Techies take ‘fast’ lane on net highway
Since October, the cofounder of payments and ecommerce startup Instamojo has cut down drastically on screen time, using his phone for not more than two hours a day during weekends. Tech workers most addicted to the internet are finding ways to wean themselves off the habit, beating cold turkey with a deliberate and phased fasting. Swain calls it detox.
“Streaming was a big part of my life,” he told
ET. “After I cut down watching video streaming apps including Netflix, I started using my free time to read books. The main reason for detox is to learn new things.”
Mental health professionals are urging people to put their phones aside during particular times of the day or on the weekends. Ranged against that advice are all mobile applications in the world doing their best to attract user attention through umpteen notifications, all developed by software and tech pros themselves. Suddenly there’s time for irony, reading books and discovering the great outdoors… even parents, at least in one case.
Rapunzel Pereira, who works for an IT firm in Bengaluru, is making conscious efforts not to use the mobile internet, especially on the weekends.
“I used to spend several hours on social media but this is not my thing anymore,” the 27-yearold said, impressed at her own discipline. A frequent traveller, Pereira now switches data off whenever she goes trekking, touring and on the weekends.
Content marketing professional Bhavana Narayan has launched ScreenFreeSunday, a campaign among her friends that persuades them to stay off their phones on the holiday.
“By staying away from the phone more often than I used to, I am able to catch up on so many other activities such as gymming, music and reading that I had skipped,” she said.
“From being glued to the phone always, I have now transformed myself into a person who is more attentive to my parents and also active in whatever I do,” she said.
Internet fasting is used to wean people off tech addiction. Japan introduced the concept a few years ago after officials found that over a half a million children were suffering significant consequences of being tied to their screens.
Clinical psychologist Manoj Kumar Sharma said internet fasting is a conscious decision to turn off and tune out.
“Whenever people extremely addicted to gaming or streaming come to us, we advise them to take a short break after each game or show,” he said. “That often works as tech addicts are likely to lose interest to continue after a break.”
Sharma, who heads the Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) clinic at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans) in Bengaluru, treats as many as 10 cases of tech addiction a week. Apart from mental effects, such behaviour leads to eye problems, carpal tunnel syndrome and fatigue.
A Nimhans study in 2018 found that 27.1% of engineering students met the criterion for mild addictive internet use and 9.7% for moderate addictive internet use. It was severe for about 0.4%. Internet addiction was higher among engineering students who were male, staying in rented accommodation, accessed the internet several times a day, spent more than three hours per day on the internet and had psychological distress, according to the study of 1,086 people.
The World Health Organization said last year that the dramatic increase in use of the internet, computers, smartphones and other electronic devices had brought clear benefits. But it has also led to excessive use, which has negative health consequences. In an increasing number of countries, the problem has reached the magnitude of a significant public health concern, it said.
Behavioural research scholar Ranjan Jagannathan said people underestimate the number of times they are interrupted by the smartphone and its effect on overall productivity.
“Our study revealed that on an average, each person gets about 80 to 100 phone notifications a day,” Jagannathan said, citing his own India-specific research of 2017. He cited another US study which reported that a person takes 23 minutes to regain focus on their original task after every interruption.
His response was to create an app to fix this. It’s called Daywise and was developed by Jagannathan’s startup Synapse. The app makes sure that notifications are only sent at intervals.
“The Android-only app sends notifications in batches and also has a feature that alerts users in case the notification is important and warrants immediate attention,” said Jagannathan, who has previously worked as a researcher at Duke University.