Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Digital Diet Review

Daniel Sieberg's book, The Digital Diet, is a self-help detox plan for those addicted to technology. The subtitle says it all: The four-step plan to break your tech addiction and regain balance in your life.

The whole point is to make technology work for you, and not be a slave to your gadgets, social networks and online time. I took the author's test to measure my "Virtual Weight Index," and to see how addicted I am. I scored a 33, which puts me in mid-range. (This blog, by the way, counts for two points towards my VWI score.)

Apparently I don't need total detox, but according to the author, I could use help staying "sane and organized." I'd like to think that I use technology less than others, but it's not true. The bummer is that I try so hard to put boundaries between me and my computers, and boundaries between my kids and computers. I'm trying to be aware of my technology usage, but I wonder how bad things would get if I gave up the struggle.

Sieberg points out that our tech addictions - or temptations - break our concentration and interfere with our efficiencies at tasks, including work tasks. So much for the notion of multitasking. I'm a prime example. If I get to a point in my task where I'm not sure what to do next, it only takes a nanosecond to "alt-tab" over to the next screen and play a quick game or check the news. When I work, I absolutely have to avoid this temptation. It's not right to purposefully break out of the flow of work to do personal things without stopping the time clock. It's a lot easier to dawdle during my personal time - balancing a checkbook, writing my blog pieces, and studying - and I could be so much more productive if I didn't stop over to the next screen to entertain a diversion.

Outside of old-fashioned discipline, what's a person to do? I learned through Sieberg's book that you can engage technology to help manage your technology. Quite the irony. One example is RescueTime.com. By engaging the time management program, you agree to let the system "divide your time into sections and channel your energy in a linear fashion." In other words, the system won't let you work on an account spreadsheet for work and then divert your attention by surfing the web. According to Sieberg, the program is:
...a bit like an intervention. It steps in and says "put away the mouse and focus on the keyboard." And it rewards you along the way.
Systems like this help you measure the time you spend on tasks (wait...I just spent over an hour playing games on Sporcle?) and rates sites and apps from "productive" to "distracting," presumably so you can make more informed decisions about how you spend your time online.

I was surprised that the book advised readers to play online games to sharpen the mind (there's a whole chapter promoting certain brain-training websites), when readers like me probably don't need other ideas where to squander their time online. Otherwise, the book was enlightening. Some advice that I appreciated:

* Set a time of day/evening when your devices are turned off until the next day.
* Establish a family rule of "no heads down discussions." In other words, don't have a conversation with someone with your head down, looking at your devices. If someone is looking down while you are talking to him/her, stop talking until they look up.
* Organize a game night with family and/or friends. Dust off the old board games.

Good advice.

I don't write this blog because I am anti-technology or because I have it all figured out. In fact, I don't have it figured out. I spend way too much time tethered to my laptop. The Digital Diet was a helpful and self-reflective read. I'm better off when I remind myself to "do better." Put the laptop in the other room when the kids get home. Plug my phone into the wall - and leave it there - when I'm home. Get outside (when it warms up). Play with my kids. Be a better listener. And maybe, just maybe, go 'cold turkey' on Sporcle for awhile.

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