Unplug your Life !


‘All phones on the table’, my former boss used to bark at us as soon as we sat down fora team-building lunch. All the phones would piled, one on top of the other on a plate; on silent mode, as if mocking us, “Pick me up if you dare!” At the end of the hour, after proper conversations were had, it was a mad scramble to pick up the phones. And as if some weight in the heart had lifted, most of us would hold onto our phones for dear life, crazily scrolling through to see what missed. Amusingly, some of us would have not missed any calls or received texts. But the addiction to the phone akin to a second skin was all-consuming.

Though most of us looked at these lunches with disdain in the beginning; over time, we realised we needed to converse with each other than with our phones. The break was invigorating and much-needed!

Switched ‘in’

But not everyone is ‘clued’ in to when to switch off. They are always ‘switched on’, like the light that blinks on the cellphones. So we receive mails written at 1am that are expected to be replied to immediately. Most often, the reply can wait until business hours, but try telling that to a person who thinks business is 24×7!

Studies show 44 per cent of cell-phone users have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss out on any calls, texts or updates overnight. But checking a lit-up screen during the middle of the night can prevent us from falling asleep and sleeping well.

A manager of a start-up in Oman, during a meeting said: “I am available 24 x 7.” She added: “My phone is always by the bed. My team is always available online. I cannot sleep continuously without checking my phone atleast once in two hours.”

Natasha* talks of a time when she would be oblivious to everything in the world except her cellphone, when she was sleeping. Her friend would ring the doorbell, at other times poke and prod her; the dog would make noise but nothing would wake her up. But as soon as someone called her on the cellphone and it would vibrate, she would get up immediately!

Social Disconnect

Being connected on social media maybe technology’s way of pumping too much information that may clutter our brain, warn psychologists. Candy Crush users may disagree. What is so compelling about social media that it has overtaken our waking and sleeping hours to a large extent?

A 2012 study by two Boston psychologists found that Facebook use is driven by two ‘primary needs’ – the ‘need for self-preservation’ and the need to belong. Researchers at two German universities found that one in three people felt worse and most dissatisfied with their lives after scrolling through Facebook posts.

Increasingly, we are leading our lives online, with few things happening offline. The interaction, sometimes, only exists in the online world. *Samia, a 20-year-old student deactivated her Facebook account after she posted her last update that she had been diagnosed with depression and hence needed to stay away. “Not one of my so-called friends picked up the phone to call me or send me an e-mail. I then realised the superficiality of these friendships,” she says. “Every person might not be the same but at that time, I was devastated at the quality of these friendships,” she adds.

Have you heard, to be really ‘hospitable’ you have to offer your guests your WiFi password? “Like many people, my job comes with a lot of pressure to perform. If I am ‘not at the top of things’, it can affect my career. So I don’t mind asking friends for their WiFi password at places when I cannot connect to my network,” says *Christine, a software professional.

“Today social media has gone from a harmless, virtual habit to a damaging, narcissism-fuelled habit, which has negatively impacted the self-worth and realistic perceptions of countless across the globe. Studies in the UK found that 50 per cent of the people studied said that social media made their lives and self-esteem worse. Other studies have shown that two-thirds of social media users find it hard to relax and sleep after spending time on the social network. Studies have also linked eating disorders and social media. The statistics are worrying and it’s time for us to relook at what we have got ourselves trapped in,” says psychologist Dr. Prema Seshadri.

Highly Hooked

How important is social media to you? What if you had to completely switch off? When we posed these questions to women in Oman via e-mail, few answers were forthcoming. But as soon as we posted them on Instagram (notice the irony here!), the replies came in quickly, and forcefully.

@ritalopez33 says: “Whenever I stop for a break I involuntarily pick up my phone to check updates. It understand it’s a very annoying habit. I wish I could switch off but then, I am already too deep in to it.”

@aishelaqtta feels it’s extremely important as she is a social blogger. “I need to be updated on what’s going on. The other chatting apps are considered an obsession. I’ve been trying hard to limit my time on the phone.” She jokingly adds: “This message was written through telepathy!”

@noon_fashions says that being on social media is important for her business. “I really can’t count the number of hours I spend on it. But I am trying to cut down the time though I wonder whether I can really shut off.”

her phone and her Instagram account that she handles along with her husband @omantraveller. “At times, I think I need to quit because it takes up a lot of time from our lives. We can’t stop because we are helping other travelers. However, we need to bring some element of control because we deserve to have some time to ourselves. We are trying to that when we travel. We just switch off our mobiles!”

Not really multi-tasking

Multi-tasking is almost an ‘abused’ word in a woman’s life. With debates on work-life balance and trying to juggle it all, come high expectations of having to be online for work. A new study shows that people who rate themselves as the best multi-taskers are actually the worst at it when they are put to the test; they also tend to be greater risk-takers and impulsive overall. People who have their eyes on a screen while doing something else and then some are also missing out on in-person connections with other people.

“Between school drops, homework, boardroom battles and also trying to Instagram the food cooking on the stove I was going crazy. What was I trying to prove? That I am Superwoman? Sorry, she just does not exist. Having learnt the hard way, I now make it point to browse through social media sites only during my free time. I’ve ‘gotten away’ and it’s an exhilarating feeling,” says Aisha*, a senior executive at an advertising agency.

Daily Digital Detox

In medical parlance, they call it titration. Too much can kill. Too little is ineffective. How does one address the elephant in the room? What is the right dose of digital detox to bring a semblance of ‘reality’ back to our lives? How much is too much? How little is too little? These tips will probably put you on the track towards slowly unplugging your life and giving you some downtime!

# Do you feel that your life has been completely taken over by your gadgets and social media? Then it’s time to make a commitment. Ask yourself whether you need the unplugged time.

# Try it for a couple of days. Evaluate the benefits. Does it make you calmer, less stress-free and give you the me-time you badly need. If your answer is yes, you are on the way to making unplugged time a priority.

# Make a schedule and stick to it. Maybe Saturday should be the day off all social media. Or switch off for a couple of hours each day. It’s your choice!

# Take up a hobby that will fill in for the time you used to spend on the Internet. Use a notepad for writing things down. Go for a long walk. Start a gratitude diary. The list is endless.

# Make time to catch up with friends over a cup of coffee rather than poking them on Facebook or having Twitter conversations.

# Use an alarm clock instead of your phone. So the first thing you do in the morning will not be checking up on updates.

# Fit in some quality family time with strict instructions that there will no gadgets for a few hours.

# Constantly review how you feel. It’s a daily effort. There’s no pressure to completely switch off. It’s not needed either. It’s how you feel comfortable with the ‘switch off’ routine.

As Dr. Seshadri sums it up: “The solution to this problem lies in reconnecting with your own presence and creating your own personal brand which needs no referrals; eliminate social media from your life, at least till you have a high enough self-esteem to have control over your own life that you are able to start monitoring your usage of social media; develop a strong level of self-awareness; involve yourself in volunteering activities that calls for face-to-face interactions; change your diet and lifestyle; exercise and groom yourself; read and develop healthy hobbies; and meditate to bring equilibrium and balance to the mind.”