Have you ever panicked when you forgot your phone after leaving your home or checked your messages in the middle of dinner?

Have you ever left a social event to find you’ve spent more time looking on your phone than actually conversing with people at the event?

Do you answer texts or e-mails on the way home from work, during your dinner hour at home, or conversations with family?

Do you go on vacation and find it impossible to be without your phone, internet connections or wake up in the middle of the night and have the urge to text, phone, email someone, or check the status of your social media sites?

If any of these sound familiar, you may be dependent or even addicted to the digital world. The issue of being constantly plugged in has expanded from just personal use. Work is no longer restricted to the office, it is carried with you to your home or anywhere you are through emails and text messages and phone calls.

Dr. Greg Savel

Dr. Greg Savel

We recently sat down with Dr. Greg Savel, owner and a pediatrician with Myrtle Avenue Pediatrics. We had a discussion on the struggles and importance of unplugging. Dr. Savel stated, when asked how often he felt he spent time on some sort of communication device in a 24 hour period, “sadly, I imagine that I’m on some sort of device almost every waking hour. As most know, our devices are both a blessing and a curse as physicians. If I disconnect from my patients in my practice, I’ll lose my business. However, if I continue to remain connected 24/7, I’m going to lose my future.” Like almost all of us today, unplugging completely is just not an option. Our busy personal and work schedules rely entirely too much on technology for us to completely unplug. No one is saying technology does not serve a purpose especially in modern medicine. We can all agree, technology allows us to operate, communicate and educate in a robust and timely fashion.

Would it be bad to unplug for one hour a day? Would you miss something important or might you come up with a better creative sense? Jonathan Spira, author of Overload: How Too Much Information is Hazardous to Your Organization, contends that information overload costs the U.S. economy almost $1 trillion in 2010; that reading and processing just 100 emails a day can occupy over 50 percent of a knowledge worker’s day, because it takes 5 minutes for the brain to get back on track after a 30 second interruption. Four years ago, Facebook had 100 million users, today it has 1 billion. Jonathan Harris, writing in the blog Big Think, says that social networking on the Internet and telephones is constraining our identities and communication through:

  • Compression; we’ve moved from letter writing to phone calls to email to texts, compressing both time and language
  • Disposability; information overload leads to a sense that ideas don’t need to last
  • Curation; the focus is more on the storage of information online than its creation
  • Self-promotion; the encouragement of social competition and self-advertising more than collaboration and interconnecting

Benefits of Unplugging

Frees up time; we spend a lot of time checking emails, replying to emails, checking updates, tweeting, texting, commenting and liking

Reduction of stress; stress plays a major role in promoting diseases and shortens your life span. So if you want to stress less – just unplug, even if it is for a little while. The constant flow of information, even if it is bad or good, causes stress

Rebooting; recharging your battery provides you more drive and focus on getting things done that you have been putting off. Rebooting allows you to step back from your day to day and gives a new perspective on life

Deeper real connections; Unplugging will ultimately push you to adapt to primarily looking forward into people’s eyes during conversations, rather than downward into your screen. You will appear much more approachable. Better eye contact encourages people to connect on a deeper level

Increases creative thinking; reduction of constant distraction will allow you to become more creative. Scientists suggest that emails and cell phone calls take up important space in working memory that could be freed up for contemplation and deep thought. The related idea was that the constant multi-tasking associated with being plugged-in is a brain drain on both attention and memory. In multitasking, the brain is in a constant state of focused attention, with attention switching rapidly between or among multiple goals

“I’d like to install pods where myself and employees could have a place to relax throughout the day. However, I’m pretty sure we would be out of business and all living in a van by the river,” says Dr. Savel. This portion of Dr. Savel’s statement came from a question we asked him about how some of the largest tech companies make it mandatory for their employees to unplug a percentage of the day and did he feel it should be part of his practice. Like most of us, we don’t work for Google or Facebook and smaller businesses don’t have the time or resources to allow employee downtime during work hours. It is our responsibility to manage the task of unplugging on our time and allowing ourselves our own reboot. Dr. Savel went on to say, “I believe that physicians need to unplug to recharge the batteries and to clear the mind so the mind is sharper when it comes time to making diagnostic and critical decisions. As physicians, we need to be resilient to sleep and always be able to function in a stressful and sleepless environment.”

The takeaway from this is we now live in a world that is connected much closer through the use of technology. Whether you embrace it or not it is how a large portion of our society communicates, educates and explores. I don’t think anyone can say technology is going anywhere but in the direction of more and faster. Embracing the positive uses, withholding from the negative aspects and taking a small break, even if it is only five minutes a day should make for a better experience.

Can two people spend one week together with no connectivity or devices? Can a family spend one day with no devices? We asked Dr. Savel the same questions. Dr. Savel has been heading up a yearly event titled, Playing Unplugged. The event draws between 16,000 and 20,000 each year and promotes one full day of kids playing unplugged in a park. “I have to say, I’m guilty of not unplugging often enough, says Dr. Savel. My dream is to see Playing Unplugged further spread around the country and throughout school systems. We are actively pursuing to spread throughout other communities and I’ll continue to make the right thing happen.” In regard to the question of two people spending a week together with no devices, “I don’t know how many books I would have to read to come up with enough subject matter for my wife and me to have one weeks’ worth of conversations in the absence of connective media. I think most would feel the same if they were being honest.”

“Social media has changed our society both for better and worse, says Dr. Savel. It seems we live in a much smaller place and we are able to share across cultures ideas and thoughts in ways it whenever possibly in the attempt to make this world a better place to live in the long run. On the other hand because we can plug into so much on a 24-hour basis, we often find ourselves connected until the very moment before we lie down for sleep. Logic dictates that we need to turn our brains off one hour prior to sleeping so our sleep is more fulfilling and successful.”

Give yourself what your brain deserves. I know the thought of not being in the know can bring anxiety but imagine being in a state of mind where knowing nothing is all you have to accomplish. Only worried of the very breath you are breathing in and blowing out. Try it for five minutes a day or even five minutes a week.

About The Author

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Group Publisher, Doctor's Life Magazine | Managing Director, Mashed Media Group, LLC

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