In praise of taking tiny digital breaks

The digital world can be all-consuming.

There’s a good reason for that: attention = profit. The more Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube can harvest our attention, the more profit they make from digital advertisers marketing their products and services to us.

That constant itch to glance at your phone incessantly? It is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to capture our attention. The more big tech learns about the inner workings and vulnerabilities of our psychology, the easier they can keep us glued to our screens.

One way to resist the attention economy is to take tiny digital breaks.

Why digital breaks?

Time is a precious, nonrenewable resource.

Time spent online, mindlessly and passively, is time that could be spent on other, more rewarding activities. The quick dopamine hit we get from scrolling can be replaced by the dopamine received when accomplishing a task, like finishing that essay or cleaning up your room.

Digital addiction, just like all addiction, is a form of escapism.

Whenever negative emotions start creeping up, do you find yourself looking for escape by seeking digital distractions online? The internet, in all its glory, provides an endless form of escape with a tap of a screen.

Escaping from uncomfortable feelings and emotions, whether via the digital world or drugs, almost never solves the issue; it just prolong the feelings.

This is especially true when we are also avoiding taking care of tasks and responsibilities. After hours spent escaping into the digital world, the real world still awaits us. The dishes remain undone, the dog unfed, the deadlines approaching, and the house in disarray.

Getting away from digital distractions forces us to confront our feelings and emotions; whether it is boredom, sadness, or anxiety. It also can be a great motivator to take on the tasks and responsibilities awaiting us– accomplishing tasks allow us to feel better and be in the moment. 

How to incorporate tiny digital breaks?

I took a 7-year break from Instagram. In 2013, when I deleted my account, Instagram was mostly a photo-editing app. I never thought I’d go back. I’m leaving again: I need a life-time break from social media.

There isn’t a shortage of articles, movements, and books encouraging us to take longer sabbaticals from the digital space, but does it always need to be that complicated? Tiny digital breaks can yield just as good results.

Tiny digital breaks are breaks from time spent online throughout the day where you usually, habitually or mindlessly, reach for your devices for a quick scroll or to check email: waiting for the water to boil, the microwave to finish, in the bathroom, standing in line at the grocery store, and so on.

Instead, you consciously make the effort stay offline, with the task at hand and in the moment. It’s creating space between you and your phone; to let your mind wander, pay attention to your surroundings, and tune in and check in with yourself.

The best part? Taking tiny digital breaks doesn’t require strong willpower or the ability to spend extended periods of time offline, yet these small moments add up over time to a significant time spent offline.

Some other ideas for incorporating tiny digital breaks throughout the day:

  • no devices during time spent with humans in the flesh- like why do we even do this?
  • giving yourself an hour or so in the morning before reaching for your phone
  • going for a walk without your devices (bring a human with you instead)
  • screen-free reading
  • screen-free eating
  • no devices in bed
  • no devices during commute; whether that’s driving or taking public transport.

Small changes, big impact.

Tiny digital breaks are also a great way to retrain our overly-stimulated and hyper-wired brain to enjoy the slower, and often times boring, pace of the offline world. It is a way to practise single-tasking without constantly being distracted with what’s on our screens.

Most importantly, it is about consciously setting time aside to minimize the noise and allow time for silence, contemplation, and boredom. Make time spent online an elective experience rather than a default setting.

Until next time…

Sign up for my curated weekly newsletter on life-tech balance and digital well-being. Five ideas delivered right to your inbox. Every Tuesday.