With smartphones and other gadgets devouring more and more of the average American's day, some counselors are telling their clients to do a "technology cleanse," and unplug their various electronic devices to better reconnect with their loved ones. Elizabeth Bernstein reports in The Wall Street Journal that the idea is popping up outside of the therapist's office, too, with a wave of books and TV reports pushing this intriguing trend. Here, a brief guide to the tech cleanse:
What exactly is a tech cleanse?
It's like a strict diet or detox program. Those taking part give up or strictly limit their use of technology for a set amount of time. Counselors advocating the idea say unplugging can help improve relationships. "Technology should be on the list of the top reasons why people divorce, along with money, sex, and parenting," says Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill, a marriage and family therapist in New York. "There has to be some time in the week when you are all together and you shut off the technology."
Is there any science behind this?
Some. A few years ago, an Italian study found that couples with a television in the bedroom had sex half as often as those who did not. But many counselors say virtually everyone has experienced firsthand how easy it is to lose touch with real people when we disappear into our smartphones, video games, and computers. Later this month, Susan Maushart will publish The Winter of Our Disconnect, a book detailing the technology diet she and her three children — a teenage son "addicted" to video games and two teen girls "consumed by social media" — undertook. After doing it, she says she and her family "appreciate each other more."
Who is doing tech cleanses?
O'Neill and other therapists prescribe them for clients, believing that the the instant gratification provided by portable electronics takes away from family bonding. And, last spring, a group of Jewish creative professionals called Reboot created the Sabbath Manifesto and said that avoiding technology should be part of observing the weekly "day of rest." The group also declared a "National Day of Unplugging" last year, when people did just that from sundown on Friday, March 19, until sundown on Saturday, March 20. They plan to hold the same event this year, beginning at sundown on Friday, March 4. The concept has even been portrayed on television, with the Dunphys on "Modern Family" trying to go without technology for a week.
Is it hard to do a tech cleanse?
Typically, it is challenging, especially in the beginning. "I didn't know what to say, so some stuff came out really awkward," says 12-year-old Jasmine, whose entire family recently did a 5-day tech cleanse. A cynic might say that shutting out technology, cold turkey, will "remind you how awful life really is," says Alex Balk at The Awl. "You learn exactly how boring your friends and family are and just how irritating real-world social interaction is without the ability to absent yourself to the virtual arena."
How can you make it easier?
"Give your family advance warning," says Bernstein. "They need time to prepare mentally." Like many things, it's easiest to start when kids are young. Try weaning yourself and family members away from gadgets gradually, at first maybe just for a day at a time. Set clear rules as to what is and isn't allowed, from taking work-related calls to using the internet for homework. And, "when the cleanse is done, learn to avoid the time-suck of letting one internet search lead to another and another. You can waste hours."