Disconnecting from Tech? There’s an app for that.

It’s no secret to anyone who’s read my blog posts that I love technology. I love how it can help cultures evolve and make our lives easier and more productive. It provides so much benefit and entertainment to society that it’s no wonder that people have become addicted to it. Whether it’s s techie who needs to have the latest and greatest gadgets, a social media influencer with a hunger for likes and retweets, or a preteen who finds themselves dependent on the serotonin and dopamine boosts that come from crushing candies; I’m sure we all know a person who takes their connection to technology a little too far. However, not everyone can just quit ‘cold turkey’. It’s easier said than done to fully disengage oneself from all the facets of technology that surround us. So for this post, I wanted to flip the script a little bit and look at how people are using technology to disconnect themselves from technology. I wanted to evaluate how people are ‘fighting fire with fire’ to separate themselves from various technologies.

A screenshot of Comcast’s device control tool

The first (and simplest) example is probably one that you’ve all seen commercials for in recent months, but I feel it does a great job of setting the tone for this discussion: Comcast’s ability to disable WiFi connections for particular devices in a home. The ad shows a family with kids who are plastered to their phones screens who only come down for dinner once they lose their Wifi (and therefore have nothing better to do). While I don’t necessarily agree with the parenting style, I can’t argue that it’s an ineffective method of getting kids to put down their devices for a little while. With the click of a button, parents can put devices into a digital ‘time out’ and pause WiFi for any device for a set amount of time. You can even create profiles for family members so that when your preteen is acting up, they can’t use their phone or tablet in place of a laptop which has been disconnected. Finally, there’s a Bedtime Mode option which disables WiFi for a device or profile between set hours (which can be hugely beneficial for ensuring that little tykes are getting the right amount of sleep every night).

Another recently introduced feature is Apple’s screen time analysis. For those that are unfamiliar, iOS devices can now push a weekly analysis of device usage, not only showing the total time the screen was on, but also showing where time was spent on the device – broken down by category (social media, entertainment, etc.) or time of day. It can even provide recommendations for how to reduce screen time by notifying the user about which apps are sending the most notifications and how frequently the device is picked up. The Screen Time tool also allows users to set limits on their own usage, restricting apps or categories once a certain threshold has been reached. Personally, I was really impressed with Apple’s mature and responsible forethought to implement this new feature. It’s fairly rare to see a company that wants its customers to be aware of how much and in what ways they’re using their products.

Next, let’s talk about hardware. I recently saw an ad for polarizing glasses (aptly named IRL Glasses) which black out digital screens or monitors (see below for an example). Imagine walking into a sports bar and not being distracted by the dozens of screens around you or being able to drive on the highway and not be distracted by digital billboards (which are becoming more and more common). These simple glasses were started as a Kickstarter campaign and act as a ‘digital detox’ and, while they don’t work everywhere yet (OLED screens like some billboards and phones/computers are still not compatible), the use case and benefit of these glasses is very clear.

IRL Glasses use polarized lenses to block screens

While it may seem counter-intuitive, virtual reality can also be used to disconnect from technology. There are a handful of popular meditation experiences which direct users through breathing and guided meditation experiences. Having tried a few of these myself, I can honestly say they do a fantastic job of hitting the reset button when you are feeling stressed out or overwhelmed. It’s a great way to break out of the chaos of emails and Slack messages and step into a calm, soothing, environment to re-energize yourself.

VR used during meditation to further disconnect from distractions

Finally, you may remember my presentation on augmented reality. While my focus for the presentation was on the potential commercial applications of augmented reality, AR has the potential to completely change the way we view the world. Similar to the glasses I mentioned before, AR can not only black out screens, but could also overlay an image on top of anything the user would like to filter out of their vision. My favorite use case for this (while not 100% tech-related) is for blocking out advertisements. In the photo below, you’ll see an AR application that looks for the logos located on the bottom of any New York City Subway ad, and then will overlay beautiful art on top of the advertisement, turning every Subway stop into a museum exhibition.

Augmented Reality covering NYC Subway ads

As you can see, there are a huge number of ways that technology can be used to limit or disconnect ourselves from the digital world. What do you think? Can you see yourself using any of these? How do you set limits for yourself or find ways of unplugging?


  1. I had never heard about the IRL glasses or using AR to replace ads with art, so that was very interesting! I think Apple’s screen time function really puts things into perspective and I know every time I see that my screen time has dropped, I feel some sense of accomplishment. I think we are so unaware of how much we dedicate our time to our phones, so it helps to see what the breakdown is, by app. It is hard to unplug when so much of what we do relies on using our phones or computers, like for school work or communicating with others. I do wonder though if the application of AR you mentioned will cause companies to place some sort of restrictions on this technology. These companies have paid for these ads to be up and if the AR tech becomes widespread, their money will essentially go to waste. I also agree with you that it seems counterintuitive to use VR to unwind, but I could see how it can really help people destress. Great insights!!

  2. dilillomelissa · ·

    This is a really cool take on the flip-side of technology use. I’ve never heard of the app that allows you to pause Wi-Fi in your living space. I would potentially use this, but let my family know the benefits of not using phones for a bit. It would definitely allow you to be productive in other aspects of your life when screen time is not available. While I haven’t used Apple’s screen time analysis yet, I think you hit the nail on the head in saying that Apple’s promotion of this is rare b/c usually companies want you to use their products as much as possible. I think the issue of screen time is so prevelant today that Apple is proving they are doing what they can to address this. Just because you have a product, doesn’t mean it needs to be used 24/7. The IRL glasses are so unique to me. I would want to test them out, but I don’t think this would be the method I go with. If I’m going to a sports bar, for instance, my purpose there is to watch the tv and socialize. In going out, I don’t see much of a point to blocking all the tv’s. If I want a space to work or study, I’m not going to head to a bar, for instance. Overall, I think there are defintiely good methods out there to help reduce screen time. I personally don’t monitor my use too much. I feel good about my own productivity and therefore, don’t need to set limits on myself at this point in time.

