He is always on Facebook goes the jingle of a leading telecom company that has come out with a device that personifies social networking. And it aptly describes the lives of most of us, who are constantly engrossed in the virtual world, be it Facebook, Twitter or anything else. The Internet plays a huge role in all aspects of our lives today: work, leisure, gaming or staying in touch with friends. While all of us are dependent on technology, many of us are addicts who pretend not to care or believe. But we cannot ignore the fact that we are spending more and more time tending to our virtual lives, and this can have far reaching effects.    

Image source: Elder Gadget

Image source: Elder Gadget

Are you an addict?
There is a fine line that separates compulsive use and dependence. You have to look inwards and ask yourself whether you are spending too much time online.

Do you set an alarm just to wake up in the middle of the night to harvest virtual crops so that they don’t wither? If for some reason you cannot access the Internet, do you feel anxious that you may be missing something important? Do you constantly check your phone for updates? Can you ignore your phone even when it’s flashing to indicate that new messages have arrived? Do you sit down at your PC/laptop as soon as you reach home?  Do you check your phone as soon as you open your eyes in the morning? These are just a few examples of over dependent behaviour, pointing towards addiction.

While many might argue that they need to stay connected 24×7 because of work, little do they realize that this in itself points towards the fact that technology, and our over-dependence on it, has blurred the lines between work and leisure. If you want to be sure, then just switch off your phone and stay away from your PC or laptop for a day. Depending upon how easy or difficult you find it and what you miss the most, you will have your answer.



Why detox?
While it’s true that the Internet and smartphones have made it easier to communicate with people around the world, they do also hamper our ability to communicate in real life. Where we would have shared thoughts with friends in actual face-to-face conversations, we are now content with status updates, tweets, and virtual conversations. When waiting at the bus stop, train station or even at a doctor’s clinic, it’s difficult to find a person sitting idle. More often than not, they will be bent over fiddling with their phones. This need for constant stimulation is like a drug.

Technology, though convenient, has somewhat undermined our ability to focus or even have face-to-face conversations. For instance, even when having dinner with a bunch of friends, you will find people often checking their phones, or worse still, carrying on an SMS conversation. More than anything else, it has become a constant distraction. With computing becoming increasingly personal and phones becoming smarter, we find it difficult to switch off.

The example of waiting up late into the night and setting alarms to wake up in time to harvest FarmVille crops was the real story of one particular girl in her mid-20s. The mere thought of her virtual crops withering away was unbearable to her.

Constant nagging from her friends about her addiction didn’t help either. It was only when she was pulled up for farming at work that she realized her addiction was getting out of hand. She then deactivated her account for some time to help her get over her addiction. It was only when she actually tried to get over her addiction that she realized just how much time she had been devoting to a relatively useless activity when she could have spent it more productively.

There are several groups on FB that address this issue

There are several groups on FB that address this issue

The recent BlackBerry service outage acted as an eye-opener for many, making them realize just how dependant and used to the service they had become. Take the case of Simran Channey, a 26 year-old marketing executive and BlackBerry user for almost two years, who was deeply affected. She says, “It gave me sleepless nights because I am addicted to Twitter on BlackBerry and often, when I don’t get sleep, I surf on my phone”. So great was her frustration that she even toyed with the idea of switching over to another phone. She was not alone, as many other BB addicts shared her anxiety of feeling disconnected.

For others, like Desiree Fernandes, a 26 year-old account head with a TV channel, who has been using a BlackBerry since 2008, the outage acted as a blessing in disguise. “I was affected a little, but at the same time was relieved from the nonstop emails and forwards,” she says. “The breakdown helped me revisit my old life and I quite liked the break.”

The service outage, though a blot on the service provider’s track record, at least provided an opportunity for some people to come to terms with their dependence. Others, however, still need to go on forced detox sessions.

Here are some ways in which you can detox:

  • The most effective remedy for tech detox is to switch over to a basic phone. No apps, no Internet access.
  • Stick with EDGE rather than 3G. The speed will  frustrate you and keep you from picking up your phone out of lack of convenience.
  • Periodically, select Flight Mode on your phone, which effectively cuts you off from all means of communication.
  • Another option is to get rid of social networking apps altogether as well as apps that you use to chat like Fring, WhatsApp, Nimbuzz etc.
  • When you are out with your family or friends, switch off the phone.
  • It might be easier if you encourage your friends to detox along with you.
  • Set limits for your gadget usage, for example, switching off your phone and shutting down the PC after 9 pm.
  • Make conscious efforts to have meaningful conversations with the people around you.
There's hope still..

There's hope still..

If you find it difficult to spend even half an hour without feeling the urge to connect to the virtual world, then you most probably need a tech detox. This doesn’t necessarily mean switching off completely, as it would be impractical to do so in this day and age. It has more to do with making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of time that your spend online. Initially, you may find it difficult, as you battle with feelings of anxiety about missing out on conversations or important happenings, but if you keep yourself engaged in other activities, it shouldn’t be that difficult. You never know; you might just rediscover an old hobby or begin enjoying new types of activities.

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