How to Live and Breathe Digital, Yet Still Have a Life

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Don’t worry – this article doesn’t involve breathing deeply or listening to whale music; though I admit that on occasion, I do find myself considering whether I should turn to these methods on particularly stressful days. Instead, I just go slowly insane.

Moving on.

So, what was the first thing you did when you woke up this morning? Ok, after stretching?

The first I did was get out of bed and go to check my phone. As my screen came to life, I happily looked at all the little icons. They were notifying me that whilst I was fast asleep, activity had commenced and there were messages and items for me to action. They looked like a variety of dolly mixtures, all sweetly lined up together.

I noted how pathetic I was as I excitedly investigated each one.

What have we turned into?

We’ve become technology obsessed and I (mostly) love it. Our phones have become our clothing in that we feel naked without one. And have you noticed how intimate your relationship with your phone is? When we drop or break our phone, it feels like a personal loss. We feel bereaved (and naked) whilst we wait for our replacement – which in itself is a massive nightmare. But mostly, without our devices, we become unconnected outsiders, lost in a connected world.

When we are connected, it’s certainly enjoyable, but this level of intensity can sometimes be unhealthy.

Say what?

That’s right. Letting yourself become technology, device and internet obsessed can be bad for your health.

For instance, more and more teenagers are visiting medical professionals due to suffering from Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) from prolonged texting. Plus, there are more reports of postural injuries, insomnia and even divorces: and all thanks to digital.

Take me, for example. I use my phone every day, or rather every waking moment. Since I switched from an iPhone to a Nexus 5 (don’t judge me, it’s a trial), I find that I’ve been getting a little RSI from the motion of texting whilst I hold the phone. I believe this could be down to the size of the phone, and the fact I am now using different muscles due to the screen size. Or could it be a design flaw? I recall my good friend, designer and Apple fan Luis once pointed out “You may have a bigger screen Leah, but can you use it with one hand?”

Either way, the reality is, typing on Mac (which is certainly not a trial) makes the RSI worse once it’s kicked in. So what do I do? Well, initially when I began to get these symptoms, I denied they were happening, but now the inevitable has happened: I have to go offline.

So there are lot’s of ways my obsession with digital impacts on my health, so I’ve come up with the following coping mechanisms. After all, the healthier and happier I am, the more time I have to spend doing the things I love, like, er… being online.

1. Screen curfew

If you are like me, you’ll have lots of projects on the go. I work full-time in User Experience Design, but am involved in a number of other things, like writing User Experience (UX) articles for example. So my free time outside of the digital sphere is limited, and this isn’t wonderful for my friends, family or…my brain.

I find that if I spend too long online, I get headaches. So when I became quite poorly a few months ago, I realized that things needed to change. I looked at my work schedule and gave myself….a…. screen curfew!

A what?!

I used to do my most important tasks during the day, and then in the evening, sit online to carry out those that had become less of a priority. This didn’t mean they could wait till the next day, but that they were considered to be less pressing tasks, which would sometimes result in me being online till the early hours.

But now, I organize my tasks more efficiently so that I am giving myself more “offline time”. So when I get home, I have a clear idea of what emails I need to answer etc. I force myself not to reply to emails, texts, google anything, watch videos, update my Facebook or even be on my phone post 8pm each night.

I admit that this has been a bit of a challenge, and most nights I find myself going over by 15-30 minutes, but it’s certainly helped a great deal.

Screen Curfew

Some offline time - image by Dilla Ismail

2. Technology Free Bedroom

1-3 people say that they’d rather give up sex, rather than their phones. To be honest, this says it all, so initially I had considered swiftly moving onto the next point.

When we moved into our last home, I put a new house rule in place. I told my other half that I wanted a bedroom that was gadget and technology free. This meant no TV, no sleeping with our phones by our bed and even no devices charging.

My reasons for doing this were not conjugal, but rather that I am quite a light sleeper, who is horribly tempted to check every single flipping notification I receive – regardless of whether it’s at 3pm or 3am.

