Unplugging from all the digital clutter : A two-week device detox may help curb notification overload

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Unplugging from all the digital clutter : A two-week device detox may help curb notification overload



My mornings start off when I am awoken by Kid Ink’s “Ride Out” - the loudest song on my smartphone. My daily routine continues while I am still in bed. I put on some R&B from a music streaming application on my phone, and check every notification I received after dozing off the night before. I usually have four applications to check - an instant messaging app, a photo sharing app, an email app and an app that collects and gives me highlights of yesterday and today’s biggest news. My alter-ego is never more than a meter away from me - even when I’m in the shower, I listen to music playing off of my handheld device. Leaving home and heading to work, a 40-minute ride by subway, I tune in to my video-sharing application.

During my seven-hour work period, I am always on my laptop. Even when I take bathroom breaks I am still connected online through my trusty little phone. Arriving home after a 40-minute YouTube binge, I pop open a can of beer and take a seat in front of my Sony Playstation 4, spending approximately 3 hours on it.

In a single day, I come in contact with digital devices more times than I’ve held my father’s hand during my 24-year life. The problem is, I never realized the seriousness of the problem.


Smartphone nation

Contrary to popular belief that a majority of people are addicted to their smartphones, Dr. David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, states that, “Only a small percentage of people qualify as addicted.” He did say, however, that “many people [do] overuse their smartphones,” in a February 2016 interview with Time Magazine.

“Overuse” is probably an understatement for smartphone and digital device usage in Korea. According to mobile market intelligence provider published article, Newzoo’s “Global Mobile Market Report,” published in April, smartphone penetration rates in Korea stand at 71.5 percent, sitting at fourth behind the United Arab Emirates, Sweden and Switzerland.

Korea also boasts the fastest average internet connection in the world, standing at 26.1 megabits per second (Mbps), almost four times faster than the world average at 7.0 Mbps according to the “State of the Internet” report by Akamai Technologies for the fourth quarter of 2016, published in March.

Likely due to this advanced infrastructure, the average daily use of smartphones in Korea is alarmingly high. According to the Barun ICT Research Center at Yonsei University, high school students, who spend a majority of their time in school with no access to phones, spend an average of approximately five hours on their smartphones each day. People in their twenties use their smartphones the most, clocking in an average of 6 hours per day.

This is in line with mobile phone application analyst firm App Annie’s report on Korean’s smartphone application use from January to March, where it was calculated that Koreans spend an average of 200 minutes daily, the highest of any of the countries it researched.

Countless reports, both domestic and international, report a damning correlation between happiness and the smartphone usage, from respected bimonthly magazine Psychology Today to American news network CBS News all reporting on the detrimental effects that smartphone can have on mental health.

Although these reports on the dangers of digital devices have been published since smartphones became common place in the early 2010s, I really had no reason to reduce my usage until a few days ago.

Pulling the plug

My workload was especially heavy for two weeks, which left me weary and unable to pay attention to anything but work-related tasks. However, my smartphone was booming with texts that demanded my attention, cluttered with notifications and an application pestering me for having “been away for too long! We miss you.” That was the last straw and I pulled the plug on my digital life. I deleted all my favorite applications in a stress-related rage and that is how my digital vacation abruptly began.

Having deleted my favorite applications, I decided to go on a proper digital detox. Digital detoxes are a growing phenomenon that has people taking a break from using electronic devices. There are multiple camps overseas to aid these pushes, including Camp Grounded in the United States, which advertises itself as a “Summer Camp for Adults” that allows campers to “disconnect to reconnect” for a set period.

In China, some parents dish out up to $9,000 to send their smartphone-addicted children to military style camps like Beijing’s Daxing Internet Addiction Treatment Centre to “cure” the addiction.

I couldn’t enroll in any of the aforementioned programs, but decided to set strict rules for myself, bar a few exceptions. I was to use no digital devices except for the laptop at my workplace. I could only use my phone after receiving a notification from my work-related group chat popped up. This was to go on for two full weeks - from April 10 to 22, and eventually continued on for 2 more days.

Things got off to a great start initially. I seemed to be doing everything much faster. Although waking up with an actual analog alarm clock did take some time getting used to, I realized showers didn’t need to be so long when I wasn’t acting like the protagonist in a Toni Braxton music video while belting out “Unbreak My Heart.” I also found out how much time I was wasting on petty, inconsequential activities. Although I like memes, I found out I could live without the next “Salt Bae” or “Caveman Spongebob” crazes. Of course, late night gaming sessions lasting until 4 a.m. were no longer an issue. What I realized was, I was spending too much of my energy and time on inconsequential activities that could otherwise be spent on much more important matters.

However, the boredom became unbearable. I studied fellow subway passengers and looked out at the pitch-black subway scenery but still had ten more stations to go. Even when I came home, there was practically nothing to do. Family members would retire to their phones or laptops after five-minute conversations leaving me in my empty, desolate room.

In retrospect, going cold turkey turned out to be an unwise decision. Ryan G. Van Cleave, a former digital addict who wrote “Unplugged: My Journey Into the Dark World of Videogame Addiction,” said abruptly quitting digital devices entirely, “[like any other addiction] is a disaster waiting to happen if you don’t have a support system in place.” This is probably the reason why I found the sudden void unbearable to cope with.

Learning to take breaks

Even with the complications, I successfully completed my two weeks off from the digital world. However, I found a lack of any concrete changes after the detox. I re-downloaded my favorite applications right after my two weeks break ended, and like the old times, laughed at some of the new memes that surfaced during my time away, and after posting a photo on Instagram, I found myself waiting for the “likes” to stack up as usual. If my detox was longer, I might have seen a significant change, but one thing is for sure - the time away from being connected was like going on a vacation.

Turning off all of my electronic devices was almost close to impossible and feels like an act of regression while the world is gearing up for the fourth industrial revolution. However, a periodic breakaway from being connected 24/7 is psychologically rewarding. According to Health Fitness Revolution, a non-profit organization that works for a healthier world, periodic digital detoxes can help resolve addiction, reduce depression and anxiety, promote better sleep among many other benefits.

Going on a digital detox for long periods of time is a very complicated undertaking to indulge in today.

However, there are always alternatives. The United States has the National Day of Unplugging held on the first Friday of March annually, while the United Kingdom has the National Unplugging Day, which will be held on June 25 this year. It encourages people to stay “unplugged” from sunrise to sun down for a single day. This movement has even inspired some to designated one day a week as their unplugged day. That’s a solution I can see myself getting behind.

BY KIM JUNG-KYOON [kim.jungkyoon@joongang.co.kr]

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