  3. dancreedon4 · ·

    Technology limiting the use of technology!! Great twist on the blog “norm”. I think I need my roommates to read this blog and take some of these options into consideration…but seriously. I can’t say I would ever see myself using any of those but I can see the benefits of doing so. I typically don’t use my phone much at work, but I do use it more often when not at work. Taking the MBTA bus to work and all I see is everyone looking at their phones- I feel like I’m the only one not glued to my phone, just music is fine by me! Leaving my phone at my apartment while working out is how I best unplug; the music on my Fitbit hooks up to wireless headphones and it’s honestly the highlight of my day. Everyone needs a break from technology, mentally, and if that means having tech to help limit it then I am all for it!

  4. shannonbenoit5 · ·

    Love the idea of, as you said, fighting fire with fire. I had not heard of the IRL glasses or the AR applications for this, so I found those really interesting. To be honest though, I couldn’t see myself using them, as least not at the moment. Like Luiza said, I also feel proud of myself whenever I see that my screen time for that week has gone down. I think a lot of us are in a place where we realize how much we use and are (at time overly) dependent on technology and have at least some sort of desire to limit it, which I see as a good thing. I also like the idea of Xfinity’s wifi limiting, for kids especially. While I agree that it may not be the best parenting style, it makes me so sad to see young kids constantly glued to their devices even in the summer time when I would have been constantly playing outside at that age, so whatever works I suppose.

  5. Man, I love the idea of those IRL glasses. Sometimes you just can’t help getting sucked into digital monitors, and it’d be great to have a shield from them. Wonder if might be some dangers, though (i.e. don’t use while driving).

  6. debhan10 · ·

    Great post!! I admit that I’ve struggled a lot with maintaining a healthy usage of social media and technology. I want to become more disciplined and intentional about how much I’m on my devices, but I found it to be incredibly challenging to overcome these temptations. As you mentioned, Apple’s new screen time feature has helped me a lot with my journey to be more mindful with my time. Not only can I see how much time I was allocating and where, but I can also set up time limits to literally lock me out of these apps. It’s helped me a lot especially when I’m studying and need to focus on my work without any distractions. The IRL glasses are very intriguing to me, and I had no idea that this even existed! I think the concept is great, but I’m not quite sure if I would ever wear them out. How would they look on you if you’re out with your friends? Maybe one day, there will be something more subtle that we can use/wear. Comcast’s control tool, on the other hand, is something I would be more inclined to use. As a parent, I think I would enforce the Bedtime Mode option because I know how prone we are to go on our phones right before we sleep, sometimes losing up precious minutes/hours of sleep due to these distractions. Using technology to disconnect from technology is something we should all strive to do!

  7. adurney1 · ·

    Very cool post! I recently started the iOS app that monitors the screen time. It is great to get a handle on my screen time and smart phone usage. It has been an eye opener to see how I spend my time using my smart phone. An interesting trend I have heard is companies turning this on for their employees and then checking the screen time. Seems like a possible misuse of the app and quite invasive.

  8. kgcorrigan · ·

    Great post! I have seen the Comcast commercials for disabling WiFi in the home and I think it’s a cool tool to have available. When I was growing up, my parents placed a huge emphasis on having dinner together and talking about our days, so when call phones came into the picture for my sister and I, we didn’t even think about bringing them downstairs with us. I can see how this feature might come in handy for today’s families that aren’t used to disconnecting, and I might just have to implement it myself one day when I have a family of my own! I also recently started paying attention to screen time on my phone, and it does amaze me how much time I spend on such mindless apps. I haven’t looked into setting time restrictions on apps, so maybe that should be my next step.

  9. merrimju · ·

    Nice post! Got me to actually laugh out loud with “using technology to disconnect themselves from technology.” Personally, as a kid I would hate Xfinity Home’s capabilities as I’m sure my parents would have used this tool on me. However, as an adult seeing the other side of the coin, I think it’s really great technology. One of my biggest fears is that kids are on devices and have exposure to too much too soon via phones, tablets, etc so limiting their time would help minimize this concern of mine. And I would LOVE to buy the polzarizing glasses for several of my friends and mother as I have no bigger pet peeve than people being on their phone at dinner with me. All in all, great analysis!

  10. cynmzfigueroa · ·

    Wait I LOVE, the idea behind IRL Glasses! It’s like an ad-blocker for the real world. This is a pretty neat post, and actually something I’ve looked into every once in a while. In college I used to use StayFocusd to lock my computer down when I needed to get work done around finals season only to then play around on my phone when I lost track again. I feel like it’s gotten harder and harder to actually realize you rely on being connected all the time, especially since the internet of things takeover has pretty much made most tools a digitally interactive experience.

  11. I think it is incredibly ironic that we are creating new technology to remove ourselves from technology. I love the IRL glasses and think of the new tech coming out those are really neat. The Comcast control function is another reminder of how pervasive the internet of things is. The fact you can interact with different aspects of the home could work counterintuitively and actually increase the amount of screen time or contribute to the addiction to technology. Along the lines of class discussion, I wonder if constant connectivity and other IoT solutions are going to negatively affect our brains process information, our habits, and decision making.

  12. After we had the conversations about the light phone, I started searching for an app like this, how cool to see it show up in a blog post. In a world that seems constantly connected where individuals cant be without a phone for more than 5 minutes, it’s nice to see app builders recognizing there are people that want to go “light” and creating solutions for it! I will certainly be putting this app to use!

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