In the face of technological saturation, intermittent digital fasting


Technology yes or technology no? That is the big question.

In our daily lives, and often through mobile devices themselves, we receive a barrage of messages that contribute to a polarized view of technology . On the one hand, some studies warn about its negative effects such as depression , anxiety , stress , emotional exhaustion , sedentary lifestyle or poorer quality of sleep . But at the same time there are others who recognize its importance for communication , the formation of relationships , self-expression , information management , teaching or learning. Although they also recognize that, at the moment, the real influence that screens have on health or education is unknown .

Both the Internet and social networks (and the devices we use to access them) can be healthy or unhealthy depending on the use we give them. Examples of the second are zombie scrolling (sliding down the screen without hardly realizing what we are seeing), cyberlaziness , multitasking and constant interruptions. Therefore, when we use these devices it is advisable to take frequent breaks, incorporate physical activity snacks and control the time we spend in front of screens.

A relatively new concept that has emerged as a result of these problems is digital detox , a strategy that was born with the promise of making the effects of excessive use disappear.

The myth of the digital ‘detox’

The digital detox consists of a voluntary pause in the use of technology. It can be 24 hours or a week, and its purpose is to reduce connection time, and with it the stress, anxiety, depression, addiction or cognitive overload that the continued use of mobile phones, tablets may be causing us. or computer.

A recent study with 850 German participants (between 18 and 65 years old) did not find that using the mobile phone more continuously or intermittently had an impact on mental well-being. Instead, variables such as the type of activity, the time of day and personality traits such as extroversion or introversion play a more significant role, according to other research .

systematic review concluded that occasional disconnection has no direct relationship with well-being, self-control or general health.

24 hours without means to become aware

Drastically moving away from technology with restrictions and without changing habits will not cause effective changes. We can escape from the digital world temporarily but our habits will continue to wait for us.

Making occasional disconnections, on the contrary, can be useful to initiate reflection processes and become aware of the use we make of technology. This conclusion was reached in one of the first studies on digital disconnection published in 2012. 1,000 university students from ten different countries participated and tried to spend 24 hours without technological means.

In 2017, we replicated the previous study . To date, 539 students from the University of Murcia have tried to spend 24 hours disconnected from TV, tablet, computer and mobile phone. Only a third have achieved it, but the most important thing was the self-knowledge acquired.

The students became aware of the abusive use they often make of technologies. Also about the influence of digital media on their daily routines. They noticed their dependence on technology, an improvement in concentration and a decrease in interruptions during disconnection time.

However, they experienced difficulties completing academic tasks or communicating with others. Some students expressed feeling isolated and anxious due to lack of information.

Take control

If we really want to enjoy the digital world, a timely disconnection will help us become aware of our use of technology. But if we really want to be effective, it is pertinent to be attentive and take action by creating a network of lasting habits that modify our behaviors in digital environments.

We need to consider how our daily lives, marked by stress, social isolation, sedentary lifestyle or lack of sleep, diminish our capacity for self-control. This causes us to be less attentive and make worse decisions.

We often blame social media algorithms for grabbing our attention. However, it has recently been shown that it is people’s internal interruptions that cause distractions.

User Engagement

According to neuroscientist Nazaret Castellanos , “80% of the distractions that kidnap us arise at home, not outside.” These types of interruptions are usually driven by our need to search for new information, social recognition and fear of missing something important.

Technology itself can protect us from itself as long as there is user commitment. For example, with the adoption of digital wellness applications. A study concluded that their success occurs in people with a high level of awareness of the role that the mobile phone has in their lives.

Plan intermittent digital fasts

Digital technology is unlikely to intoxicate us, underscoring a limitation of the digital detox concept . Instead, we propose the strategy of intermittent digital fasting, in which we plan specific periods of conscious use of technology.

Recent research does not establish a direct relationship between time of use and well-being. But each person must identify where the red line of their mental load is. You can then limit the duration of use and choose the most appropriate time to use digital media.

An example that illustrates the previous idea: 15 minutes of using a screen before going to sleep can harm our general health more than being connected for an hour in the afternoon. The blue light emitted by LEDs suppresses the production of the hormone melatonin. This disrupts the regulation of circadian rhythms , alertness, and cognitive performance during the day, according to this review . That is to say, those 15 minutes before turning off the light can make us rest worse and this has worse consequences in the medium term than the hour of digital consumption in the afternoon.

Take the control

In conclusion, the relationship between the use of technology and well-being depends on many variables and the interaction between them. Cultural factors or personality traits will influence which strategies are most effective for each person.

The objective is not to detoxify ourselves from digital, but to learn to control its use to live the best of each world. The psychologist Luis Muiño expresses it like this:
“Knowing that we are temporarily escaping the real world and having the control to return to it is a fundamental part of our relationship with the machine world.”

Author Bio: Jose Luis Serrano is a Full Professor of Educational Technology at the University of Murcia

Diana López Conesa, Vocational Training teacher and student of the Master’s Degree in Educational Technology at the University of Murcia, participated in the writing of this article.