The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Using your iPhone as an alarm clock can set the tone for an anxiety-ridden day

An iPhone with the Twitter and Facebook apps, among others. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)
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With all the constant clicking, liking, sharing, posting, streaming, sending, receiving and watching, it can feel impossible to ever truly unplug.

While fully disconnecting from technology and social media isn’t realistic for most people, one tiny behavioral change at the start of your day can provide a brief respite.

Wake up to a traditional alarm clock.

A majority of American adults report sleeping with their smartphone by their bed, according to a July 2015 Gallup study.

Levi Felix, who founded a company called Digital Detox, said that habit means you’re more likely to check your email, scroll through social media and begin racking up screen time before you’re even out of bed in the morning.

One stressful email can set the tone for the whole day.

Felix would know.

In 2007, he was clocking in more than 70-hour weeks and sleeping in the office. It was the price to pay for his dream job in a tech startup, he said. Felix was so plugged in to his online world that everything else became background noise.

Eventually he realized that being perpetually plugged in was not good for his mental or physical health. He formed his company to help “people reclaim being human.”

He’s realistic. Digital detoxes by nature are short-term fixes. So, how can a temporary cleanse have lasting effects when the average American adult spends more than 11 hours a day in front of a screen?

He suggests manageable, real-world fixes to help people wean themselves and become a little less dependent.

Cutting out all technology in today’s world is not the point, but people can benefit from being more conscious of their screen time.

Beginning with the moment they wake up.

Felix hosts technology-free camps for adults, called Camp Grounded. Participants aren’t allowed to use any technology. They can’t talk about work or give their ages or real names. Everyone must hand over their cellphones, wallets and watches upon arrival and choose a camp name for the weekend.

Since returning from one of Felix’s sessions in October, Jay Willingham of Austin said he has kept his phone out of his bedroom. Although it may seem like a small change, Willingham said it has had rippling effects on his life.

“I used to sleep with my phone right next to me and that was a daily ritual to wake up and start working,” the 29-year-old tech consultant said. “Now, I have this minute to two minutes where I set an intention for the day. I am allowed to be present and it really sets the tone for the whole day.”

What else can you do? Felix says:

  • Don’t use technology when you are in motion, whether that is walking, driving or riding. Be a good passenger on road trips by engaging in real conversation with the driver, instead of scrolling through your phone.
  • Carry a pen and paper with you to write down your thoughts or questions to look up later. This way a simple question such as  “Who was that actor?” won’t go from a simple search to a lot of time lost scrolling.
  • Turn off push notifications. This allows you to make the conscious decision to check your email or apps when you want to, not when your phone alerts you to.
  • Don’t bring your phone into the bathroom or use it when you’re eating.

Sara Weinberg of Los Angeles said her life changed dramatically after attending Camp Grounded. Now, to keep her former technology addiction at bay, she said she tells people when she’s with them that she’s not using technology.

Weinberg said that verbalization helps hold her accountable.

“Now I am a lot more comfortable leaving my phone or not feeling the need to check it,” she said. “Whatever is on my phone is not so important.”

A common activity Weinberg encourages is, when out with friends, have everyone put their phones in the middle of the table, the first one to check their device has to pay the bill.

To get the most out of a digital detox, they need to last at least 24 hours without technology, Frances Booth wrote in her 2013 book, “The Distraction Trap: How to Focus in a Digital World.”

Booth suggests practicing a cleanse on a weekly basis by picking a day of the week to be device-free.

D.C. resident Darla Bunting’s detox is much longer. She has sworn off social media for all of 2016. To curb her impulse to check the sites and apps she has given up, Bunting has blocked them on her computer.

Others say that having a friend change account passwords can help.

Bunting said that if people are serious about reducing time on technology, it is important to find something else to fill that time. She said she has taken up baking as a hobby.

Others say it is important to become comfortable with doing nothing and resisting the need to be on your phone when standing in line at a coffee shop or waiting for the train on your daily commute.

Sherry Turkle, a social studies and science of technology professor at MIT, has been studying people’s relationships with technology for three decades.

In her 2015 book, “Reclaiming Conversation,” Turkle writes, “We turn to our phones instead of each other. We say we do this when we are ‘bored.’ And we often find ourselves bored because we have become accustomed to a constant feed of connection, information, and entertainment.”

Turkle writes about what she calls “disconnection anxiety,” noting that when people set their technology aside, they often become anxious. She said in her book that to beat this, “people have to be able to be bored again.”

“To reclaim solitude we have to learn to experience a moment of boredom as a reason to turn inward,” she wrote, adding, “at least some of the time.”

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