In an age where a smartphone has almost become an extension of our hand, is it time for a digital detox? Carly Gibbs and Mike Tweed look into the benefits are of laying off tech.
If the idea of quitting your smartphone cold turkey fills you with dread, you're not alone.
When Auckland University of Technology (AUT) together with the Universities of Greenwich and East Anglia, conducted a study on travelling overseas without technology a few years back, participants experienced both anxiety and "a nasty shock".
They felt like they were thrust off the grid, even though they were in densely populated places.
They couldn't navigate a "paper map" and had to overcome their fears of asking strangers for directions, says AUT Business School's Dr Lena Waizenegger, 32, who's an expert in digital wellbeing.
"But, in amongst that, there were some beautiful moments, where people were so friendly and helpful."
And the best part was that they survived without their smartphone - and you can too.
Waizenegger says a sustainable solution to stop relying on your phone so much is to implement mindful and purposeful phone-use patterns so you don't experience "nomophobia" - or fear of being without your phone.
Studies have found we typically spend three hours and 15 minutes each day on our phones and up to 11 hours on all media devices, but it's not so much the amount of time we're glued to our device that's the problem, but how we use it.
Two hours of scrolling through your bottomless news feed on social media is different from purposefully using your phone to listen to a podcast that interests you or chatting with overseas friends and family to maintain social relationships.
But, if at any point, you're noticing your screentime is making you feel unhappy, your self-esteem is lowered by what you're viewing, or you're constantly losing track of time, then it could be time to create new, healthier habits.
From setting limits to finding alternatives to being glued to our devices, here's what we can do.
Cutting back 101
An easy way to scale back your tech use, and become more productive, is to put your smartphone in your bag during work hours and leave it there.
Research shows that, if you have your phone on your desk, it affects your cognitive capacity to complete a task.
"People who completed a task who had their phone on their desk, in comparison to those who had their phone in their bag, or a different room, actually achieved worse results," Waizenegger says.
Once your phone is safely out of sight, the next step is to turn off your email notifications on your computer.
But, you might be asking: "What will my boss say?"
Well, there's a misconception that we have to be available and respond immediately to show how productive we are, says Waizenegger.
This is particularly the case for those who work from home, and are away from their manager's gaze.
However, by switching off your notifications, you are in control of when you check and respond to emails, and your colleagues, and your boss, soon learn how and when you connect and respond.
"It's much better if you switch off your email notifications and work for two or three hours in a focused way. Immerse yourself in what you're doing and get into that 'state of flow'.
"And then schedule time [afterwards], say half an hour, to actually respond to your emails.
"People soon learn that, after two or three hours, 'I will hear back from that person'. And this is all about developing trust.
"To be honest, even if it's urgent, we can wait two hours, or, if it's really urgent, we can just call that person."
If you're out exercising, leave your phone behind, or put it on flight mode for emergency use only.
Waizenegger does this when she is out tramping - sometimes for four days at a time.
"Then I come back feeling so recharged, and really so sharp in my mind because I had this digital detox. I do recommend it."
Back at home, consider having a 'phone-free dinner'; limit screen time before bed as it can increase stimuli and affect sleep quality, which can lead to daytime tiredness. And always recharge your smartphone outside of your bedroom.
If you're having trouble doing any of this, try to encourage your partner to try the changes with you.
Waizenegger says you want to avoid the "famous phenomenon" known as phubbing, where one partner in the relationship priorities their mobile phone over their partner.
"This is really detrimental and has long-term effects on the relationship."
Whanganui Collegiate School introduced a change of access to phones for year nine and ten students from term two this year.
Headmaster Wayne Brown said while phones were a great communication tool, especially during the Covid-19 lockdowns last year, they were "not required as part of the academic day".
"That is well proven through research," Brown said.
"Students have a greater ability to learn, along with enhancing their wellbeing, when not distracted by phones.
"The response has been overwhelmingly positive."
Brown said a letter was sent to parents at the end of term one informing them of the school's decision.
"That decision was based on a great deal of educational research, parental feedback, discussions with academic staff, Heads of Year, Housemasters, and at the Executive level," Brown said.
"It (the ban) has been accepted and endorsed."
Students now hand their personal devices in to staff during the roll call each morning and Brown said some don't even bring them to school anymore.
"This is about taking something away which has no impact at all on their learning during the hours of 8am and 4pm.
"In term one the school had 32 instances of mobile phone misuse, whether that be taking a call in class or using social media, in year nine and ten.
