We're addicts. Few of us manage to stop checking their work emails and updating their Twitter status while on vacation; although we desperately need to. Why is it so hard to go unplugged?
20 years ago going on vacation necessarily meant being disconnected. There was no other option; digital technology was in many ways still in its infancy and smartphones were only in the minds of technology visionaries. ...My god, how did we cope?
Somehow, we managed. You covered for each other and created a boundary between work and holiday, because you had to. In the holiday season of 2012, however, a third of working Brits checked their work messages while on vacation, and two in five kept regularly logging onto social media sites, according to research by BT.
Going cold turkey from work-related technology is something only few of us achieve. According to BT, that's not only bad for our health, but also for our relationships. Our urge to stay connected with business makes us fall out with family and friends who feel neglected and disturbed in their holiday. In fact, one in four of us try to check work communications without our family or friends noticing, well aware that the odd email we send out will spell trouble in paradise.
What's the secret to taking a “real” break? Cali Williams Yost, the CEO and founder of the Flex+Strategy Group / Work+Life Fit, Inc., wrote in the article “How I finally went cold turkey from working on vacation” in Fast Company about how she finally gave her brain a rest. There were three steps to her strategy: day blocking, email bankruptcy, and social media fasting.
First, Yost blocked off the two days before her vacation and the first day back from any big meetings, trips or deadlines. “The goal is to avoid leaving for vacation a sleep-deprived, frazzled mess and to have a re-entry day that doesn’t erase any benefit of vacation fifteen minutes after you return,” she writes.
Then she declared email bankruptcy, deleting all the email messages that came in while gone and starting fresh. At last, she detached herself from any tweets, likes and comments for the duration of her holiday (her Klout score fell by a point, but it was worth it).
It worked. The business apocalypse stayed away. Yost relaxed.
But the reluctancy to turn your back to digital technology not only befalls entrepreneurs, business leaders, and modern-day workaholics. Our dependency on phones, laptops, and tablets is based on brain chemistry that takes the forms of addiction.
As Bill Davidow explains in his The Atlantic piece, “Exploiting the neuroscience of internet addiction”, the key to success for the technology industry is to create obsessions: “Many Internet companies are learning what the tobacco industry has long known - addiction is good for business. There is little doubt that by applying current neuroscience techniques we will be able to create ever-more-compelling obsessions in the virtual world.”
Obsession, indeed. In a groundbreaking global experiment two years ago, undergraduates from the Media School at Bournemouth University took part in an experiment called “Unplugged”, which required them to go 24 hours without media.
After they said “goodbye” to their phones, laptops, iPods, and deliberately closed their eyes to all media channels, from the daily newspaper to the TV in the student union bar, the students soon realised that they could hardly cope without. Their reactions mirrored those of most addictions: they felt anxious, fretful, lonely, depressed, jittery, and paranoid.
“Students reported feeling withdrawal symptoms that were similar to drug or alcohol addiction,” said Dr Roman Gerodimos, who led the project. “The words ‘addiction’ and ‘dependence’ kept recurring in their narratives. They felt they lost connection with friends and family, even those living nearby, but also thought that the study was an eye-opener as it gave them the opportunity to reflect on the extent to which the media is part of their lives.”
At the same time, we feel the need to escape communication technology from time to time, according to BT. We know that it's good for us. Trying to help us lead a healthily connected life, they published their “Balanced Communications Diet”. And if that doesn't help, you can always take your next vacation to Hot Springs, Mont. - a town without mobile phone service.
The BT Balanced Communications Diet
Before you can make any changes, you need to understand how you and your family are using technology.
Many families who took part in the research were surprised and at times dismayed by their technology habits. Keeping a log of your family’s use of technology will help you identify good and bad habits and also changes you may want to make.
Location, location, location
Think about where technology is located in the home.
Parents often complained that their children abandoned family time to go on the computer or video game console in their room. Similarly, children reported feeling that they lost out on parents’ attention when they were ’quickly’ checking up on work in the home office. Keeping computers and consoles in a central location will allow your family to share what they are doing online, or at least all be in the same place while using technology.
Set some boundaries about how, when and where technology is used.
The research showed that rules around technology usage reduced anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. The rules are up to you: try removing technology from the dinner table, organise a family games evening either with or without technology, use parental controls to manage use of social networks or the time spent on the family computer, or agree limits on the number of text messages sent in a day. Just remember, whatever rules are introduced, it’s important to talk them through and agree them as a family – and parents sometimes need just as many rules as children!
Be a good example: teach and demonstrate the importance of balance and safety in the way technology is used.
It’s important for parents to set good examples, so think about your own behaviour. For example, avoid checking your smart phone unnecessarily when with your family. It’s easy for children to pick up bad habits from you. In addition, children are using technology at an increasingly early age and teaching safe and responsible use is vital from the outset, it’s important to make sure your children are taking the right steps to keep themselves safe.
Find your Balance
Don’t be concerned by overly positive or negative hype about communications technology. Every family and individual uses technology differently. We hope that this advice helps you find a healthy balance for you so that you have control of technology and are making the most of all forms of communication whether it’s by phone, email, social media or face-to-face.