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A 5-Step Guide to Unplugging From Technology This Semester

Have you ever thought about just how much time you spend on your phone or using other technology? It's probably way more than you realize. Why not take a break?

Not too long ago, my friends and I decided to treat ourselves to a non-dining-hall meal at a nice Italian restaurant. As I indulged in some amazing pasta, I couldn’t help but notice the table next to me: a family with four children, three of whom were glued to their iPads or iPhones. I’ve seen this several times before (who hasn’t?), but it still made me pause. Is this where we are headed as a society? LCD touch screens in front of our dinner plates? Technology taking over in a family’s time together?

But you can call me a hypocrite. Even though I am confused and worried about everyone’s evolving attachment to technology, I still frequently use Snapchat, Facebook, text messages, Tumblr, e-mails, Instagram, YouTube, and other apps—so much that it feels like a gigantic part of my life lives on the Web or on a screen. Am I happy about this? Not really. Even though technology can keep us informed, interested, and entertained, it’s still experiencing the world through a screen.

So I say, let’s break the constant ties to our phones, tablets, laptops, and other gadgets. Let’s unplug. Let’s lift up our eyes. Let’s experience life. (Especially as college students, because we really only get to do this once.)

Here are five ways to unplug and loosen your connection to your smartphone and other technology:

1. Be conscious of how often you use your phone

The first major step to unplugging is to be conscious of when you use your phone or other technology, so you will realize just how much you are using it. Whenever you pull out your phone to text someone, for example, think to yourself, “Now I am using my phone.” (You could even spend a week keeping track of your usage and writing it down.) After becoming more aware of your tech usage, it will become less of a mindless habit and more of a conscious decision.

2. Make a real effort to limit your phone/tech usage

Say to yourself, “I will try my best to lessen my time on my phone (or laptop or other form of technology).” If you still plan to use it, try to only do it when it’s necessary, such as answering a call or responding to an important e-mail or text. Set certain times when you will check your phone based on what works best for you: once every hour, every two hours, three times a day, etc.

Another way to limit phone/technology usage is to delete non-essential apps that frequently suck up your time. This way, in order to use that app, you have to re-download it. Only download it again if you think it’s either necessary or if you think you’d only use it for a few minutes. After you’re done using it for a limited amount of time (less than five minutes is a good goal), delete it again. If you want to use it again, repeat the process. As the app becomes more tedious to use, you’ll be tempted by it less. I know this sounds a little strange, but trust me, I do this, and it’s a super effective way to do a little “tech-cleanse.”

3. Find a new pastime

Instead of going straight to your phone, laptop, or tablet to be entertained when you have downtime, turn to something else! Pick up a book with a story that captures your interest. Play Sudoku or a board game with friends. Express your creativity by painting, drawing, or writing in a journal. Or just go outside…

4. Explore life through a new lens

Take a walk through your town or campus without your phone, or if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, turn it off and keep it in your pocket. Try to not use your phone unless it’s crucial. This is your chance to take in the world in front of you and to really see it. Notice the movement of the trees. Smell the fresh air. Observe the color of the sky. Let the world in front of you entertain you; it has so much to offer that our phones never could.

5. Encourage others to join you in unplugging

Finally, encourage your friends and family members to spend less time on their phones when you’re hanging out with them. At dinner, for example, tell everyone to put their phones off the table and in their bags or pockets. If they ask you why, tell them that you want to enjoy their company as completely as possible.

How long you can go without checking your phone: A day? Two days? A week?! Let me know how it goes in the comments.

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