"In term two we had zero instances of device misuse in Years 9 and 10, along with a marked decrease in Years 11 - 13."
Brown said the constant distraction of checking for notifications and messages had been removed completely.
"That anticipation and that compulsion are gone.
"Twelve and 13-year-olds are still going to have their relationship issues, that's not going to change, but it's a lot more conducive to better learning and better socialization to not have the device there."
The cognitive development of those aged 12, 13 and 14 was "paramount", Brown said.
"If we are in a position to make these good educational decisions then we are going to have better outcomes and develop better people.
"That's the end game."
Whanganui teacher Michaella Luxton deleted all her social media accounts earlier this year, after using them "non-stop" since the age of 18.
It started with a Bebo account during her last year at high school.
"I had Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, every single one of them," Luxton said.
"I never thought about stopping until a bit of a 'holy crap' moment one afternoon. I was sitting there scrolling and just thought 'this isn't good'. Right then and there I made the decision to stop.
"If I boil it down to one main reason why I got rid of everything it was to just focus on myself and the things that were important to me."
Deleting a social media account wasn't a "quick and easy" process, Luxton said.
"They really don't want you to get off these platforms.
"It took about 48 hours to deactivate them , so there's that window of time to change your mind about the whole thing."
Luxton said friends had asked why she didn't just have a smaller social media presence with only a handful of contacts.
"For me, it's about self-control. If I still had those accounts things would grow and I'd be back to where I started before long.
"It's almost like cold turkey, I suppose."
The first fortnight after the deactivations had been hard, but now she was barely on her phone at all, Luxton said.
"To start with it was kind of like, 'what do I do now?'.
"It's quite a hard truth to admit to yourself that you're spending 50% of your time looking at other people's lives on social media.
"Now I'm happier than ever and doing lots of stuff. The only difference is no one else sees it."
Working with kids in their early teens had alerted her to other dangers of social media, Luxton said.
"I'm not seeing good things for our young person, that's for sure. It's worrying to see how they're using these platforms, and watching these habits that are already normalized.
"If I, as an adult, found it really hard to manage, then how are our 12-year-olds going to deal with it?"
Luxton said it also allowed bullying to be more commonplace amongst young people, because the fear of repercussions had been done away with.
"The kids know how to use those phones better than me, it's like they were born with them.
"Instead of saying something directly to someone's face they can set up a fake profile and target them completely anonymously."
She wasn't aware of anyone else her age (early 30s) that no longer had any kind of social media presence.
"I'm not advocating for everybody to get off of social media, I'm advocating for people to step back and take a look at what they are doing with it.
"There are still messaging apps that can send photos and videos, and I send stuff to the three or four people who I genuinely want to see them. I can only pay attention to four people at a time anyway, definitely not 400.
"If I ever opened a business I might start an Instagram page for it, but in terms of having a personal account, I'd never go back.
"It didn't improve my life, so that means it wasn't for me."
For news reporter Maryana Garcia, going without her smartphone also brings multiple benefits.
The 28-year-old has been going on annual spiritual retreats since her mid-teens, where part of the retreat practice is they're carried out in silence and there is no internet access.
While the events are not advertised as a digital detox, and that's not the aim, she still finds that she gets the best out of them if she treats them as one.
"That way, I don't have any distractions, and I can focus on the present moment, slow my brain down, and give myself the space to reflect in a way that I don't get to do in the hustle and bustle of daily life."
Even outside of the retreats, she limits internet use.
"I have quite a few rules for myself: time limits for app usage, very few notifications enabled, tech-free spaces, tech-free times. For me, it's about being able to be the one in control of my choices, even my micro-choices.
"I don't like the idea of having to depend on a phone or the internet to be able to live life. I like that, when the red battery low warning goes on, it doesn't bother me."
Curbing her social media activity is something Melanie Garaway is also doing.
In the past week, the 35-year-old mum has deleted the Facebook app off her phone, only accessing the social media platform on her tablet when needed, because she frequently gets caught "scrollin' scrollin' scrollin'."
"I can often open Facebook without being conscious of it. My hand just does it and that's scary. Sometimes I don't even hear my husband or kids talking to me.
"Diving into comments and reading them for ages" wastes her time the most.
"I can jump into bed, check Facebook for '10 minutes' and then an hour
later and still be lying there scrolling.
"I just have to be more mindful and aware of what I'm doing," she says, acknowledging it's a challenge.
"My mind is so wired to go to Facebook for a boost ... That good vibe in the brain can make it hard to do a detox. However, I think once you see the benefits it can be really worthwhile."