Written with a very special thanks to Netherthong Primary's Year Six students and their teacher Martin Clayton
The average person spends 10 hours online each day and sleeps less than seven hours each night. Worldwide, two-billion people own smartphones. Over a third of households subscribe to video-streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, or HBO Go.
Just as drive-throughs satisfy our busy, automobile-driving lives, personal devices satisfy our busy, information-hungry desires.
In this modern era, we no longer need to wait to find the answers we crave or the social connections we desire. We no longer need to venture to the library to seek information or to Blockbuster Video for entertainment. We no longer have to wait days or weeks or months for our favorite shows and movies to air on TV. We can have it all right now without needing to leave our homes. Our devices are convenient outlets for explorations of all kinds. Boundless exploration is at our fingertips.
We have the option to be connected in at any time. But, is it really necessary?
I have observed media habits for seven years as an educator. My students use iPads to access textbooks, notetaking applications, and external resources. iPads are an unfortunate requirement of the modern education system, since they capable of receiving notifications at any time from Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and various sports applications. Students seem to be dstracted at all times of day, not just during class. I see kids in the hallways, so mesmerized by their glowing screens that they ignore their friends and fail to look where they are walking. One particular student of mine regularly boasts about his uncanny ability to function normally at school despite his proclivity to binge-watch Netflix shows all night long!
What is lost when we are plugged in?
Spending more than 70 hours a week online doesn’t leave much time for anything else. It doesn’t leave any time to develop and pursue hobbies, spend time with loved ones, travel, or complete necessary household tasks. We barely have any time left to learn, to create, and to live our lives. We are neglecting our personal relationships, our chores, and even our safety by choosing to spend more time in a digital world. There is an increased risk of illness and obesity associated with the sedentary nature of technology use. When we spend too much time online, whether it is due to using the internet, email, social media, or texting, we can become sleep deprived and disconnected with reality, leading to numerous psychological ramifications. In addition, if our wireless connection is suddenly disrupted, we end up feeling anxious, helpless, lost, and alone.
To combat the rising dependence on technology, more and more people are gravitating towards something called a “digital detox.”
What is a digital detox?
A digital detox is a period of time when a technology user abstains from devices like smartphones, computers, wearables, or tablets in order to reconnect and ground themselves more fully to the physical world.
What’s the point of a digital detox?
Digital detoxes are geared towards breaking technology habits and rekindling relationships with the real world. This can be done through disconnection with the virtual world, since studies have shown that disconnecting from devices can reduce stress and increase productivity. Once disconnected, we can experience a more focused connection with ourselves and others. Digital detox practices are meant to increase our feelings of self-other awareness, to revive feelings of empathy for our fellow humans, and to restore balance to our lives.
Who is doing a Digital Detox?
Organizations such as Camp Grounded and Digital Detox make it easy for companies to organize tech-free retreats to give employees breaks from screen time. Virgin Airlines integrates digital detoxifying techniques into their workdays by having employees turn off their devices between 10 a.m. and noon on Wednesdays. During this time of disconnection, employees engage in group brainstorming sessions while taking walks in nature. Virgin hopes these “Disconnection Wednesdays” will help foster feelings of work-life balance.
Digital Detox and Education
Even educational institutions like high schools and grade schools are including digital detoxes into their curriculum. The rationale for digital detoxes in schools is to help students use technology more responsibly since it is an inevitable part of the future. And, kids are the future!
I’ve often wondered what a tech-free week would do for the youth. What would it be like to force kids to leave technology alone for a week? Would students’ technology habits change once they completed the detox?
I had the recent privilege of connecting with the Netherthong Primary School in Holmfirth, England, where Year Six (apprx. 5th grade) students have just completed a week-long digital detox. These kids have never known a world without constant connection. After reaching out and chatting with Martin Clayton, a teacher of Netherthong Primary who recently led his students through a digital detox, I was able to gather some data about their experience.
Netherthong Primary School and the Digital Detox
“It’s good to take a break from digital things.” - Jake, student at Netherthong Primary (scroll down to view quotes from other students!)
Prior to the week-long digital detox, most of the children had heard about the practice, and they were confident they could abstain from technology, even though they claimed it was necessary to use certain tech items daily, such as computers, laptops, smartboards, video game systems, iPads, iPods, mobile phones, smart phones, and televisions. Most reported using some form of technology for at least two hours a day, and some students reported that they needed to use technology for up to 35 hours a week!
According to 10-year-olds...
How can personal technology be beneficial?
