focus is really getting The Dispatch into as many hands as possible, me continuing my talks, speaking engagements, and corporate wellness trainings ushering this into the mainstream. Oh and we just moved into a lofted studio space in Brooklyn where we will be hosting gatherings. The pie in the sky dream is to help regulate tech in schools. We are running science experiments on these kids who know no better.

Anything else you'd like to add?

We aren't anti-tech. We're pro humans. Which means the tech giants need to start making tech that isn't in the awareness and eyeball economy. And until they do that, or the government steps in and makes them, Folk Rebellion will be here making a hell of a lot of noise to wake people up.

Photo via Instagram

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