The Joy of Disconnecting

Photo: vernieman

You’ve heard the horror stories in the news — “Teen Racks Up Multi-Thousand Dollar Phone Bill” or “Video Game Enthusiast Dies in 24+ Hour Gaming Marathon.” Of course these are extreme examples, but the fact remains that we are obsessed with our technological devices. From phones and tablets to computers and gaming consoles, those of us living in the Digital Age are practically addicted to our electronics.

Indeed — an article from Psychology Today points out that when we browse our favorite websites or receive a text message, we get a boost of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This chemical is responsible for the pleasurable feeling or “rush” we get, and it inadvertently feeds our addiction to our devices.

Some experts argue that this dopamine rush can make an addiction to electronics as powerful as an addiction to alcohol or gambling. Combined with our collective mindset that technology isn’t really a bad thing (and thus, not an addiction worth worrying about), this makes the push to disconnect from our devices all the more important.

But if your life isn’t negatively affected by the constant use of electronic tech, why should you bother using it less? Well, let’s examine the joys of disconnecting (and how to do it!). (See also: How to Stay Focused at Work)

Productivity Boost

With the rise of smartphones in the past couple of years, we have acquired the ability to stay connected to both our phone contacts and social media accounts at any hour of the day, almost anywhere in the country. This instantaneousness has made us more impatient, less willing to wait more than a few seconds for something to load or another person to return your message.

Not only that, but we’ve become more distracted — One new email! New text! Twitter update! Friend’s-name-here posted on your wall! — and lost a major life skill in the process, the ability to concentrate on a project for a long period of time. In turn, this leads to a significant loss in productivity, where an hour-long task now takes two hours because you paused to text your friend or colleague back and lost track of time once the conversation took off.

Disconnecting — even if just for an hour or two per day to start — would allow you to get more done in a shorter amount of time, leaving you free to converse with your friends, catch up on news, or watch TV later.

Road Safety

Speaking of distractions, an article in Forbes points out the dangers of texting while driving (according to a recent CDC study):

  • In 2009, more than 5,400 people died in crashes that were reported to involve a distracted driver and about 448,000 people were injured.
  • Among those killed or injured in the crashes, nearly 1,000 deaths and 24,000 injured included cell phone use as the major distraction.
  • Nearly 33% of teenaged drivers nationwide have admitted to texting or emailing while behind the wheel.

There are laws in many states against texting while driving, but just as speeding tickets don’t stop people from going well above the speed limit, anti-texting laws aren’t particularly effective in stopping people from texting while driving.

Again, disconnecting can help prevent more of these tragic accidents (it’s as easy as pulling over or waiting until you arrive at your destination to send or read a text).

Self-Reliance vs. Techno-Laziness

It’s one thing to start using iPads in classrooms to cut back on textbook costs; it’s a whole other thing to allow computers to diminish our critical thinking abilities, both in school and in the workplace. Calculators have been around for years (and now they’re pre-installed apps on our smartphones), but that’s no excuse to rely completely on technology to do our math for us.

Taking a break from tech every once in a while would prevent our society from becoming like those dystopian Hollywood flicks, where robots do everything for us and any glitch in the system leaves humanity in the dark (OK, maybe not that extreme, but the “I don’t know what to do” panic after a technological failure is undeniably commonplace today).

How to Disconnect

So maybe you’re not sold on the idea of ditching your phone, laptop, and other electronics (it’s okay; neither am I). But making a conscious effort to occasionally turn off your phone (or at least put it on silent — especially in movie theaters, for the sake of the audience members around you) can do wonders for both your state of mind and daily productivity. While driving, perhaps leave it in the glove compartment so you won’t know whether you received a text until you’re off the road.

For Facebook (or other social media sites) addicts, StayFocused is an incredible app for temporarily blocking certain websites while you’re trying to work on the computer. Using this app means you can’t access your favorite websites until the time is up, forcing you to stay focused on the task.

How do you stay disconnected? Can you think of any other benefits of turning off the tech for a while? Tell us in the comment section below.

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The Joy of Disconnecting

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Meg Favreau's picture

I took a couple of trips recently where internet access and cell phone service were both severely limited, and it was AWESOME -- so relaxing! Conversely, on one of those trips, the moment we got Wi-Fi, everyone hopped on their phones and conversation died. I've been trying to remain more aware of my tech usage since then.

Guest's picture

When I am at work I always turn my phone on silent and leave in the corner of my desk where I can't see it unless I have to consciously look at it. This allows me to get the work I need to get done without being distracted. Its really discouraging to know that people are becoming more and more obsessed with their relationship with technology rather than making real-life connections (sigh).