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How To Soak Up Some Much-Deserved Silence

This article was written by Kathryn O’Shea-Evans and was featured in our June issue of Home By Design magazine. To visit the original Home By Design article and view more photos, click here.


Photography by monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

The advent of the smartphone may have had a slow, somewhat lackluster start when the IBM Simon Personal Communicator launched in the early ’90s, but it soon made up for it with worldwide prominence. Sometimes, it seems everyone from your tween niece to your nonagenarian great uncle is “addicted” to their cell phone. If you’re like the vast majority of adults—some 97 percent of Americans who have a simple cell, or 85 percent with a smart option, according to the Pew Research Center—you may find yourself practically tethered to it.

And given that these handheld gadgets contain multitudes . . . whether that’s photos of your new pooch, games like Candy Crush, or TV binge-streaming apps stocked with new shows to watch . . . it’s no wonder. There’s only one problem. For the first time in human history, we are getting so much “screen time” that the phrase has become part of the cultural lexicon. And while we fret about kiddos getting too much of it, the fact is that adults spend a whopping eleven hours a day, on average, glued to glowing screens, be they on a tablet, TV, smartphone, or computer. No one knows what the long-term effects of screen time are (after all, humanity hasn’t had the opportunity to stare at these contraptions for long). But in the short term, research proves too much screen time can be detrimental to your health.

Screen-time junkies may experience lackluster sleep; eye strain and headaches; neck and shoulder pain from stooping to eyeball the latest news . . . the list goes on. For the 82 percent of the American population with a social media account, ill effects can transfer into the emotional. When we seek external “likes” rather than, well, hanging out with people we like in real life, we can experience depression and nosediving self-confidence.

So, you may be wondering: how can we cut our screen time back a bit to truly unplug and relax? It’s a good skill to have, whether you’re looking to maximize your hard-earned weekends or simply focus on a fantastic dinner shared with old friends. Read on for advice we really “like.”

Establish Boundaries.

Maybe your boss often pings you on Saturday afternoon, checking in on the status of a looming deadline. Or your social media alerts pop up each and every time you get a new follower. If you’re feeling such alerts encroaching on your R&R, consider putting a stop to them. Ask your employer if it would be reasonable to limit work correspondence to work hours, when you’re on the clock. (After all, studies have shown employees are much better workers when they get a real break.) If alerts from social media and other apps are becoming obnoxious, head to your phone’s Settings app and simply toggle them off. Like your inbox, they will be there . . . when you’re ready.

Use Tech to Your Advantage.

If the glowing, colorful Instagram world is dragging you away from your life in the real world, you have options. It’s possible to take yourself back in time to the slightly less-addictive black-and-white world of Old Hollywood. That’s right: simply change your phone’s settings to display everything in grayscale, an option generally found under the Accessibility tab on both iOS and Androids. The resulting greige screen renders rainbow-hued video games and social media apps alike significantly less appealing.

Set Time Limits.

Sure, you could just leave your phone in another room on purpose. But in 2021, Apple released new ways to set limits for yourself through their Screen Time feature. Although users have been able to track their screen time since 2018, now, the tech-addicted can set specific time limits on their chosen apps. Feel like you’re “doom-scrolling” by reading too much news on Twitter? Give yourself a limit of thirty minutes per day under the Screen Time section of Settings by going to the App Limits tab. When the allotted time is up, the app will be inaccessible . . . unless you specifically override your own block. You can also give yourself “Downtime” hours in the Screen Time section of Settings, which is helpful if you’d occasionally like your phone to be just, well, a phone. You can set it to block app use between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., say, to help you get great shuteye, or finally finish that book you’ve been meaning to get to. Call it “me time,” unplugged.