• Dr. Timothy Smith

Do We Need a Digital Detox?

Woman on Phone

Photo Source: PxHere

Recently, over lunch with a colleague visiting from India, he told me that his wife had attended a week-long digital detox retreat in India. According to him, the retreat was in a remote location without phones, computers, or televisions involved, leaving all digital devices at the door and engaging in meditation and beautiful scenery. The retreat was inspired in part by the digital detox programs at their children’s school, and it had a tremendously relaxing and refocusing effect on her.

Detox most generally refers to the elimination of harmful chemicals from the body and the physical and psychological effects that occur in the process. The agony of withdrawal from drugs such as heroine or nicotine strains both the mind and body. With no chemicals involved in digital toxicity, what does digital detox involve? Part of the cycle of addiction involves the reward system in human brains. When doing something feels good, the brain releases chemicals called dopamine and serotonin to reward that action. Repeating the action again releases the feel-good chemicals again, but over time less dopamine and serotonin get released. Chasing the good feeling causes people to do more of the activity such as taking drugs or, in the case of smart phones, do the many things possible from text messaging, interacting with social media, or playing games. The shot of dopamine and serotonin that comes from someone liking a Facebook post or winning an online game starts the process of addiction. Research from Deloitte called the 2018 Global Mobile Consumer Survey for the US concluded that Americans on average check their phones 52 times a day compared to 47 in 2017. In an article by Daria Kuss and others in Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science titled “Problematic Mobile Phone Use and Addiction Across Generations: the Roles of Psychopathological Symptoms and Smartphone Use,” concluded that problematic phone use correlated with how many times a day someone uses their phone and that younger people and adolescents demonstrated a higher rate of problematic phone use and the accompanying stress and anxiety. Digital detox involves reducing or eliminating the cycle of use with the intent to reset the brain to reduce the craving to interact with their smart phone.

In India, schools reacting to widespread smartphone addictions and the risk of physical and psychological harm, especially in children and adolescents, have begun different digital detox programs for their students. Aditi Gyanesh reporting for The Times of India, notes that Bethany High, Koramangala, India does a digital detox day every first Monday of the month, which includes no smartphones, tablets, or computers both at school and at home. In June of 2018, the Indian government education department banned the use of cellphones by teachers in the classroom. The aim of the ban looks to provide a good example for the students as noted in “Govt teachers banned from using mobile phones in class.” (timesofindia.indiatimes.com) They feel that if students see their teachers refraining from cell phone use in the classroom they will follow that good behavior.

Digital detox refers to the active separation from digital devices, especially the smartphone, to break the addictive and escalating cycle of phone checking, social media, gaming, and texting. Research has correlated problematic smartphone usage with anxiety and established a greater prevalence among young people and adolescents. In response to the effects of growing digital addiction, some schools have introduced digital detox days, and the government education office in India banned teachers from using cell phones in class. Digital detox appears to work. According to an observational report published in Fast Company, neuroscientists noted during full digital detox of a group of 35 adults isolated in the desert in Morocco, better sleep, improved posture, stronger interactions among themselves including better connections and storytelling. Ironically, Ivan Mehta reports in an article titled “Indian politicians are bribing voters with free phones worth millions of dollars,” in one election in Rajasthan, India the chief minister promised to put ten million smartphones into the hands of her constituents at a cost to the state of $139 million. With better, cheaper (in some cases free) phones, more content, apps, and games, the risk of digital addiction grows every day, which underscores the need for digital detox at school and just as importantly at home as a means to stay heathy today.

Dr. Timothy Smith

Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.

You can buy his book on Amazon in paperback and in kindle format here.

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