To say that 2020 was an unsettling year is something of an understatement. But technology proved to be a key player on every front. Social media platforms were flooded as people didn’t have much else to do. Many families were forced to hunker down and compete for available bandwidth as home suddenly became workplace, school, and gym.
In case there was any doubt, 2020 demonstrated clearly that technology is both a blessing and a curse. Immediate access to a worldwide audience can both connect and separate us, inform and misinform, provide opportunity and take it away. It’s up to all of us to wisely control how we use our tech if we seek to make our lives better instead of worse.
Fortunately, the situation is far from hopeless. Here are four tech changes you can make in 2021 that just might make your life — and those of others — a little happier.
1. Put the Phone Down and Back Away
Cell phones serve as our lifeline to the world, especially during periods when we are confined to our homes. Even before the pandemic, it was commonplace to see people glued to their phones wherever they went. This might be the year when it makes more sense to put your phone down and leave it down a bit longer than before.
It’s tough enough for adults to wean themselves from their phones and engage in a real conversation. Kids, especially ones bored at home, require even more encouragement.
According to Gabb Wireless, one place to start is by having a cell phone for kids that eliminates distractions by limiting features. A phone without internet access, games, apps, or social media fosters a habit of using the phone primarily for calls and texts. Kids can still use their phones to shoot photos and videos, but their exposure to factors shown to lead to cell phone addiction is reduced enormously.
When you put your phone down as well, you free yourself up to enjoy real-time personal contact with your kids, extended family, and friends. Modeling phone-free time is the single best way to encourage kids to adopt the practice for themselves.
2. Talk, Don’t Text
Somehow we’ve arrived at a point where the efficiency of a two-minute phone conversation has been replaced with 45 minutes of back-and-forth texting. We’ve decided it’s best to use our fingers to talk, even when we’re having a long, involved conversation. We’ve managed to forget that our smartphone is, well, a phone.
That’s a shame because research from the University of Texas at Austin has found that talking makes people feel more connected. Whether the conversation is between strangers or old friends, the result is the same. The sound of the human voice itself is integral to bonding.
“Bonding” doesn’t just happen with friends and family. It also applies to team projects in the workplace. Teams coalesce more rapidly when employees forgo using the official online communication platform and instead converse about strategies and ideas.
In 2021, help facilitate better communication by resisting the temptation to text or email every word of it. From time to time, use your phone to call a friend, family member, or co-worker and have a real conversation. You’re still maintaining a safe social distance, but the bond will prove stronger nonetheless.
3. Unplug on a Schedule
The evidence that too much screen time has unhealthy side-effects is overwhelming. Studies show it can cause insomnia, eyestrain, headaches, anxiety, and depression. Given the year we’ve just had, who needs any more of those?
To combat these negative effects, resolve to unplug regularly. Schedule downtime the same way you schedule your workout or Zoom calls.
Writer and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain and her family have unplugged one day a week for a decade. In her book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, she talks about the benefits of her “Technology Shabbat.”
Shlain contends that unplugging rewires the brain and makes people better humans. Greater productivity and focus, more sleep, decreased anxiety and depression, better relationships, and health are just some of the benefits. We could all use more of those things.
Wondering how to fill the time without television, computers, phones, pads, and pods? Try a socially distanced visit with friends or family. Play board or even card games. Read, write, run, ride an electric bike, relax, reset. Unplugging isn’t a punishment. It’s a revitalizing time out from rampant screen overkill that you’ll find refreshing and even begin to anticipate gladly.
4. Block the Outrage and Open the Door to Good News
Technology has placed a 24/7 news cycle literally at our fingertips. Research has since shown that this is not entirely a good thing. While being informed about what’s happening in the world is important, it can also be awfully depressing.
Spending large blocks of time on social media platforms has been shown to increase feelings of loneliness and depression. Conversely, spending less time “doom scrolling” news apps is one proven method for reducing mental fatigue. If you can’t bear to part ways with Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, reconfigure your social media platforms to raise your spirits.
Instead of following politicians or celebrities that stoke feelings of outrage, prioritize the feeds of people with whom you have a real-life connection. Just be sure to choose the right people. If you find yourself routinely annoyed by someone’s rants, remember that there’s no law saying you must stay connected. Unfollow people who regularly raise your blood pressure.
You can also start following accounts dedicated to delivering uplifting stories such as Upworthy or Good News Movement. Take a minute to laugh at the silly cat, dog, and kid videos that come your way. Modify the notification settings on your phone so you’ll pay less attention to the apps that interrupt your day or bring you down.
Technology is like nearly everything else in life: something to be enjoyed in moderation. Begin your tech reduction incrementally. If you really can’t unplug for an entire day, start with a couple of hours and work your way up. Call one person this week and have a real conversation. Turn off the TV and play a game or read a book with your child. Slowly starting to put joy and connection back in your life will make your 2021 just a little bit brighter.