A recent Northwestern University study explained that families are consuming an awful lot of media. 39 percent of parents of children 0-8 years old fall in the category “Media –Centric,” and accumulate just over eleven hours of screen media time in a day, while their children accumulate nearly five. Even though for adults, it’s not entirely absurd given that many adults spend their day at work glued to a computer, but in any case, that’s an awful lot of media consumption for one day.
I certainly fall in the media-centric category. I spend at least eleven hours of most days using some kind of screen, but it’s mostly at work. Because of the screen interaction, there are nights when I go home and can’t stand the thought of staring at a screen. These are nights when I read or write music on my acoustic guitar or take the dog for a long walk. Many call this unplugging, but in my life I try to make a concerted effort to use fewer electronic devices at home, and to use low-tech conveniences rather than their high-tech counterparts when I can. This is what I call “teching down,” and it’s a great way to make sure you never get aggravated or over-stimulated by electronics and screens. We all need a little reboot now and then, and teching down is a great way to make sure it happens automatically.
So what can teching down do for you?
Rest and Relaxation
Earlier this week I read an interesting article by Geek Wire contributor, Mónica Guzmán. In it, she described a night at home when the power went out. Instead of going forward with their normal routines (Mónica had intended to work on her computer or watch “Arrested Development,” while her husband was responsible for hosting a large online gaming night), she and her husband had to think of something else to do. She described the power outage as an invitation to disconnect, and, ultimately, the couple was forced to tech down. Instead of the usual, she and her husband sat outside by candle light and enjoyed the quiet night with a bottle of wine. Ultimately, Mónica hadn’t felt so relaxed in a while and also said that it had been weeks since she slept as well as she did that night.
Mónica’s night isn’t just an isolated incident. Turning off screens before bed will encourage a better night’s rest. According to the National Sleep Foundation, doing work, watching TV, or using a computer hinders quality of sleep, and their 2011 study also showed that 95 percent of the surveyed Americans said they use an electronic device before bed, while 63 percent of them feel like they aren’t getting enough sleep. It’s likely that many of those pre-bed device users are not getting sleep because of their devices, however, we must acknowledge that there could be a variety of reasons a person might not be getting adequate sleep. In any case, instead of using electronic devices before bed, the Sleep Foundation suggests that you read or do some other low-tech activity to wind down your brain and prepare it for sleep.
The fact that electronic media decreases attention span is obvious. You see it in teenagers at the family get-together who can’t eat a bite of mashed potatoes without sending an Instagram photo, and you probably see it in yourself when you’re trying to read a lengthy and dry book (my latest failure was Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice).
Short videos, infographics, and video games, encourage constant stimulation and immediate gratification and don’t require lengthy spans of attention—some researchers even believe that young minds are now being trained to seek immediate gratification rather than being rewarded for long periods of sustained attention, which means they get rewarded by having short attention spans, rather than longer ones.
Teching down is one way you can improve your attention span. According to a study by the University of California, setting down electronics and meditating can help improve not only your attention, but your memory as well, and a recent study by the University of Granada showed that those who participate in sports have greater attention than those that do not. Sports don’t require electronics, and activity outside of the digital world can be very beneficial to our often overstimulated minds.
With regard to electronic information, teching down can be very beneficial as well. A Russian agency in charge of securing communications from the Kremlin reportedly wants to spend 486,000 rubles (almost $15,000) on electric typewriters. Their goal? To eliminate digital information leaks. It’s actually a pretty sensible concept—nobody can steal information digitally if it’s never digital, and indeed, the first place someone will probably look for information is on a computer. Of course, a spy can always tech down and use a camera to take pictures of the documents like in an old James Bond film, so even then there’s a risk.
There are dozens of “quit smoking” apps and other technology-related options to help people stop smoking for good, but there’s also a very teched down option one Turkish man has adopted to help him quit: an anti-smoking head cage. According to a CNN article by Jarrett Bellini (my favorite CNN columnist), Turkish smoker, Ibrahim Yucel, has built himself a cage made of copper wires that keeps him from smoking. Each morning, his wife locks his head inside the cage, which has spaces that are wide enough for a flattened straw or small crackers to fit through, but not a cigarette. Yucel can’t unlock the cage because only his wife and daughter have keys. It will probably work, simply because it has to—there’s no way to smoke with the helmet on. While other technology-related methods claim to have great solutions, sometimes the less technical option is really the best. Have a look at Yucel’s head cage on YouTube.