We may feel guilty that we’re constantly plugged in, or not even realize we are disconnecting from the people, places and real world experiences in our lives. Unplugging gives us the opportunity to reflect on what matters most in our lives and make decisions about the role of technology in our lives.
Our smartphones are making us less focused, that constantly checking our email and Facebook, Instagram is making us less productive, and more disconnected from our real lives. But what do we really know about how our devices are affecting us? We have plenty of anecdotes, but the science of how always-on technology impacts human behavior is still in its infancy.
Results from the few studies that have been done are troubling. Social media seems to promote narcissism, and your bedside smartphone could be causing insomnia , while screentime for our kids is making them less empathetic . We need to do something about this problem, but first maybe we need to take responsibility to do something for ourselves and unplug, at least once in a while. It will take a change in social values and etiquette to root out the worst of the impacts of handheld technology in our world, but it can start with a few adventurous souls willing to rewrite the rules of social etiquette, to challenge the social norms that require the need for near instantaneous responding to incoming messages. In so doing, we will gain some sense of control over our time and attention and benefit in our lives in a myriad of ways.
Neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers have been designing experiments to learn about exactly how technology is changing people’s bodies and behaviors. The goal of an unplug’d retreat is to help people detach from technology to live happier lives.
In one experiment a group of 35 CEOs, entrepreneurs, and other influencers went on a trip to Morocco to study their behavior with and without technology. Five undercover neuroscientists participated too, to observe the group.
On the first day of the trip, the group spent time getting to know one another at a hotel where they could access their smartphones at will. However, over the next four days, the group travelled to Moroccan desert and all guests were required to give up all their devices as part of a digital detox. Neuroscientists observed people’s behavior both in the plugged in and unplugged contexts. They studied participants’ facial expressions, physical movements, and how they interacted with one another.
The researchers observed:
Better Posture, Deeper Friendships
After three days without technology, people’s posture noticeably changed and they began looking forward into people’s eyes, rather than downward into their screens. This opened up the front of their bodies, pushing back their shoulders and realigning the back of their head with the spine.
This better eye contact also appeared to encourage people to connect with one another more deeply. They were able to relax into conversations and seemed more empathetic toward one another.
Google Is A Conversation Killer
Conversations changed when people were unplugged. In a connected world, when general trivia comes up in conversation, people immediately Google the answer, ending that particular line of questioning. However, without smartphones and connected devices, people keep talking as they look for an answer, which results in richer idea sharing and storytelling which brings people closer together. New insights evolve and conversations are more engaging, meaningful and memorable.
Even after a few days without technology, researchers recognized participants were more likely to remember obscure details about one another, such as the names of distant relatives. The neuroscientists believe that this is because people were more present in conversation, so their brains were able to process and store new information without distraction. With technology, our brains have been trained to multitask and jump quickly between our non-ordinary reality in our phones and the things happening in the real world, filtering outa seemingly insignificant details. These minor facts are actually very important in the process of learning about other people, making social connections and bonding.
The guests in the Moroccan desert reported they did not have to sleep as long, but felt even more rested and rejuvenated. Neuroscientists believe this is because the blue light from screens suppresses melatonin in the body, which makes us more alert as we are going to sleep. Studies show people who check their phone before going to sleep don’t get particularly high-quality rest.
One of the most significant findings was that people began to pay more attention to the things that matter most in their lives; making significant changes to their behaviours and lifestyle when they were offline for a while. Some unplugging participants decided to make big changes in their career or relationships, or recommitted to health and fitness. The lack of constant distraction and paying partial attention appeared to free people’s minds to think about the things that mattered most in their lives. Removing technology also gave them the willpower to sustain these lifestyle transformations.
Unplugging from technology for a while can be a life-changing experience awakening to permanent change in digital habits.