It’s a common complaint that digital technology is eating our lives. We’re addicted to social media’s ceaseless source of distraction, and the deluge of emails leaves no time for real work. One clichéd piece of advice is to go on a radical digital detox. But most of us have jobs that mean we can’t just disconnect, even if we wanted to.
A more practical answer is to flip your ‘default attitude’. Stop thinking of your digital devices as things you’re connected to around the clock. Instead, learn to treat the internet as a place you occasionally visit, for specific purposes. That way, you’ll truly be using technology, instead of letting technology use you.
How to make it happen
Take a digital inventory. Make a list of all the devices, apps and social networks you use regularly. Then decide which you really need. Jettison the rest. As the productivity expert Cal Newport puts it: ‘The key is building a good life – not fretting about missing out on some minor short-term pleasure or interesting diversion.’
Stop the pings. ‘Push notifications’ are those messages that pop up to let you know you’ve received an email, tweet, like, and so on. Switch them off: check email and social networks on your schedule.
Use tech to limit tech. Install one of the apps designed to keep track of your device use (Checky, QualityTime and RescueTime). When you see the data, you may benefit from what psychologists call the Hawthorne effect: simply being aware that you are counting the minutes online may prompt you to cut back.
Oliver Burkeman is author of ‘The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking’ (Canongate, £8.99)