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February 27, 2017

A day to unplug: Switch off the digital nonsense this week

I think it is fair to say that many people have love-hate relationships with their phones and digital devices. Sure, phones, tablets and computers are great sources of information (I quite literally have no idea where I would be without my Waze app) and it is certainly a huge luxury to be able to stay connected with friends, family and work from almost anywhere in the world.

But we have to ask ourselves, is there such a thing as being too connected? Perhaps your job or your children compel you to feel constantly connected. Checking email, voicemail, text messages, social apps, news vehicles; the cycle continues all day and all night.

In fact, a recent study published in Time magazine said that in total, Americans check their phones 8 billion times a day:

“Although 46 checks per day is the average, that number varies depending on users' age group. Those between the ages of 18 and 24 look at their phones most often, with an average of 74 checks per day. Americans in the 25-34 age bracket look at their devices 50 times per day, and those between 35 and 44 do so 35 times each day.”

That is up almost 40 percent from 2014 when the same Deloitte study reported Americans checked their phones 33 times per day on average.

So how does all of this screen time affect our health?

Victoria M. Dunckley, M.D., an integrative psychiatrist and screen-time expert in Los Angeles, wrote in Psychology Today that it can have a significant effect on our mental wellness, especially early on in life:

“Excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties. Frontal lobe development, in turn, largely determines success in every area of life—from sense of well being to academic or career success to relationship skills.”

A few nights ago, I was up during the night on my phone for about 15 or 20 minutes. When I put my phone down I was seeing spots and it took me almost 5 full minutes to regain full sight in my right eye. This really scared me, so much so that I am now holding my phone further from my face and trying to look at it less, especially in the middle of the night.

The annual National Day of Unplugging – a 24-hour period – starts on the first Friday in March and runs from sundown to sundown. It encourages people to start living a different life – "connect with the people in your street, neighborhood and city, have an uninterrupted meal or read a book to your child."

PhillyVoice illustration/Credit: Rawpixel


When I heard about #NationalDayofUnplugging, I knew I had to try it. I NEED A BREAK from politics, mannequin challenges, and overall just feeling the need to be accessible to people 24/7. I think many other people may feel the same way.

If you would like to join the movement and disconnect, you can sign up here and receive a free cellphone sleeping bag.

What will you do with your life unplugged? Will you read, exercise, cook, listen to music, meet with friends, or try a new restaurant? Print out your sign and fill in the blank here.

Whatever you do, don’t think of this day as a punishment, think of it as a special treat. It is a day to live freely without your normal constraints. Focus on being where you are and enjoying the experience. I know I will.

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