I’m sure “digital wellness” isn’t a term you hear every day, but it is becoming increasingly important. Technology has become so integrated into our lives, that we now need to start talking about how to maintain a sense of well-being and consciousness while being fixated in virtual reality all day.
On average, adults spend 11 hours a day staring at some kind of screen. This fact shocked me. Just let that fact sink in. We are only awake for about 15 hours every day, so that means that only 4 hours of our waking day isn’t spent on a device. There’s even a term ‘nomophobia’ coined for the fear and anxiety associated with being away from one’s mobile device. Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital says, “Virtually all games and social media work on what’s called a variable reward system, which is exactly what you get when you go to Mohegan Sun and pull a lever on a slot machine”.
Part of this high screen time is due to how we have become obsessed with multitasking, Anthony Ongaro, filmmaker, and writer behind Break the Twitch highlights. We watch TV while checking Twitter, we online shop while in our Zoom class, we check our emails while catching up with our mom on the phone. Multitasking on several devices is easy considering the average American household has 11 devices that connect to WiFi.
What else comes with our obsession with screens? Well, the lines between true and fake have become so blurred that it’s hard to distinguish between the two anymore. Photoshopped pictures, fake news, and computer bots have become the norm. You can’t believe everything you hear or see anymore. So, how do we maintain a sense of reality, while being on a device that shows us a false reality?
How Do I Improve My Digital Wellness?
Personally, I think there are only two options: limit the amount of time we spend on screens (I say as I type on my laptop lol) or change the relationship we have with technology. This is no easy feat because we have become so accustomed to reaching for our phones in moments of boredom, awkwardness, or loneliness. But, it is possible. Here are some of my personal tips and tricks if you have an iPhone:
Tip #1: Turn off unimportant phone notifications.
A study found that the average person receives 60–85 notifications a day. Human psychology makes it almost impossible for you to resist looking at your phone when a notification pops up. Your brain will wonder: Could that be my ex texting me wanting to get back together? Did I forget an important event? The possibilities will go on and on in your brain until you look at that notification. So, unless the app requires instant attention when you receive a notification, turn the notifications off. I promise you you don’t need to know every time someone likes your Instagram picture or see every update from the Lakers game.
I noticed that each day I would receive about 5 notifications from Buzzfeed. Each time I received a notification, I would look at my phone to see what it was. To my dismay, it would read something like “Check Out 14 Awkward Moments From The Emmy Awards”. This is the definition of a useless notification. I can never regain those 5 precious seconds I took to look down at my phone. I now only receive notifications for phone calls and text messages (and of course PlayFitt ;)).
All you have to do is go into Settings > Notifications and then you can see which apps have notifications turned on and off.
Tip #2: Take a Look at Your Screen Times & Set App Limits
You may be reading the stats that I mentioned above on screen time and be thinking: That’s not me. I’m sure that’s what we’re all thinking. But, have you checked to see how much time you’re actually spending on your phone? The answers may shock you and give you a much-needed slap in the face (I know it gave me one).
If you go to Settings> Screen Time on your iPhone, you can see your daily average as well as the average amount of time you spend on each app. So, if you see that you’re spending an average of 2 hours a day on Instagram, then that excuse you told yourself of “my screen time is high because I work from my phone” isn’t valid anymore. I think it scares many of us to look at these statistics, but it gives us the answers we need to make a change and improve our digital wellness.
When I saw that I spent over an hour on TikTok a day, I knew I needed to do something. So, I set up an “app limit”. Turns out, you can actually manage the amount of time you spend on certain apps each day. I set up a limit of 30 minutes so that once I reach that limit, a notification pops up telling me that my limit has been reached. Often I wouldn’t be looking at the time and then realize 2 hours passed by. This feature allows me to be aware of the time I am spending on my phone, while also alarming me that my time is up.
Tip #3: Buy Real Clocks Instead of Using Your Phone
Many of us use our phones to set alarms and check the time. Using your phone to wake you up in the morning tempts you to scroll through social media when you set your alarm and when you turn your alarm off (not to mention the blue light hinders sleep). Remove this temptation by buying a good old-fashioned alarm clock (yes, they still sell them). It’s actually harmful to be sleeping next to your phone anyways because of the radiation, so it's useful in more ways than one to sleep with your phone in another room.
Similarly, we tend to use our phones to check the time. The problem is that when you check the screen to look at the time, a notification from FaceBook pops up to inform us that Jimmy Applegate wants to be our friend. So, we check out his profile. Then, 20 minutes go by scrolling through his timeline. All this just because we wanted to check the time. Watches are not only stylish and classy, but they can also prevent us from getting sucked into the vortex that is our phone.
Tip #4: Switch Your Phone to Grayscale
Switching your phone to grayscale takes all of the colors away from your phone meaning that you are starting at a black and white screen. Suddenly, scrolling through Instagram becomes a lot less entertaining. Vice reports that many people are reporting decreased feelings of addiction to their phones once they switch the screen visuals so that it’s in shades of gray.
To switch your phone to grayscale, simply go to Settings>Accessibility>Display & Text Size>Color Filters
Tip #5: Change Your Relationship with Your Phone
Let me explain what I mean by this. I realize that limiting the amount of time you spend on screens may be difficult, so another way that you can improve your digital wellness is by using technology to be productive. Rather than spending your free time browsing social media or procrastinating on FaceBook, opt for applications that care about your well-being. I wrote an article previously on 3 Apps Using Technology for Good that you may find useful. Technology has enormous capabilities that can help us learn and develop. You can learn a new language, create to-do lists, and even track the number of steps you take on that little device. Take advantage of these capabilities!
The next time you are in a waiting room or on the bus surrounded by a bunch of people, I want you to observe. What are they all doing? Odds are that everyone is on a device of some sort. What are you inclined to do while standing in line or eating your lunch by yourself? Reach for the digital friend that lives in your pocket.
Something I noticed a long time ago is that phones have become our sources of comfort. They help us to break away from an awkward conversation and help us look like we are doing something important. But, phones didn’t always exist, so what did people do before them? Socialize. Human connection is something we all need and crave. Smartphones and technology are hindering our ability to connect and relate to other human beings. Let’s prove that we can tame this distraction. Technology should be a tool, not a crutch. If you’re brave enough, you can even perform a dopamine detox. Let’s prove that we are in control of technology, not the opposite.
Want an app that changes your relationship with technology? Check out PlayFitt, the movement app that can track your squats, pushups, stairs, steps, and more! Who knew living a healthier life and building sustainable habits could be so fun?