Why Americans Are Taking a Step-Back From Tech

Published on May 13, 2020
In this time of crisis, overconsumption of tech can be detrimental to our wellbeing

Given the uncertainty that accompanies the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that Americans are consuming more news and tech than ever. According to market analysis by television measurement agency Alphonso, cable news networks in the U.S. are seeing viewership numbers up some 50% since the beginning of 2020.

Stuck at home as most of us are, news and the internet have become sole sources for insights and information. Our social media feeds are also filled with interesting information, opinions and speculation about the crisis. The trouble is, many of us are pummeling ourselves with this information on a nonstop basis. It’s become an addictive habit that experts suggest is not healthy—and our mobile devices have become toxic enablers.

Is staying up on the news at a time of crisis really such a bad thing?  Unfortunately, it looks as though it can be. More than a handful of studies indicate that a relentless diet of negative news stories can increase rates of anxiety and depression in many viewers. Mental health has become an ancillary health crisis in this pandemic. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey revealed over half of us- 56% -admit they’ve developed at least one mental health challenge—be it insomnia, depression or anxiety.

So what’s gone wrong?

Before COVID-19 struck, we were well on our way to establishing a fourth industrial revolution,  where the line between society and digital society disappears. Being locked down at home didn’t slow down our digital transformation any.  If anything, lockdown made our dependence on technology even necessary, while forcing late adapters to jump on board, or risk being left behind entirely.

While there’s nothing wrong with using technology to stay connected with work and what’s going on in the world around us, there is something wrong with letting our devices be part of everything in our lives. That’s why a growing segment of Americans are purposefully and mindfully taking time to step back from tech.

How does it work?

A-GAP is encouraging individuals and families to step back from tech for one hour a day to ‘create a gap’ from technology. The goal is to re-focus the attention on other forms of stimulation, such as taking a walk, meditating, re-connecting with family members you’re in quarantine with, start a creativity project, cooking, basically any activity that doesn’t involve using an electronic device.

The initiative agrees with Christian Lous Lange, that “Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.” The goal is to be intentional about using technology in a way that is life-giving rather than mindlessly scrolling or binging which can be life-draining. Make watching any news an intentional act – one that you do to stay informed – but limit that news time to a half hour or hour a day, tops. You can also do this with social media, setting specific times to be on and limiting how long you are on with timers

How Can You Participate?

Go screen-free for an hour a day, every day of the week. We know our screen time has increased significantly by being cooped up in our houses.  You can use one of any number of screen timing apps that will let you know how much time you’re burning doing so.

For one hour a day, unplug from all electronics including: phone, television and computers. Use this hour for positive self-growth and affirmation. This is the time you can use to meditate, journal, explore a creative project, or simply spend time with family members in isolation with you – paying special attention to keep all conversation positive and not about the current crisis.

Should you include the whole family in this exercise? Absolutely. Excessive screen time is a real problem for our children. According to a recent survey by ParentsTogether, nearly 50% half of American children spend in excess of six hours a day in front of an electronic screen. This is up a whopping 500% uptick in usage compared to screen use before the pandemic.

Kids also spend a tenth of the time outside that their parents did, so now would be a perfect time going into summer to choose to be intentional about getting outside as a family and going on a walk or playing a game of kickball. Getting out in nature and being active will do wonders for both you and your kids mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

What are the benefits of taking a step back?

In the absence of technological distractions, individuals are able to create space to develop a thoughtful and transparent vision for their life. Clarity comes in the peaceful quiet of nature, unfettered by the daily rigors of living. And with this clarity comes vision and perspective.

There are many aspects of pandemic life over which we have no control, but we can control the habits we create during this unique time.  Studies show that the habits you develop in a time of crisis can last the rest of your life, which is why it is so important to identify what habits we are developing during quarantine. For stronger mental health and empowerment, take charge of a single hour of every day and take a step back from tech. You’ll feel the benefits almost immediately.

Bethany Baker is a News Columnist at Grit Daily. She is also the Executive Director at A-GAP, a non-profit foundation dedicated to providing people with clarity, unity and simplicity in a tech-free environment. Bethany is passionate about connecting people and creating space for what matters.

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