Aging Today – Digital detox

By Bob Roth, Managing Partner of Cypress HomeCare Solutions

Raise your right hand, (put your smartphone down first), and repeat after me, “I am ready for a digital detox.” Who besides me is longing for the good old days? When we actually communicated with one another without that blinking box in our hand? I long to add an appointment to my agenda in ink and to actually turn a page while reading a book. I really miss my 3-dimensional friends and family. Why is it that I can now only picture them as a representation on a screen, through some glorified filter, filled with anxiety over how many likes their last post received? I know my therapy dog, Lacey is wondering why we would rather swipe that little box than put our hands on her. And furthermore, is my wife wondering the same?

As I ride this emotional rollercoaster of “I can’t live with or without my smartphone,” I do have grave concerns for our society at large and especially the aging population and Baby Boomers. Specifically, I am concerned that:

  • Social media is causing us to connect to our devices and to disconnect from each other.
  • We have lost all sense of socially acceptable behavior, using our smartphones as the scapegoat.
  • Smartphone use could be negatively affecting sleep
  • We are living to curate our life for the photo op instead of being present in the moment.
  • We have less tolerance for boredom which is the impetus for deep thinking and creativity.

Remember when you actually made small talk in grocery lines? I am very aware of how lonely it must be for cashiers to go through their day and mostly see the tops of people’s heads. There is no worse offense than to choose the device over the live human being right in front of you. I can’t decide if it’s worse to ignore strangers or your own family and friends. Shout out to the smart young man dating my daughter who when asked why he never looked at his phone when they were together answered, “What could be more important or more interesting than you?”

Imagine how this affects our aging loved ones who are not up on the latest technology and already feel left behind and marginalized. To my friends of the greatest generation, I beg of you, a little assistance please. Stand tall and ask people to speak to each other. I observed in a restaurant a father and son eating a meal out together with their heads down the entire time. A wiser older gentleman dropped a note at the table before exiting the restaurant. I eavesdropped hard enough to discover the note suggested that fathers and sons should actually speak to each other at mealtime. Amen to that and to going out on a limb to disrupt the status quo to what we now consider socially acceptable. Who remembers when the dinner table was almost sacred space?

For many, the smartphone is the last thing we touch at night and the first thing we touch in the morning and in many instances what we turn to when we wake up unexpectedly in the middle of the night. Keeping the phone on the nightstand may not seem like a big deal, but technology affects our sleep in more ways than most of us realize. Whether we’re surfing the web or using the alarm clock app on the phone, the emission of the screen’s blue light suppresses the body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that controls your circadian rhythm, the sleep/wake cycle. A reduction in melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. Give yourself at least 30 and ideally 60 minutes of gadget free transition time before hitting the hay. Even better, make your bedroom a screen free zone, which also includes TVs.

It could be the content of your email or article that you are reading that causes you to become excited which can have an adverse effect on your sleep. Are you willingly trading sleep for screen time? This makes no sense given the scarcity of this most important resource. If you choose sleep, you will never have to decide if one more Google search will satisfy your curiosity. Picture yourself hitting snooze every time you say to yourself, ok just one more and then I will go to bed. For our aging population and for the baby boomers, impaired coordination due to sleep debt is dangerous and can lead to falls and car accidents. Sleep disorders and chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for: heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.

Do yourself a solid and find a few key functions on your phone. Airplane mode is a really good one. It will give you music and your alarm clock, and will also insulate you from phone calls, text messages, email, and the internet. It’s like the good old days of having a first-generation iPod. Do not disturb is also a great function to learn. You can allow certain numbers to come through for emergencies. You get to dictate the terms in who can interrupt you.

Learn to unplug, deep breath, and relax. Be in the moment and even if you don’t capture it on your smartphone and post it. Life is really good without all the distractions numbing our senses.