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08 May, Saturday
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Why People Love To Hate Digital Detox During The Pandemic

News updates. WhatsApp messages. New emails. Games notifications. And then another notification pings, this time from Facebook. The notifications that light up our black mirrors is already a familiar melody in our day-to-day, and picking up our phones already feels like an instinct now. So when we talk about this, it’s easy to feel that’s paradoxical given that it’s practically unavoidable. Perhaps that’s why people love to hate digital detox during the pandemic. Read on as Tropika Club discovers more.


Table Of Contents

Digital Detox: It’s Not That Easy

I got the iPhone 11 in October since my old phone broke. That’s how I knew the Screen Time feature on iOS. It tracks how often I use my phone, how much time I spent on it, and what apps I spent my time on. It seemed useful in the beginning, I thought it could help me wind down my endless scrolls on Facebook and Reddit (yes, yes I’m a nerd).

For a while, it did. I used the feature to help me block out most apps after 11 p.m., except for some messaging apps, Grab and Google Maps (in case I’m out late), as well as some note-taking apps (in case I want to jot down ideas). In a bid to see a decrease in the charts on Screen Time, I tried to cut down time spent on my phone. The weeks passed, and bit by bit, there was a small decrease.

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Is Digital Detox Designed to Fail?

But I took it for granted, happily thinking I was already making it a habit. I let my guard down. Pretty soon, I was hitting the ‘One More Minute’ button when I went over the time limit. Then it devolved to ‘Remind Me in 15 Minutes’. Pretty soon, I was hitting the ‘Ignore Limit For Today’ button deep into the night for my next dose of cat videos.

When the RPG game Genshin Impact arrived, all my progress evaporated as I went about daily quests and whatnot. The charts shot up, my screen time increased by 9 per cent, 12 per cent. For November, my scree time hovered at an average of 8 hours a day. Not. Good. Did putting the Screen Time widget on my home screen work? I barely even noticed it.

I am not the only one. A fellow writer did exactly the same thing as I did with the Screen Time – we did nothing. We both side-stepped the limitation from the feature. 

So is this kind of ‘Screen Time’ feature, in all its different forms across platforms, a bug then?

“Time Well Spent”

Springing up around seven years ago, it’s a movement that wants to make technology respect its users’ time and not exploit the vulnerabilities of its users, rather than dousing us in dopamine boosts. Big Tech adopted the idea in droves. Google, like Apple, launched its own on-device features to get people to monitor the time spent on their devices. Instagram and Facebook also launched notifications and the ability to snooze their apps. Soon, a whole cottage industry sprang up to help people to digitally detox. Around Singapore, vacations at exotic, far-flung hotels marketed as digital detox retreats.

Yet, we are ever more glued to our screen. According to a report by We Are Social, Singaporeans are spending almost 7 hours a day online this year. Because of the pandemic, internet usage spiked as much as 60% for some internet service providers as more of us stay home.

So as much as we want to digitally detox, feels like a privilege, a luxury. Because there’s only so much of us that can unplug. We’re only ‘always on’ because we have to. Work emails and messages, errands for the family, taking care of our friends. In a world brought on by the pandemic, so much of the ‘real-life’ we know is translated online.

Yes, there is a fear of digital distractions wrecking our mental and physical health, psychological development, and sleep patternsas well as how it affects the youth psychologically. But some experts have argued that the research that yielded such results confronted technology as a monolith. Those research could be neglecting the nuances of how and what we spend time in the digital space. 

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As an example, there was a research by the Oxford Internet Insitute, a multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, offered a different narrative of video games. In a departure from previous approaches, they looked at the actual industry data for the playtime for two games: Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It found that the amount of time playing the game can enhance wellbeing and that the player’s subjective experiences during gameplay could be a factor for improved wellbeing. However, if the gamer’s psychological needs weren’t being fulfilled in real life, they experienced negative wellbeing from playing the games.

So, how do we negotiate the travails of our time in the digital space against the need for it?

Change the Way We Look at Digital Detox

We often use the language of addiction when describing our time online. It bears all the symptoms: the dependence on technology, its adverse effects, that someone created these systems to monetise our attention. But one author suggests we take a different point of view. Instead, why not see it as a distraction, rather than an addiction.

With that, let’s rethink the way we see digital detox as well. Instead of seeing it as a must-have getaway or an ideal that you have to fight to attain it, why not we start with a few simple tweaks.

Here are three easy steps to get you started:

1. Turn off (Some) Notifications

This is probably the fastest and easiest way to take back control over your device. You don’t need to read your emails or reply messages the moment you get them. Don’t want to have another match of your game in the middle of your work? Turn that notification off too! Also, you probably don’t need that offer from Taobao.
This is especially important before you sleep. Check if your devices can turn off notifications a few hours before you sleep.

2. Plan Your Digital Detox

Mark a few dates that you can afford to go off the grid. You don’t need to do it a few days in a row. If you’re planning to travel somewhere, memorise the routes and make sure you already paid your bills too!

And remember to tell your friends, family, and work (if need be). For emails, you can always set an automatic response too. That way, everyone won’t be left wondering.

3. Set Tech-Free Times and Zones

It could be the dining room, the gym, or your bedroom. Once you’re in your tech-free zones, remember to have some rules. Maybe you could turn on your phone’s airplane mode once you’re there, or even keep it out of sight.
Pair this habit with a set time every day, like as you’re cooking, eating, working out, or when you’re talking to your friends and family.

Time to Close The Tabs

We don’t have to be always on. By having a more mindful approach to the way we use technology, it’s going to be easier for us to notice the little pleasures in our lives. Let’s not miss out on the memories and connections we make in our lives.

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A curious wanderlust at heart, Benedict is always out to explore the world around him, and share his discoveries.