Step away from the screen—at least for a while
When British author and artist Gemini Adams was living in Los Angeles several years ago, she was at an uncertain transitioning point in her life. Feeling unsettled, she found herself turning more and more to social media outlets such as Facebook to quell her pangs of loneliness.
“I had a scenario where four of my close friends in LA had moved away and I was feeling vulnerable and bereft,” Adams said. “There was a gap between the life I had and the life I was to going to have and for me, it was so easy to fill that with Facebook.
Recognizing the beginnings of this quasi-addiction prompted Adams to create her new book, The Facebook Diet, a collection of humorous depictions of social media addiction. With 28 percent of Facebook users admitting to checking their profile before they even get out of bed, many are probably more familiar with Adams’ drawings than they’d like to admit.
While the content is intended to be amusing, the book tackles one of the more pressing issues of modern times: technology addiction and the inability of many users to unplug. Adams, an avid yoga practitioner, talks often about being ‘present’ in any given task or moment—something which the constant stream of information available on the internet runs in direct opposition to.
“I think that as a society it’s so necessary for us to be living in the digital world: news magazines are going digital, kids are using tablets in school etc,” Adams said. “But when you’re on a digital device you’ve got so many things out there that are distractions and if you don’t have any self control or you haven’t been taught how to practice being present then I think that creates a serious problem.”
A Neilson report on social media last year found that Americans spend 23 percent of their online lives on Facebook and other social networks. Despite this huge time investment, Adams’ point isn’t that social media is an evil, all-consuming force that healthy people should eschew altogether. On the contrary, it’s a useful tool and, for a growing number of people, an integral part of professional lives. Instead, she advocates practicing restraint in various ways.
“Building an awareness of why you’re using social media is the most important thing,” Adams said. “Creating set spaces where you are completely disconnected and sticking to them is important. Having a schedule—swimming, running, or even watching a movie—makes us conscious of the amount of time we’re being forced to interact with computers.”
With increasing rates of ADHD, shortened attention spans in children, and physical side effects from sitting hunched over all day, Adams is part of a growing group that are urging people to go on a ‘digital detox.’ The non-profit Reboot has promoted National Day of Unplugging—inspired by the Jewish Sabbath—since 2010. Many prominent writers are pointing out the value of taking one day per week away from technology. Not responding to email of any kind when you’re on vacation or a weekend away—once a risky move—is now more accepted.
To help with the transition, Apps and software such as Mac Freedom, which dis-enables your internet for set intervals of time so you can focus on creating, and Self Control, which blocks particularly distracting sites, are good tools. And of course, says Adams, there is always the option of leaving your smart phone at home from time to time.
For Adams, creating a book about technology turned out to be a way to get away from the technology that she felt was lessening her quality of life. She encourages others to pick up old fashioned habits—writing long-hand, reading a print book—in order to do the same.
“I was so sick of sitting at the computer,” Adams said. “I wanted that tangible experience of creating. So doing this book allowed me to go out and do research, talk to people, go experience the world, go and draw and have a really tangible rather than digital addiction.”