Thursday 8 December 2016

Do you need to go on a virtual diet?

Published 16/02/2012 | 06:00

A friend told me recently that her five-year-old son was suffering from night terrors. One night, she went into his room to comfort him, patting his head. In his sleep, her son said: "Mummy, Mummy, put your BlackBerry down."

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If that's not a wake-up call for all of us then I don't know what is. Let's hit the virtual pause button for a minute and consider what our digital lives have become.

Many of us now spend our days with our head in the hi-tech "clouds". We text and drive like it's a matter of life and death, which, I'm sorry to report, it is. And then there's that nagging voice telling us that despite our unprecedented connectedness, we sometimes feel more overwhelmed and, ironically, disconnected, than ever before. While it's easy to blame technology for taking us away from the people and things we love, in truth, we're often our own worst enemy.

As a quick barometer of your digital life, ask yourself these questions: Do you sometimes feel the urge to pull out your smartphone while someone else is talking to you? Have you ever realised that you were texting or reading an email while your children were telling you about their day and later couldn't remember what they'd said? Have you ever felt that something hasn't really happened until you post it online? Do you feel anxious if you're offline for any length of time? Does a ringing phone trump everything else, including your dinner date?

And if this isn't a picture of your own life, we all know someone for whom this is the everyday.

I'm guessing you grudgingly admitted a "yes" to at least one or two. I know, because I've been there. I've covered technology for several television networks over the past decade but, in late 2009, while visiting family and friends I realised I had lost touch with the people I cared about in real life.

I've spent the past couple of years trying to streamline my digital intake, improve my relationships, and make technology work for me, not the other way around. I've worked to create a four-step "digital diet". It's about illuminating our tech demands and dependence in the short term and instilling an overarching awareness and strategy for the long term.

My digital diet begins with a brief detox. Spend a day or two without your technology. It's not meant to torture you but to instill awareness of what you have been missing.

Step two is to reboot and calculate your "Virtual Weight Index" -- a formula that measures how weighed down you are by emails, social networks and phone calls.

After that, you are ready to reconnect but, I hope, with a new awareness about how you spend your day. Consider when it starts, and, just as importantly, when it ends. Those devices have gone from being a nifty distraction to an invisible tether. Set boundaries for when people can expect to hear from you. If you don't, no one else will.

Re-establish friendships. Make dates instead of just "liking" a friend's photo on a social network. Rediscover the art of conversation.

The final phase offers several steps that can help you gain the strength for your future digital life.

There are lots of technologies, beyond those we use for communication, that can benefit your overall well-being. It could be as simple as downloading Scrabble for your smartphone or getting in shape with Wii Fit.

The diet is about seeing your technology in a new light. Loving it again, rather than putting it in a blender. It's also about reconnecting with people. It's not a digital fast; it's about indulging in a healthy manner. No one is forcing you to become so overloaded. There is a way forward and the answer is in the palm of your hands.

Daniel Sieberg's The Digital Diet (£10, Souvenir Press) is available now

Irish Independent

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