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Digital detox: dare to be offline!

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Smartphones are omnipresent. They make life easier. But they also make us dependent on them. Is it time to slam on the emergency brakes?

The smartphone is our friend and our assistant: this tiny, handy instrument combines countless devices and functions, including a clock, a diary, notebook and telephone directory, satnav, timetables, newspapers, our collection of CDs, a camera and photo album, and even a radio. How practical! So practical, in fact, that we can no longer take a single step without our mobile – we can't be offline even for one day. And without us noticing it, a change starts to take place: something that was invented to make life easier has suddenly become a stress factor as well.

My smartphone and me: which of us is in control?

Chats, SMS, phone calls, push messages: we're constantly prompted to respond, at ever shorter intervals – and each time, our attention is diverted from what we're actually doing. Then there is the fear that we might miss something. We have to glance at the screen every few minutes! We feel the little thrill of a reward every time it buzzes, with every sound it emits, or whenever the display lights up. And digital natives are by no means the only ones who become nervous and irritable if they are deprived of their mobiles. Smartphone addiction is spreading across every generation.

Conscious decision to do without a mobile = better quality of life?

A countertrend has also begun to emerge: many people are now taking a "digital detox" in an attempt to limit their use of online devices. They set themselves the goal of living in the here-and-now more often. And as smartphone providers compete to come up with yet more innovations, it's even become possible to find "dumbphones" on the market again – mobiles with a severely restricted functional scope. But if you don't want to go to those extremes, there are other possible ways of changing your behavior. The key phrase here is impulse control: you can practice resisting the temptations that your mobile phone throws out at you. Some simple tricks can help you achieve this.

Seven useful everyday tips for digital detox

  • Define smartphone-free zones. The bedroom or the bathroom, for example. After the initial adjustment, you'll enjoy these phone-free areas!
  • Deliberately allow yourself to be offline at certain times. A walk or a jog, a lunch break or a stroll around town without a mobile? – Yes, you can do it! With no problems at all.
  • Reduce disruptive signals. Turn on flight or silent mode, mute group chats, disable push messages: your phone has countless options for this purpose. Make use of them!
  • Out of sight, out of mind. Put your smartphone away – in a drawer, for instance, or in another room. That will allow you to concentrate rather more on your work.
  • Not quite so fast, please: most messages are not so urgent that you need to reply to them immediately. Collect them, and then answer them all at the same time.
  • Declare war on time-wasters. Only allow yourself to use social media or news portals in the train, for example. Or are there some apps that you'd best remove right now?
  • "Outsource" some of the phone's functions. Why not start wearing a wristwatch again? Or use an alarm clock? How about taking your old iPod Shuffle along when you train at the gym? All these tips will make you less dependent on your smartphone.

What are the risks of the online lifestyle?

Excessive use of online devices has a negative impact on productivity and health – and this has now been proven by studies carried out at the universities of Augsburg and Ulm, for example. As well as physical ailments such as headaches, neck pain and fatigue, psychological symptoms are particularly frequent: constant drip-feeding with information overtaxes our brains. Always being available, reacting to everything immediately, meeting every expectation – the long-term results can't be good. The consequences are restlessness, absent-mindedness and concentration difficulties – or even a complete stress overload. People who have lost the ability to switch off frequently confuse distraction with relaxation. A little "downtime" would suit them better – by taking a walk alone, for instance, so they can get their thoughts in order. But instead of that, they keep on communicating until late in the evening. And they even fall asleep with the smartphone in their hand. Anyone who feels that they constantly need to be online should take a serious look at themselves.

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