Over the last two years, the internet has been a blessing and a curse in equal measure.
Imagine how much harder the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 would have been without online shopping, Zoom, Instagram, email, JustGiving fundraisers, Spotify…
Sitting in front of a screen enabled us all to order shopping and groceries, keeping in (virtual) touch with friends and loved ones, while allowing millions of people to work from home.
Unfortunately, our increasing dependence on digital technology also exacerbated less welcome trends, which were already becoming apparent long before March 2020.
These include diminishing attention spans and restlessness, heightened depression and anxiety, plus greater anger and intolerance towards people with different viewpoints.
As such, it’s worth making a concerted effort to reduce your screen time this year, especially now that sporting and leisure facilities have fully re-opened across the UK.
Our tips below won’t prevent essential use, but they ought to deter unnecessary or casual activities…
Routinely check screen time
Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems monitor how often your device is unlocked, which apps you’re using and how many notifications you’ve received today.
Android breaks this down into specific activities – using your phone, viewing the BBC News app, and so forth. Simply viewing these numbers might encourage restricted usage in future.
Deactivate or time-restrict certain activities
Smartphone digital wellness tools include visual reminders and prompts to reduce your screen time, such as Android 11 devices adding a pink tinge to screen displays after 10pm.
You can schedule various app-specific timers, warnings and cut-offs; activate bedtime mode to make the screen monochrome at bedtime; reduce night-time notifications, and so on.
Another good way to diminish the habit-forming process of dipping in and out of certain platforms is to delete apps entirely, especially superfluous or trivial ones.
Logging onto desktop sites through a web browser only takes a few seconds, but that’s often enough to discourage casual, subconscious or habitual accessing of non-essential services.
Take regular breaks
Smoking is a dangerous and destructive habit in itself, but outdoor smoking does provide a reason to leave the TV, monitor or smartphone behind for a few moments.
Healthier excuses for periodic screen breaks include putting the kettle on, letting the dog out, or simply taking a few moments to refocus your eyes and let your brain freewheel.
Concentrate on food
Although we often think we’re multitasking, what our brains are really doing is switching quickly between different things, giving short bursts of concentration to each in turn.
Trying to watch TV while eating means you won’t enjoy either activity as much as you would in isolation. Food tastes far nicer when you focus on its taste, flavour, textures, etc.
Keep technology out of the bedroom
There’s no reason to have a smartphone on your bedside table. Alarm clocks will wake you up, landlines provide communication in case of emergencies, and books can entertain you.
Similarly, keep laptops and TVs out of the bedroom. Bombastic adverts and loud music will discourage sound sleep, while the consequences of nocturnal smartphone use are well known.
Don’t carry phones around with you
If phones in the bedroom are unnatural, phones in the bathroom are unhygienic. Unless you’re using it as a music player, leave your phone on standby (or elsewhere) while you ablute.
Outdoor activities should be enjoyed in the round rather than through a camera screen. If you must take a phone with you, keep it pocketed and on Airplane Mode to minimise interruptions.