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Make time to tune out

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Make time to tune out

Our constant need for digital connectedness is harmful, writes Jane Stephens. So do you have the strength to disconnect?

Tune out to tune in. Reset with a digital detox. The phrases seem almost trite now – two decades after the internet and social media moved in and organised a takeover of our every waking moment.

Everything is instant: grocery ordering, food delivery, music and TV show streaming, dictionary look-ups and messaging services. I recently returned from a week-long holiday to 332 emails. Social media contact was briefly broken only when in flight.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority puts meat on these connected bones: 99 per cent of Australian adults have access to the internet. Nine in 10 have a home internet connection, and three-quarters of these have an NBN connection. The average time spent online is more than three hours a day.

Almost half of all internet traffic in Australia comes from mobile devices, the most popular internet activity is email and three in five users say looking at social media is the first thing they do in the morning.

The consequences of such immediate connection can be fraught and double-sided, and not just for teenagers. The expectation of a fast response means being on the receiving end of radio silence feels akin to being left off a friend’s birthday party list or not being picked on the team in primary school PE.

We rationalise our need to be ever-available: what if something happens to our elderly parents/our boss needs a task done/our spouse forgets to take the shopping list?

But disconnect we must – now and then – to hear the sounds of our neighbourhood, to simply sit and ponder, to remember how to pick up the phone and call a friend for real instead of sending our voice in a grab or via voice-to-text.

Even a day out takes planning, discipline and putting up with incredulity, but it is health bringing.

A diet comprising solely of instant everything is irrefutably unhealthy, and this is as true for communication and entertainment as it is for food.

Sometimes we need connection instead of contacts, massages instead of messages and a fresh air instead of remaining in a virtual room.

A full life requires exploration of actual as well as virtual spaces.

mm

Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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