Analysis: there are many benefits to a digital detox so how do you know if you need one?

Digital technologies have significant impacts on us as individuals and across society and the Covid pandemic showed our growing reliance on these technologies to deliver and avail of key services. Their ubiquitous nature supports us to complete tasks seamlessly at the touch of a button. The way we continue to use these technologies in our personal and work lives have fundamentally changed how we interact as a society and will continue to do so.

However, we must be mindful on how digital technologies are also transforming us as humans. We must re-examine how these changes are accelerating growing expectations for greater efficiency, speed, convenience, and demand for user attention.

Many large organisations invest in identifying psychological factors to retain customers or users of a service. It is often said that user attention is the key currency to drive up the value of many digital services so understanding how technology and media influence human behaviours can help large companies to engage consumers and persuade them to take desired actions. Yet, much of this goes on in the background and many of us are unaware of the countless hours we consume living in this hybrid real and digital world with increasingly blurred boundaries.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, psychologist Leisha McGrath on how to keep your concentration when you're being bombarded with distractions

In a recent research project, we investigated the impact on 120 postgraduate students of the rapid transition from an on-campus to online learning environment. While students reported on their satisfaction with the quality and delivery of online teaching, the findings also revealed how increased levels of online engagement placed significant demands on academic and personal relationships.

Students identified the need for more opportunities for self-presence and the need for periods to disconnect during their online studies. By being online, we can often overcompensate with the increase expectation around online engagement in academic and remote working contexts. However, this can detract from the widely reported benefits of remote work and remote learning and add to increased cognitive fatigue of being present online over long durations.

A digital detox is often seen as a way to refocus on real-life social interactions without online distractions. By leaving digital devices to one side on a temporary basis, we can reduce the stress and burden associated with the need to be always being switched on. This was especially true for many people during the pandemic where we quickly adopted to a new normal in how we meet people, availed of entertainment, undertook education programmes and shopped.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, Liam Geraghty considers taking a digital detox and looks at how social media is crossing into our working lives

There are many benefits and methods of committing to a digital detox so how do you know if you need a digital detox? As a first step, you can self-assess for a number or early warning signs.

(1) Phone

Do you feel increasingly anxious or stressed if you misplace your phone?

(2) Frequency

Do you feel compelled to constantly check your digital device?

(3) Emotions

Do your emotions go through continual ebbs and flows, from joy to jealously, after scrolling through your social media timeline?

(4) Fear

Does a fear of missing out (FOMO) on updates across email, social media and news feeds mean you have developed a pattern around checking your device?

(5) Blurred lines

Work demands have blurred work/life boundaries so do you have a growing sense that you need to demonstrate personal productivity (and a need to gain trust with employers) at all hours of the day or night?

(6) Concentration

Do you have trouble concentrating on and articulating ideas/arguments during meetings due to increased online fatigue?

The next steps

If you answer ‘yes’ to some or all of the above, a digital detox might be the remedy for you. A digital detox does not have to be involve a complete separation from society but there are some simple ways to undergo one. For example, you can inform your family and friends that you are going offline for a period of time and ask for support. Learn new ways to stay distracted from digital devices, such as slowing down to spend time with family and friends and considering new hobbies.

Large online organisations often describe user attention as their currency so delete social media apps from your phone and remove push notifications from all other apps across all your devises. Monitor your progress and identify the benefits of strengthening or renewing real-world connections with people as opposed to digital connections online.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, employees get enhanced rights to disconnect

In April 2021, we witnessed the importance of ‘disconnecting’ with the Government introducting the Right to Disconnect code. This "gives employees the right to switch off from work outside of normal working hours, including the right to not respond immediately to emails, telephone calls or other messages".

Unplugging regularly assist us to maintain a healthy balance between digital relationships and real-life relationships. As we look at how to maintain the benefits of such developments as online education and remote working, it is important to remember the need to factor in digital detoxes and encourage colleagues, students and employees to get outside and experience nature through physical exercise. The benefits of this will also become more evident as it provides more time for creative and mindful activities and, more importantly help reduce stress from the growing demands for constant connectivity .


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