Taking a Digital Detox: Getting unplugged to stay energized.

What's the longest you've ever gone without Internet access?  If you're like most people, it probably hasn't been very long.  Is it even possible to live without Internet access in the modern connected world we live in?  Are there benefits to disconnecting or even taking an extended disconnect (aka digital detox)?  In this week's blog we explore how going offline can be beneficial from not only a psychological perspective, but also a financial perspective.

We spend a lot of time online!

A recent report by Hootsuite and We Are Social calculates the average time spent per day using the Internet is 6 1/2 hours.  Yes, that's per day!  In total this equate to 100 days online each year, nearly one-third of our lives.  This number is shocking considering we know many people who don't even get this much sleep every night! 

In some ways this number isn't all that shocking.  So much of what we do each day is connected to the Internet.  Our phones, computers, televisions, pets, smart home systems, and even our kitchen appliances are now connected to the Internet, and the trend is heading toward more, not less, things being "connected".

While we'll be the first to admit we love our smart home and being able to control so many things remotely (i.e. thermostats, lights, cameras) and the benefits that come with being more in control, it can start to feel like we are physically wired into the Internet - as if the Internet has become a virtual lifeline, that if disconnected, could cause us not to function properly.

An involuntary 30-day digital detox.

We just moved into a new house and were shocked to find out no cable line had ever been run to the house and were faced with living without Internet services for the first time since Internet has been widely available. 

How could we survive without being connected?  No Hulu.  No Netflix.  No Amazon Prime shows.  Could we do it?  Could we wait for over the month it would take to get our cable provider to run a line to our house?

All kidding aside, it was a tough month without Internet.  Technically, we still had Internet via our phones, but we limited our usage to stay under our 8 gig monthly data limit, which we failed miserably at.  Who uses more than 8 gigs a month?  We do, and even with our scaling back we used nearly 16 gigs!

We’re not suggesting you have to completely disconnect from the Internet for a month to have an impact on your life and money, but taking some time away may actually help you pay off your debt faster by spending less.

Time online and spending more.

There is a significant amount of research showing how being online and exposed to advertisements can influence our spending habits.  There’s a reason why you start seeing ads all over the place once you’ve clicked on something previously.  Marketers have figured out that after you click on a product and don’t purchase it you may change your mind later if you see it in your Facebook feed, Google search sidebar, etc.

In a 2015 global study by Digitas, 52 percent of consumers said that Facebook influenced their purchases, both in-store and online. That was followed by Pinterest, which influenced 46 percent of respondents, Instagram at 43 percent and Twitter with 36 percent.  

According to a study by Allianz Life Insurance Company, 57 percent of millennials spent money they hadn’t planned to because of content on their social media feeds.  If you spend enough time online eventually you will be influenced to spend money you may not have planned to.  This isn’t a big deal if you have the money to spend, but when you start developing a habit of spending money you didn’t plan to spend in your monthly budget it could be a slippery slope that leads to financial challenges later on in life.

Health problems and spending too much time online.

Research is also mounting up on time spent online and health issues.  The most obvious issue is time spent sitting in front of a computer or smartphone is time not being active, and inactivity has all kinds of negative effects including obesity, neck and back pain, and mental health issues such as loneliness, self-esteem issues, cyberbullying, and social anxiety.

There are certainly good things that come from spending time online like being able to reconnect with old friends and learning new skills to improve both personally and professionally.  We credit getting out of debt and becoming debt-free millionaire doctors partially to what we learned online.  However, even a good thing taken to an extreme, like spending almost 7 hours a day connected to the Internet, can lead to bad things.

What is a digital detox?

The term “digital detox” has gained popularity lately as we realize a problem exists when we can’t even sit around a dinner table without staring at our phones.  The definition of detox is a verb meaning “to abstain from or rid the body of toxic or unhealthy substances.”  In this case the unhealthy substance is the Internet.

Some prescribe a true detox by disconnecting from the Internet entirely for a period of time usually lasting longer than a few weeks, but we would suggest this is probably too extreme and likely to cause major withdrawals that lead to severe grumpiness.  Think about how you would feel if you completely cut yourself off from food for a long period of time.  You likely would become irritated and short-tempered, and if one of the goals of a digital detox is to increase your connection to other people this may backfire.

We suggest starting small.  Consider starting by taking an hour offline once a day, maybe around the dinner table each night with your family. 

Another idea is to schedule your time on social media.  For example, designate a 15-minute time block each day to catch up on social media.  Something magical happens when you limit your time in an activity – you start to use that time more efficiently.  The other thing that may happen is you will enjoy your “special time” online even more when it’s a treat. 

Think about how you’d feel about eating ice cream if you had it with every meal.  At some point it would lose its appeal, but when you have it only once every few weeks it feels more special.  The same can be true with social media.

Here’s a really crazy idea – start reading paper books again if you’re used to reading on an e-reader or tablet.  Reading on an electronic device leaves too many temptations to get online and check email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Another consideration is to use technology to limit your use of technology.  Huh?  One of the things that came with owning a big house is wi-fi doesn't work well at distances away from where our router is connected.  One solution we've uncovered is creating what's called a "mesh" network that creates greater coverage for your wi-fi through connected devices you scatter around your home.  The great thing about some of these like Google's solution is that you can limit your time online and also set times when Internet is blocked (i.e. dinner time).

Consider turning off all alerts on your computer, tablet, and phone.  We jump every time a new email or text pops up, and if you're like many, you drop what you are doing (or those you are talking to) to check the email or text.  There's a price we pay every time we stop and start a task.  Experts call this a "switching cost" our brains pay when we stop something and start something new.  We pay a price to reset our brains each time we start a new task.

Here's a simple free idea - put your phone away a few times a day, or <gulp>, turn it off for a short period of time each day and see what happens (hint: nothing is likely to happen except getting more done, having greater clarity and focus on tasks and people).

Start small.

As you've read, there are many simple ways to take a digital detox that don't require going "cold turkey", which is almost guaranteed to fail.  The goal is not no technology, but instead better use of technology, and when we are strategic in our use of technology good things are bound to happen.

One of the good things is the impact it will have on our finances.  The more time you spend online the more enticements you will be exposed to, and the more likely you will impulse buy things you have not budgeted for nor need when you are six-figures in debt.

Start this month.  Start small, maybe just 15 minutes a day.  Move up a notch a week or two later by starting to schedule your social media time to 15 minutes a day.  What you'll find is you have more of what really matters in life.  More time with your family and friends.  More time to be productive at work.  More time to just think about your future as a debt-free millionaire doctor because you might also have more money to make that dream come true even sooner.

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