Digital wellness for beginners

wrecked iphone
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At the peak of the proliferation of smartphones and social media and the attention economy, our attention has become the most valuable commodity. In order to profit from our attention, companies employ tactics to hijack our attention and keep us glued to our smartphones, scrolling mindlessly through our newsfeeds and watching cat memes all day long. According to some statistics:

  • The average American checks their phone every 12 minutes,
  • The average user touches their cell phone 2,617 times a day, and
  • In a 2014 survey, 46 percent of users said their smartphone is something “they couldn’t live without.”

What is digital wellness? 

Digital Wellness is a movement that seeks to establish a holistic and unified approach to tackling the challenges and issues faced by individuals, and society at large, at the proliferation of the attention economy. The movement seeks a “fight fire with fire” approach by using tactics such as creating apps that help us manage the amount of time we spend on our digital activities.

Google has a webpage dedicated to digital wellness, with the tagline: “Great technology should improve life, not distract from it.” Google’s commitment is to create tools and features to help us better understand our tech usage, disconnect when needed, and create healthy digital habits.

Apple also recently released a series of apps to help us prioritize our digital wellbeing, such as apps that monitor how much time we spend on our devices, put time limits on app usage, and control the distraction of notifications.

Besides these tech giants’ effort to promote digital wellness, there are countless other apps and tools available to help us manage our digital lives.

How I practice digital wellness using apps

SelfControl

I use the SelfControl app on my laptop to block websites that are distracting and addicting. I have websites such as Reddit, YouTube, and Pinterest on my blacklist, and I can block these websites for up to 24 hours. You can also use the whitelist future, where instead of blocking specific sites, you block the entire internet apart from specified websites on your list.

What I really like about SelfControl is that it has a no-nonsense approach to keeping you focused. Once you hit ‘Start,’ there is no going back until the timer is done. For some that might be intimidating. You might think, ‘what if I REALLY need to quickly check something on YouTube?’ Well, I have never dealt with even the slightest bit of inconvenience because of being blocked out of a website. If it is important enough, I make a note of it to check it out later. It’s usually non-essential stuff.

GET THE APP HERE

Restrictions for iOS

The Restrictions setting was a game changer for me when I first discovered it. Despite not having many apps on my phone, sometimes I find myself mindlessly scrolling through various websites on Safari for hours on end.

The Restrictions setting, intended for parental control, allows me to remove the Safari app from my phone so there is no temptation to get sucked back into the magic of the Internet.

Whenever I find myself spending too much time on my phone, I ask my boyfriend to put a passcode on it, restrict Safari for a few days or weeks to cultivate other hobbies to pass time, like reading.

Hide YouTube Comments Chrome Extention 

Another game changer!

I found the Hide YouTube Comments extension after realizing that I was reading the comment sections of YouTube videos and forming an opinion on the subject before I even WATCHED the video. I was being influenced by the opinion of others, and not the content itself. It got so bad that I sometimes would only read the comment section and not bother watching the video itself.

I spent hours of my life reading YouTube comments before discovering this extension, and I do not miss it AT ALL. It has been really nice to block out the noise.

timeStats

timeStats was definitely one of the first apps I used that set me on the path to consciously monitoring my Internet usage. timeStats is a Chrome extension that tracks which sites you spend the most time on. The list of websites I spent the most time on did not surprise me as much as the amount of TIME I spent on them. It has been very empowering to see the hours spent on certain websites decline as I became more conscious of practicing digital wellness.

These are some of the apps I would recommend for people looking to manage the time they spend online and on their smartphones. By practicing digital wellness, we can counteract the effects of Internet addiction, including the impact it has on our mental health, our relationships, and our productivity.

Of course, there are proponents of this model. For instance, Cal Newport, a renowned expert on how to perform productive, valuable and meaningful work in an increasingly distracted digital age, dismisses the idea of using apps to fight back as ‘infantilizing.

“I’m a grown man,” Cal contends, “If I’m checking my phone every 5 minutes, or playing video games instead of paying attention to my kids, I don’t need an animation of a dying tree to nudge me toward better habits, I need someone I respect to knock the stupid thing out of my hand and say “get your act together.” 

While apps can be useful in helping us be more mindful of our digital use, it is important to recognize that these apps are only as useful as the motivation and commitment of the individual using them. I was frustrated with my compulsive addiction to Twitter, my obsession with my smartphone, and the emotional toll it took on my mental well-being. So, I went searching., and when I found some solutions, I was adamant in implementing them into my life.

As the saying goes, the teacher will appear when the student is ready.

Do you have any apps you have used to be more mindful of your Internet use that you would recommend?

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