Should you quit your smartphone?
Guest writer Meik Wiking discusses whether a digital detox makes us happier or feeling more left out.
A couple of years ago, we ran an experiment at the Happiness Research Institute to explore whether people who reduce their consumption of social media are happier and connect more in the real world.
We asked participants about different dimensions of happiness and then randomly allocated the participants either to a control group, which continued to use social media as usual and a treatment group, which did not use social media for a week. When the week had passed, we asked the participants to evaluate their lives once more.
What we found was that the treatment group reported significantly higher levels of life satisfaction. The people in that group also reported higher levels of enjoyment in life and felt less lonely. Not using social media furthermore led to an increase in social activity and satisfaction with their social lives.
Further study is needed to understand the long-term effects of such an intervention but, for now, it is another piece of evidence demonstrating that, while digital technologies are still in their infancy, we, too, are still in our infancy in terms of our ability to use it.
How do we ensure that we have somebody to play with if we disconnect from the digital community?
So, what can we learn from all this? How to keep things real and how to focus our attention on the real world? One of the challenges is critical analogue mass. By critical analogue mass, I mean enough people whose attention is not entirely sucked up by their devices, so there is someone around to play or talk with. How do we ensure that we have somebody to play with if we disconnect from the digital community? A Danish boarding school might have found a way to do that.
When the students, 14- to 16-years old, arrive at the school, the staff confiscate smartphones and other gadgets. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat can be accessed only at the beginning of the school day, and pupils are allowed one hour of gadget time per day.
After the first term, the system was put to a student vote. Should we continue with this system, or be free to use our phones and gadgets as much as we want? Eighty per cent voted for the first option.
Obviously, these kinds of measures work only when a sufficient number of people are on board. If you are the only one without your phone and the rest of the class is Snapchatting with their friends, it can be a lonely experience. Achieving critical mass within your social circle is crucial.
You could convince a number of families on your street to make Thursday night analogue night and send the kids out to play together or start at home by making Thursday night family night. Other options are to create a no-phone zone for two hours around the evening meal or place a basket for phones by the coat hangers and encourage friends to deposit any devices there when they visit. There are plenty of options to keep things real – at least for a while.