Should We Rely on Tech to Get Us Off our Tech?

Facebook, Google, and Apple have recently launched Digital Wellness or Digital Health guides to help us break our addiction to their products. But can we trust them? And shouldn’t we be able to break our unhealthy digital habits without relying on tech to remind us to do so? Is the solution to ‘tech addiction’ found in the tools the big tech companies provide? Isn’t the problem that we rely too much on what our devices tell us to do rather than to our own instincts? 

Facebook, Google, and Apple have recently launched Digital Wellness or Digital Health guides to help us break our addiction to their products. But can we trust them? And shouldn’t we be able to break our unhealthy digital habits without relying on tech to remind us to do so? Is the solution to ‘tech addiction’ found in the tools the big tech companies provide? Isn’t the problem that we rely too much on what our devices tell us to do rather than to our own instincts? 

Tools for Tech Addiction

I appreciate that big tech is acknowledging that a problem exists. I am just not certain that I want to rely on reminders from my iPhone to put down my iPhone. (Need to get off your phone? There’s an app for that!) Maybe we’ve become too accustomed to technology solving all our problems. What about taking personal responsibility for our own digital health? And most importantly, we need to make sure we are instructing our kids and teens to do the same.

Apple’s Digital Wellness will be available with iOS 12. Many of these features have been available for some time, but are now getting attention, or an upgrade because well, Apple wants us to know that they are concerned about our reliance on their products. Digital Wellness will include a Do Not Disturb function and control settings for those disruptive notifications. Maybe I am different than everybody else because I’ve been using Do Not Disturb for awhile, and I long ago quieted much of the notifications I was getting. I discovered that I really don’t need to stop what I’m doing because a Facebook ‘friend’ from high school posted a new story. News alerts, app reminders and new emails are shown on my screen but do not sound an alarm. In fact, my iPhone is mostly silent except for phone calls and texts. Even with that, any text group that includes more than 5 people is set to ‘hide alerts’ so I am not unnecessarily interrupted. Does that mean I am not attached to my phone? Well, no. I love my phone too! I just found a way that works for me, to use it when I need it, to be available for my family and work, but I control my phone and not the other way around.

Okay, so I still check Facebook and Twitter if I am standing in line at the grocery store. The bottom line is that I choose when I want to be distracted and when I prefer to be left alone (except for my kids whose texts or calls are always on). This method works for me so that I can focus on what is in front of me, whether its work, my kids, friends, or the task at hand. Most of the time I’ll see a bunch of texts or social media notifications at a time when I am ready to process and respond, and rarely do I miss something that is time sensitive.

I appreciate that big tech is acknowledging that a problem exists. I am just not certain that I want to rely on reminders from my iPhone to put down my iPhone. (Need to get off your phone? There’s an app for that!) Maybe we’ve become too accustomed to technology solving all our problems. What about taking personal responsibility for our own digital health? And most importantly, we need to make sure we are instructing our kids and teens to do the same.

Apple’s Digital Wellness will be available with iOS 12. Many of these features have been available for some time, but are now getting attention, or an upgrade because well, Apple wants us to know that they are concerned about our reliance on their products. Digital Wellness will include a Do Not Disturb function and control settings for those disruptive notifications. Maybe I am different than everybody else because I’ve been using Do Not Disturb for awhile, and I long ago quieted much of the notifications I was getting. I discovered that I really don’t need to stop what I’m doing because a Facebook ‘friend’ from high school posted a new story. News alerts, app reminders and new emails are shown on my screen but do not sound an alarm. In fact, my iPhone is mostly silent except for phone calls and texts. Even with that, any text group that includes more than 5 people is set to ‘hide alerts’ so I am not unnecessarily interrupted. Does that mean I am not attached to my phone? Well, no. I love my phone too! I just found a way that works for me, to use it when I need it, to be available for my family and work, but I control my phone and not the other way around.

Okay, so I still check Facebook and Twitter if I am standing in line at the grocery store. The bottom line is that I choose when I want to be distracted and when I prefer to be left alone (except for my kids whose texts or calls are always on). This method works for me so that I can focus on what is in front of me, whether its work, my kids, friends, or the task at hand. Most of the time I’ll see a bunch of texts or social media notifications at a time when I am ready to process and respond, and rarely do I miss something that is time sensitive.

Digital Nutrition

A ‘healthy use of tech’ is the overall lesson I teach in my Digital Citizenship Workshops, to both adults and kids. For parents, I want them to understand that they need to model the behavior they want to see in their kids. That means not looking at your phone in the carpool line, putting your phone away during family dinner and not reading emails when your teen wants your attention (trust me, it doesn’t happen enough so take advantage!). Since we are all so connected to one another, we have to find a way to set some boundaries. Even back in the Stone Age when our telephones were wired to the wall, people needed to learn some etiquette, like not calling in the middle of the night unless it was an emergency. Just as my parents taught me not to procrastinate studying for a final exam, we need to teach our kids how to manage their time, both online and off.

In my workshops with teens, I have found that they are very aware of the pull of their technology. In fact, new research by Common Sense Media shows that “72% of teens think they are being manipulated by tech companies to spend more time on their devices.” They also admit that social media and their phones are a huge distraction. While upsetting at first read, it is also good to know that teenagers recognize that there is an issue… and isn’t that the first step to addressing and correcting any problem? Another positive sign: A recent study by Microsoft found that “parents have both the greatest potential — and were deemed the most effective — at promoting online safety among young people, teens and families.” I believe the most important step parents can take is to be involved. Most kids and teens are pretty adept at using tools to minimize distractions, but it might be up to you to remind them to do so.