And like many other over-thinkers, I am an occasional insomniac. My mind buzzes with the events of the day; thinking about people and the underlying reasons behind their behaviour and about recent survey results and studies I have undertaken. My mind is so easily stimulated that when I am lying alone in the darkness, trying to sleep, the last thing I need is another digital notification.

So if you are even a little like me (and I feel for you if you are) then you’ll know how important having an evening routine is.

Having a room which is technology free, can give you something to look forward to when you wake up. Like checking your notifications first thing. That’s quite sad, really isn’t it; but it’s true.

Keep your room free of technology

Keep your room free of technology - image by Dilla Ismail

3. Don’t text and walk

If you’ve read any of my other articles, you’ll know that I’m rarely serious. But bear with me as I give the concept a go.

Did you know that texting whilst walking is not just annoying for other people who are forced to walk around you, but a plain dangerous thing for you to do?

I’m sure you’ve heard of the dangers of driving whilst texting, but walking and texting is causing a number of pedestrian deaths each year. And if you are lucky enough to not lose your life, you could be one of the thousands of people who become badly injured every year.

Don’t text and walk

Don’t text and walk - image by Dilla Ismail

 

It actually happened to me several years ago. I was texting my then partner whilst walking when I suddenly tripped over a curb. I smashed my left kneecap, suffered some internal bleeding in the area, and was highly embarrassed.

Sometimes my knee still hurts me to this very day,and yet I still text and walk at the same time. I’m a hypocrite, I know, but my/our need to remain connected to our devices is ever prevalent.

Family first, phones second

I dislike not having my phone and other devices nearby, and I’m sure you feel the same. And I work in digital, so I naturally live and breathe the internet everyday. But nothing is worse for me than sitting on a train home, and witnessing a Mother or Father engrossed on their phone or tablet, ignoring their young children who are trying to engage with them. It really makes me cross, sad even, and on these occasions, I feel like snatching the devices away from them. Of course, some children are heavily engaged on the devices themselves, and I do consider this to be a slight concern – but that’s for another article.

Try taking a look at your work and leisure life and question whether there are more offline things you could be doing better (like sleeping!). If not, then good for you,but if so, try implementing some of the tips I have outlined above, and let me know if you notice a difference. It’s a work in progress for me, as the temptation to be connected is always there.

I try to spend less time online, and more time asking my friends how they are, rather than sending them a text or a Facebook message. I make a point of not sending emails to everyone, but sometimes take the time out to write a nice letter. I admit that it feels like a massive effort nowadays, but that’s because I’ve become conditioned to this way of doing things and I’ve become accustomed to taking shortcuts.

Family first, phones second

Family first, phones second - image by Dilla Ismail

 

To conclude, it’s not for me to tell you what to do, but I am curious to know if you relate to any of what I have said.

And finally if you aren’t that bothered about your friends or family or sleep, I advise you to make sure that your phone is constantly charged. For one day, you’ll need something to keep you company at night.

Hello, I'm Leah, and I design experiences.
I design websites and applications so that they are easier for you to use. And not just that. I also design them so you'll genuinely want to use them.
Why? Well, I've always been interested in how people interact with design - and actually, how people behave in general. So, working in User Experience (UX) suits me down to the ground.
Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter @LeahUxUh.
My Book Collection on UX
My Book Collection on UX

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3 responses to “How to Live and Breathe Digital, Yet Still Have a Life”

  1. Tema Frank says

    You are a brave woman, Leah! I admire your determination. So far, the best I’ve been able to bring myself to do is turn all the sounds off at night, and take occasional digital detox holidays!

  2. Leah Ryz says

    Hey Tema Frank!

    Hehe, I am indeed. Digital detox holidays?

    Not sure I’m ready for that yet :P

    LR

  3. Spack says

    Thanks for the great, insightful article. I use my iPhone as my alarm clock, so it stays by the bed. I too was bothered by notifications popping up through the night. Rather than place my phone on silent, which defeats the alarm clock use, I took advantage of the ‘do not disturb’ feature. Through this feature I prohibit notifications, phone calls, and texts between 10 PM and 7 AM. I am able to exempt important people, such as family members, allowing their phone calls to make it through in an emergency.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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