A Digital Diet
Updated: Jun 10
Our phones, computers, tablets and smartwatches are like the most bountiful buffet; the kind that is constantly refreshed and updated with a googol of delectable digital delights. When faced with an endless stream of freshly prepared foods, we can sometimes lose control and take more than a healthy portion. Fortunately, the food buffet is not in our back pocket and usually ends or closes.
Just as it is important to know and manage our eating, it is important to understand what drives our digital consumption and what we need to do in order to control it. Imagine a well-stocked refrigerator or pantry. Are you the type of eater who can have your favorite snacks or desserts in the cupboard and yet refrain from eating them until the appropriate time (the Super Bowl gathering, company or after-dinner treats, for example)? If not, it certainly makes sense to not even buy these things until that appropriate time is near. If you can buy these treats, see them in the cupboard, but not eat them until you “allow” yourself, then it makes sense to stock up when you have the opportunity.
Similarly, if you find certain apps or games impossible to resist, they should not be on your phone. It really is that simple. You can still access them, but will not see them or their badges enticing you. They won’t be a touch away. If we use our most addicting apps through our phone’s or computer’s browser, we are less likely to use them excessively.
We do need to have healthy foods in our refrigerators and useful tools on our devices. Does having a huge bag of carrots or brussel sprouts in the fridge lead to overeating? Similarly, do we spend excessive time on our maps app? The contacts app is important for our relationships and networks. How often do we get overly absorbed scrolling it? What other apps are necessary and, be honest, valuable to living well, as Cal Newport noted? Keep those and consider deleting the others, or at the very least put them in folders, out of view. After all, if the bag of Stacy’s Chips is on a top shelf in my pantry and Instagram is in a folder, I am less likely to over-indulge in either. Out of sight, out of mind.
Many of us stock our food pantry with intention. If we are trying to forge healthy eating in our homes, we buy the “extras” in accordance with how we want our families to eat and what we trust they will eat responsibly. Nutritionists and psychologists warn that avoiding treats completely can undermine healthy eating habits. Children and adults who are completely deprived of treats might over-indulge when they do have the opportunity.
Similarly, this digital diet is not about abstinence. It is about control, either self-control or management.
Fortunately, there are ways to manage our digital diets.
First, think about your tendencies and level of self-control or discipline. Then, evaluate the apps you have loaded on your phone and tablet. Which apps are time-suckers? If there are any, delete the apps and access the same information through a browser.
Second, plan when you access apps, websites, and email. Many of us plan our meals to have balance, manage hunger and nutrition. We have typical times and foods for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Create a tech schedule, for example, set a “social media or gaming hour.” Daniel Pink tells us when we should check email based on our chronotype. Set yourself up for success with both necessary and discretionary digital use.
Third, partner up with a friend or group to check in, commiserate and hold each other accountable. Like Weight Watchers, form a digital diet group.
Consider starting your digital diet with a fast day- abstain from all technology for 24 hours. Schedule a recurring break. If it will help you, plan a splurge day, or allow yourself a mix-it-up day. Just as you might eat cereal or eggs for dinner once in a while, indulge in breaking the routine, if that suits you.
In making this comparison, I am not suggesting that the person addicted to Candy Crush also guzzles snickers or gummy bears. The point is: know your own inclination for healthy and smart use of your digital devices. Think about the time, energy, effort, and ramifications of what you have made easily accessible. Strategize. Create a plan so that your online experiences are satisfying, effective, and also allow you to have some peace of mind.