Most claimed that technology is fun, since it offers an interactive route of communication through social media, text, and email. One student reported that it is easier to call someone rather than talk in person. Others understand that the digital world is a good route to quick information, and one responded very astutely that going online is a practical aspect of working a job. They all reported that smartphones can help in an emergency.
How can personal technology be harmful?
I was surprised at how much they knew about this subject. In terms of the harmful effects of technology, these kids knew that technology can be easily abused. One student reported that personal devices gives users "too much freedom from responsibility;" others said that technology "makes it easy to send hurtful emails and texts," and that technological freedom often empowers cyberbullies. They were wary of “internet trolls” and the ease by which people can stalk others online. One student claimed that if used too much, technology can be addictive; in addition, staring at devices all day not only takes time away from the family, it can also damage the eyesight and the brain.
After completing the tech-free week, how did these kids feel about the digital detox?
In reflecting on the detox, the majority really liked it. One insisted that it was a “great experience!” Most felt that, while disconnecting was difficult, the digital detox was interesting and worthwhile. One “found it interesting to talk to people in real life.” In general, the break from technology forced them to be more social - it helped them to do things they normally wouldn’t do, like “go exploring,” "spend more time with family and friends," “read more books,” and “play board games.” A few kids even admitted they were more respectful to their parents while abstaining from technology.
Of course, most thought the detox was very difficult, but they understood that the trial was worth it. One student wrote that the digital detox “was hard but [she] enjoyed it and it made [her] less grumpy.” Many felt that it was hard to avoid the TV. One reported being really bored: there was “nothing to do all week!” Another “didn’t like that [he] couldn’t FaceTime [his] friends.” In general, while most parents joined their children in the detox, it was difficult for the students whose families didn’t support the detox. Only a few of the students would have liked to continue the cleanse for more than a week, but most found that a week was just right to understand the importance of disconnecting.
When I sent them the survey, they were off the cleanse for around three weeks, so I thought perhaps they had gone back to their original habits. However, to my surprise, they still felt the benefits of the digital detox.
How was the digital detox beneficial?
After the detox, students reported increased concentration levels and test scores. They felt more organized, and continued to spend more time with families instead of succumb to the draw of their devices. One reported feeling “more peaceful and more awake at school.” They continued to go outside more, and talk to people instead relying mainly on text. Most reported getting better quality sleep since they weren’t looking at their phones before bedtime. They all said they felt differently about using technology after the cleanse, and are determined to use technology more mindfully.
Even though my study of the effects of disconnecting was long-distance and not a scientific study completed by a reputable research organization, I think that the results can still be highly relevant and applicable to our lives. Believe it or not, the world will never be as analog as it is now, as technological advances are exponentially growing. The children at Netherthong Primary will agree, it's important to use technology meaningfully and intentionally, and not in ways that hurt ourselves or others.
Hey Netherthong Primary! What would you like to tell Everthrive's readers about disconnecting from technology?
“Cutting down on electrical items can be good for you.” - Toby
“It really helps you with tests and friendship.” - Emma J.
“Everyone should try it and see what a beautiful world we live in.” Emma F.
“[Technology] can be helpful, but addictive.” - Jessica
“You must try it, it will be super good if you did!” - Thomas
“It's a fun way of getting more involved with the past.” - Skye
“We are very lucky to have digital products so do not waste them.” - Lucas
“It’s hard but if you're determined I'll guarantee you that you will get through it and have a great experience.” – Will
“It’s hard but worth it.” - Oliver
“There are more things to do than using technology and although you might think [a digital detox] would be boring, it’s actually very interesting.” - Annie
“Don’t watch screens as much.” – Daisy
“It’s a good thing to do because you see things differently and seem more concentrated and involved in your family.” – Taylor
“You talk to a lot more people you normally don’t talk to.” – Owain
“It is very useful.” – Zara
“Try it because it can be fun and you will find out that you can sleep a bit more.” – Izzy
“It’s easy if everyone around you participates.” – Paddy
“It feels boring and fun at the same time.” – Anton
“You can learn new things about other people.” -James
“Do it because it’s worth it.” – Ethan
“I think we all should try it and it is actually a great experience.” – Geena
“Cutting down on electrical items can be good for you.” – Toby
“It helps your communication.” – Luc
“It’s very fun and interesting!” – Harry
“It helps your brain relax more when you don’t play on video games and things.” -Scarlett
“[Taking a digital detox] is better for you and you are involved more with everything.” - Jay
“Try the digital detox because you spend more time with your family.” – Isla