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.
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.
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.
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.
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?