We live in an age so reliant on maintaining digital contact that most of our lives are filtered through a smartphone screen. Our days are wasted checking and rechecking social media websites and swiping through apps. For many of us, technology has become an addiction, and finding the strength to break away is next to impossible. It’s a dependency that might not be as harmful as tobacco and alcohol, but it is certainly as widespread, if not more so.
Whether you’re sick of wasting your time rather than maximising on it, want to connect with those you care about on a more human level, or need to get out in the fresh air for some exercise, taking a break from the screen is the obvious first step. But for some people, going cold turkey is too much to bear.
Thankfully there is help to be had, using the very same technology we need to break free from. Here are some apps we have found that might help you break the shackles of digital dependency. It might be just what the doctor ordered.
We like this app for its competitive edge. Imagine this scenario: You’ve met up with some old buddies – perhaps they’re from your old badminton club, where you whiled away your days when you were younger and fitter. Everyone is having a great time, but a buzzkill threatens. Kim and Mark can’t go twenty seconds without glancing at their phone screens, swiping Tinder or scrolling through Facebook. “Enough is enough!” you say. “I challenge everyone to a MOB no phone period!” There is some reluctance, but everyone eventually agrees. You download the app and set a time period. If anyone so much as unlocks their phone, the entire group receives a notification of their weakness and failure. No sneaking off to the bathroom to check your Instagram likes, they’ll find out. The group chooses a penalty – the first person that caves has to buy a round of drinks. Problem solved! Kim and Mark have to either resist their phone temptation, or buy penalty beers for the gang. Everyone wins!
This computer and phone app has been plugged everywhere, from Oprah Winfrey’s magazine to The Guardian, but I’m going to plug it again. The beauty of Freedom is its simplicity – it blocks you from using the internet. Once you have it downloaded, you click on the icon, decide on a time period, and away you go – using the internet is impossible. You could reboot your computer to re-access the internet before the allotted time period is over, but in doing so you will have to deal with the angel on your shoulder telling you that you’re nothing but a sad, insatiable addict. If Freedom is too harsh for you, there are gentler options. Perhaps you need the internet for work or research? After all, not all websites are for procrastinating. In this case, give Anti-Social ($15 US) a try, an app from the same company, 80Pct Solutions. Anti-Social allows you to select websites that have a tendency to distract you. These sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, will then be blocked, whilst the internet at large is left as your (productive) playground.
An aesthetically pleasing app that monitors your phone use, follows your progress, grants you digital rewards and polices your kids’ online habits, all at the same time? That’s wonderful, but wait, there’s more! During your smartphone rehab treatment, you will be coached by a cartoon Buddhist monk by the name of Sato. This cute little guy will tell you when you’re using your iPhone too much, give you a score to help you achieve your goals, and offer up little gems of encouragement such as, “You can’t find real life in a phone” – Thanks Sato! Breakfree encompasses most of your smartphone activities, not just app and internet usage. While you enjoy your phone-free unwinding time, you can even block incoming calls, sending an automatic SMS to callers to inform them that you are currently unavailable.
Another app that uses our competitive nature to keep us from our beloved gadgets. Download and activate Pause and tell the app what you will be doing while disconnected from the digital world – whether it be a walk in the forest, a coffee with friends or building a tree house with the kids. Pause will tell others over Facebook that you are off for a stroll amongst the trees without your phone. It will keep track of how much time you spend with your phone in airplane mode, and post it on a leader-board with the results of your friends, to see who is best at switching off and unplugging. You can also invite others to share in your Pause time so that you can all be offline together, again meaning that Kim and Mark won’t be upset that they are the only ones barred from fiddling with their phones.
If you’ve tried these apps without success, there are still plenty of others, all with different approaches to the problem of excessive technology use. Give these a go: