We are entering the month of Facebook deletions, of “lifehacks,” of “digital detoxes” designed to cure whatever social-media hangover you suffer from the year before.
Per the latest holiday poll from Marist, in fact, nearly half of all Americans will make New Year’s resolutions this year. Resolutions, as we know, don’t really work. But if you’re trying to reclaim your life from the greedy clutches of Facebook, Twitter and that ultimate siren — your smartphone — science sez these tips will help.
1. Don’t bring your phone to bed.
Forty-four percent of American cellphone-owners sleep with their phones next to the bed — which is possibly the worst thing you can do for your health while being prone/unconscious. For starters, looking at a phone before you go to bed exposes you to a specific frequency of blue light, which messes with your melatonin, which delays when you fall asleep. On top of that, bringing your phone into the bedroom could take a toll on your relationships. In a recent study published by the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 62 percent (!) of women surveyed said their relationships suffered because their partner messed around on the phone during “couple leisure time,” otherwise known as the time when couples actually interact IRL.
2. X-out of your e-mail when you aren’t checking it.
The average professional spends as many as 13 hours checking e-mail each week, which isn’t just a gargantuan time suck: Studies show it can also hurt your productivity and mental health. According to a study out earlier this month, checking your e-mail all the time contributes significantly to stress. (That might, per some preliminary research out of Britain, have to do with the pressure to be “on” all the time.) That’s obviously not great outside the office, particularly since a new survey by Pew suggests that, thanks to e-mail and smartphones, U.S. employees are increasingly working on their off-hours. But constant e-mailing can hurt your performance at work, too: Frequent pings from things like e-mail and instant messaging divide your attention and slow your work.
3. Turn off the numbers on Facebook.
If you find yourself checking Facebook, Instagram or Twitter obsessively, the problem might not your inherent thirst to see every new tidbit your friends post — it might be more about metrics anxiety. In a paper released last November in the journal Computational Culture, the artist and academic Benjamin Grosser recounted the results of an experiment in which he let Facebook users log-on without seeing how many likes or comments any posts got. This basically short circuits the “feedback loop” — the psychological phenomenon that keeps you trawling for more likes — and, according to Grosser’s observations — can help free users from compulsive use. There’s no fix for Twitter or Instagram, alas, but you can download Grosser’s Demetricator for Facebook here.
4. Shelve your Kindle or iPad for printed books.
E-readers promise a wealth of conveniences: portability, trendiness, the promise of reading “50 Shades” on the metro without everyone else knowing what you’re getting up to. But when it comes to actually understanding and remembering what you read, several studies suggest that paper books have serious advantages: readers tend to approach them more seriously, for starters, and the tactile sensation of turning the page helps them navigate lengthier or more complicated texts. In August, a small laboratory study of readers in Britain also found people remembered things better when they read them in a physical book. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with your iPad, Nook or Kindle, of course — but if one of your goals for the year was to check out more novels, join a book club, or otherwise read more deeply, then the good old-fashioned library might be best for you.
5. Track the time you spend online.
If you ever find yourself spending more time on the Internet or your phone than you intended, know first that you’re not alone — and second, that this is a key symptom of Internet addiction. (Whoops!) Internet addiction is a real, serious behavioral problem, analogous in some ways to compulsive gambling, researchers have found. But unlike casinos, which are easily avoided, the Internet is everywhere all the time — which makes addictive behaviors much more difficult to treat. Marc Potenza, a psychiatrist at Yale and a long-time researcher of Internet addiction, has advocated using technology against technology addiction. In other words, download an app or browser extension that tells you how much time you’re spending online, like RescueTime or Moment. Just as a fitness-tracker can help you regulate how much you walk, and a calorie journal can help you eat healthier meals, an app like Moment can (a) make you aware of the problem and (b) show you how to change it.