Like any teenager who ever pulled an all-nighter in a last ditch attempt at studying for a final exam, they’ll soon discover what works for them and what does not. I am not suggesting that this is easy, or that your teens will be perfect, but at some point we have to address the behavior and not solely blame the technology. Before smart phones many of us found ways to be distracted from school and chores – sure our hair was bigger and we didn’t have a powerful computer in our back pocket – but we still managed to put off homework. So, if your kid is easily distracted by everything else online except their schoolwork, remind them that they can control, mute and turn off anything and everything that is taking away their focus. And just like that, as soon as all work is done, they can turn it right back on!

A ‘healthy use of tech’ is the overall lesson I teach in my Digital Citizenship Workshops, to both adults and kids. For parents, I want them to understand that they need to model the behavior they want to see in their kids. That means not looking at your phone in the carpool line, putting your phone away during family dinner and not reading emails when your teen wants your attention (trust me, it doesn’t happen enough so take advantage!). Since we are all so connected to one another, we have to find a way to set some boundaries. Even back in the Stone Age when our telephones were wired to the wall, people needed to learn some etiquette, like not calling in the middle of the night unless it was an emergency. Just as my parents taught me not to procrastinate studying for a final exam, we need to teach our kids how to manage their time, both online and off.

In my workshops with teens, I have found that they are very aware of the pull of their technology. In fact, new research by Common Sense Media shows that “72% of teens think they are being manipulated by tech companies to spend more time on their devices.” They also admit that social media and their phones are a huge distraction. While upsetting at first read, it is also good to know that teenagers recognize that there is an issue… and isn’t that the first step to addressing and correcting any problem? Another positive sign: A recent study by Microsoft found that “parents have both the greatest potential — and were deemed the most effective — at promoting online safety among young people, teens and families.” I believe the most important step parents can take is to be involved. Most kids and teens are pretty adept at using tools to minimize distractions, but it might be up to you to remind them to do so.

Like any teenager who ever pulled an all-nighter in a last ditch attempt at studying for a final exam, they’ll soon discover what works for them and what does not. I am not suggesting that this is easy, or that your teens will be perfect, but at some point we have to address the behavior and not solely blame the technology. Before smart phones many of us found ways to be distracted from school and chores – sure our hair was bigger and we didn’t have a powerful computer in our back pocket – but we still managed to put off homework. So, if your kid is easily distracted by everything else online except their schoolwork, remind them that they can control, mute and turn off anything and everything that is taking away their focus. And just like that, as soon as all work is done, they can turn it right back on!

Help for Cyber Parents

I am excited about the improvement in parental controls on several platforms and services. The demand from parents at sane solutions was too much for the big tech companies to ignore, and they’ve stepped up with some good options. Apple’s Family Share and RestrictionsGoogle’s Family Link and Verizon’s Smart Family are all great options for parents. I will stress however, that using any of these options must be done in conjunction with a continual discussion about appropriate use of technology. It is really important that parents continue to model and mentor good digital habits. Remember, no app replaces your role as a parent and getting a handle on technology is now a required part of the job.

I am excited about the improvement in parental controls on several platforms and services. The demand from parents at sane solutions was too much for the big tech companies to ignore, and they’ve stepped up with some good options. Apple’s Family Share and RestrictionsGoogle’s Family Link and Verizon’s Smart Family are all great options for parents. I will stress however, that using any of these options must be done in conjunction with a continual discussion about appropriate use of technology. It is really important that parents continue to model and mentor good digital habits. Remember, no app replaces your role as a parent and getting a handle on technology is now a required part of the job.

Personal Responsibility

While a good deal of these Digital Health and Parental Control tools are helpful, we need to remember that it is within our power to decide how we want tech to fit in to our lives. My guess is if at the end of the workday you realize you got very little accomplished, you probably don’t need your phone to tell you that you spent too much time watching viral videos. We can use these tools as safety nets and reminders but the goal is really to navigate safely and with purpose on our own. Isn’t that the most important lesson to model for your kids – to be self-reliant, self-aware, and responsible for our own well-being?

Between Netflix, YouTube, homework, Fortnite, Spotify and Instagram our kids are likely using tech a great portion of their day, just make sure that you’ve discussed with them how to manage tech distractions and balance time online with face-to-face time with friends, outdoor activities and exercise. And whether your phone tells you to or not, you can always turn it off!

While a good deal of these Digital Health and Parental Control tools are helpful, we need to remember that it is within our power to decide how we want tech to fit in to our lives. My guess is if at the end of the workday you realize you got very little accomplished, you probably don’t need your phone to tell you that you spent too much time watching viral videos. We can use these tools as safety nets and reminders but the goal is really to navigate safely and with purpose on our own. Isn’t that the most important lesson to model for your kids – to be self-reliant, self-aware, and responsible for our own well-being?

Between Netflix, YouTube, homework, Fortnite, Spotify and Instagram our kids are likely using tech a great portion of their day, just make sure that you’ve discussed with them how to manage tech distractions and balance time online with face-to-face time with friends, outdoor activities and exercise. And whether your phone tells you to or not, you can always turn it off!