Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

It's time for adigital detox

As the New Year dawns, techno geek Daniel Sieberg tells Hannah Stephenson that one resolution should be to cut down on our obsession with technology's many toys

Anyone who bought their loved one a laptop, smartphone, games console or other high-tech gizmo for Christmas may soon be wishing they hadn't.

Conversation may dwindle as we retreat to the virtual world more and more - whether playing online games with people across the globe, posting our every movement on Facebook or picking up the blinking BlackBerry whenever it flashes.

Indeed, the digital age took over techno geek Daniel Sieberg's lifestyle so much that he felt compelled to go on a diet, albeit a digital one. And the results have been so positive that he's now written The Digital Diet, in which he includes a four-step plan to break your tech addiction and regain balance in your life.

A former science and technology correspondent for CNN, New York newsman Sieberg (39) says that his digital lifestyle, featuring laptops, smartphones and a wealth of social networking, was starting to affect his marriage just at a point when he and his wife had decided to try for children.

"My wife used to call me Glow Worm. Every night she'd see my face illuminated by some sort of screen, even when I was lying in bed. At the time, we were trying to conceive and carrying all your devices into the bedroom doesn't make for great intimacy.

"I was losing the face-to-face time and one-on-one connection with people. There are tonnes of great aspects of technology, but I felt I had to tame the beast."

In his job he was expected to be active online, but he quit Facebook and Twitter and tried to scale back on emailing and texting.

"I was trying to connect with the people who mattered around me in a more meaningful way, by seeing them in person or picking up the phone. I'd become a great broadcaster and a terrible communicator.

"I knew more about strangers' lives than I did about friends and family members."

By taking back control, your life can be enriched by technology rather than overcome by it, he reflects.

But how do you know if technology has started to control you?

"You have to take a cue from the people closest to you. Consider your spouse's dirty looks when you're constantly checking your BlackBerry at dinner, or if your children complain that you're always on your computer.

"Technology's not really in control of us, even though it demands our time. We have to be the ones who take ownership of it."

Ironically, Sieberg is now a marketing man for Google, but the company sees the digital diet as a positive message for people, he says.

"I spoke to a guy on a radio show the other day who said he's expected to respond to every email within four hours - that's his company's policy - and he just can't get anything done anymore because of it.

"I think companies in general would do well to think about this in a way that benefits their bottom line and their employees."

He stresses that his book does not recommend complete abstinence from all things technological: "I always remind people that it's the digital diet, not the digital fast. The detox in the book lasts for one day.

"So if you have a Sunday when you're not expecting anything important, just see what it's like to not check anything. It can be an eye-opening experience."

The book follows a 28-day plan, but the rules aren't hard and fast.

"On a broad level, it surrounds certain situations. For instance, if you're going out for dinner, why did you put your smartphone on the table? What is that telling the other person about the conversation you're having? That they are not as important or interesting?"

He also features recipes for empowerment, to give you choices and control over what you're doing.

"Just like with food, there are days when you perhaps eat more than you should, so the next day you try to accommodate for that. It's the same principle.

"There are days when I'm online too much, so I'll take a break, go for a walk, ride my bike, talk to people face to face and put my devices away. I do something that feels more meaningful."

He still has Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus accounts, but uses them less and less. His own technological fasting has not only improved his relationship with his wife, but resulted in the birth of their daughter, Kylie, he says.

"I wouldn't say we're perfect by any means. Both of us have moments when we think we better put down our devices and stop checking our emails.

"It's just having that awareness and knowing it's a problem for somebody else that's important."

DIGITAL DIETING RULES

• Tell as many family members and friends as you can about your decision to go on a digital diet. Leave out-of-office messages saying you won't be online for a few days, explaining why. They may well join in.

• Pick up a novel instead of games console or laptop. Take a nap, or do some exercise.

• Make a journal to take note of what's motivating you to seek out technology. It might be boredom or loneliness, but force yourself to go out, people watch and welcome what the natural world has to offer.

• Try to keep technology out of the bedroom. Even if you're just charging your phone, do it somewhere else.

• Decide when your digital day is going to end and then pack all things digital away. After the cut-off point of your day, don't check your emails or social network sites.

• Go offline for a day and make more time for family and friends.

• All too often people feel the need to post their status update before they've even finished enjoying an experience. The next time something fascinating happens to you, try living through it first. Post about it later or not at all. Talk about it with people instead.

• Consider when you're talking to somebody - how often does the device get in the way? When have you lost track of a conversation because you were looking at your phone or screen? If someone feels neglected, stop using your devices and have a conversation.

• Maintain eye contact during conversation.

• The next time you receive a call and you're in the middle of dinner, shopping or making a presentation at work, don't answer it. Let it go to voicemail. Return the call on your schedule.

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