One of the newest terms being bandied about in the world of interior design at present is ‘digital detox’. It seems we are becoming increasingly aware of the hold that technology now has over not only our working lives, but also our home lives — and it seems many of us are beginning to crave some tech-free time.
Although life with no technology is hard to imagine for most of us, and a television-free living room would send most children and teenagers into meltdown, the evidence out there all points to fact that too much technology in the home is getting in the way of our relationships and social lives
With this in mind, here are some of the best ways to carve out some ‘unplugged’ spaces in your home.
There is no denying the fact that most of us feel pretty lost without our phones or internet connection and it is all but impossible to walk down the street without seeing couples and groups of friends glued to their phones as opposed to actually speaking to one another. This is all well and good (although mildly unsettling) when out and about, but what about when we walk through our own front doors — surely it is time to switch off and unplug? But just look around your own home, from the phone plugged in next to the cooker to televisions in the kitchen, from games consoles in our living rooms to computers in our children’s bedrooms. It is easy to block out the effects of all this technology on our daily lives, yet the findings make for uncomfortable reading.
Our homes used to be somewhere to come together as a family, to wind down after a hard day and to hole-up when the going got tough. With paediatricians now advocating that parents should impose tech free zones in the home, perhaps it is time to clear some space within the home in order to regain an oasis of quiet and calm — to slow down and just be, to talk to the ones we love and appreciate all that we have.
Technology and Our Social Lives
In one recent study looking at Nomophobia (the fear of being without a smartphone), it was found that a whopping 95% of people admitted to texting, browsing the internet or watching TV in the hour before finally falling asleep.
And it isn’t just mobiles that we have too much time of before bed — tablets, computers and even huge-screened televisions all play their part. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the blue light emitted by screens on mobiles, computers, tablets and televisions all limit the production of melatonin – the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle – making it harder to fall and stay asleep. They say that you should give yourself at least 30 minutes of gadget free time before bedtime — or even better to make your bedroom a technology-free zone.
Mental health can be affected too. In her book ‘The Power of Off’, New York based psychotherapist Nancy Collier states that ‘many people are disconnected from what really matters, from what makes us feel nourished and grounded as human beings.’ She goes on to say that ‘Our presence, our full attention is the most important thing we can give each other.’
Screens and Our Children
There is no doubt that television and tablets are pretty much unavoidable when it comes to our children and there can be few teenagers without a mobile phone. But it might surprise you to learn that according to the National Sleep Foundation, about 72% of children aged six to 17 sleep with at least one electronic device in their bedroom, leading to less sleep on school nights compared to those children without — the difference adds up to almost an hour a night.
Another study found that excessive screen time equaled increased loneliness, depression, withdrawal, anxiety, attention problems, and aggression.
The website, Time to Log Off gives their visitors a chance “to reconnect with the world offline, leaving you relaxed and energised to return to your daily life”. It has recently launched its teenage digital detox breaks.
Its founder Tanya Goodin carried out a survey of more than 500 young people aged 13 to 18. 29% admitted that they spent more than eight hours a day online while 36% said that they regularly fell asleep with their phone or laptop in bed. 67% said they went to their phone when they were bored and almost 60% revealed they used their phone as a crutch in an uncomfortable social situation.
It is unrealistic to suggest that simply imposing a screen ban on these young people will solve the problem, but making your home as tech-free as possible certainly goes some way towards breaking the cycle — somewhere where social interaction is positively encouraged and in some spaces unavoidable.
Where to Create a Tech Free Zone
It is all well and good realizing that your home is becoming overrun by technology, but it is quite another thing knowing what to do about it. Take some time to think about the main areas of your home in which you spend the majority of your time and aim to create either a completely tech-free room or at the very least a tech-free area in these spaces.
Consider the way you or your family use your home and think about how to turn these newly unplugged areas into spaces that are attractive to all the family for reasons other than a television or power sockets stuffed full with chargers.
There was a time when the living room was the place everyone in the family retired to after a stressful day. A room in which to unwind on a squashy sofa and get cosy in front of a roaring fire, Nowadays, the comfy sofa seems to have been replaced by a gaming chair and the fireplace has been replaced with a television screen of mammoth proportions.
Going tech-free in the living room means liberating this room from the tyrannical TV and reorganising the space with a focus on socialising and relaxing.
Opting for a selection of sofas and armchairs that scream to be lounged on goes some way towards creating a calming oasis from the busy day-to-day spaces in your home, but their layout is important too. Group sofas and chairs together to face one another to encourage social interaction, and where possible avoid pushing all your furniture up against the wall in order to leave walkways and promote a sense of flow.
Reinstate an old fireplace, or considering fitting a woodburner or gas fire — a far better focal point than a television.
Sometimes there is just no other room in which to place a television. In this case, try to avoid allowing it to becoming the overwhelming presence in the room. Television cabinets that can be closed up when not in use are a good idea, whilst simply placing the television on a TV stand that includes shelving and wire management will help too.
Televisions and computers have no place in the bedroom so avoid at all costs. The blue light emitted by screens interferes with sleep patterns and if you can’t sleep or switch off the temptation is to fire up your technology, resulting in a vicious cycle — plus they do nothing for the décor.
For many of us, the bedroom is the one space we can retreat to for some peace and quiet so locating a television or laptop in this room really can be detrimental, not only to our quality of sleep but also to our sex lives — according the website addictiontips.net 1 in 3 mobile owners would rather give up sex than their phones!
The ideal bedroom should be free from all light, artificial or natural, once the sun has gone down. The focus in this room should be on relaxation so think cool colours, elegant side tables and sumptuous soft furnishings. Good storage in the form of drawers and wardrobes will ensure clutter is kept to a minimum.
More often than not, the kitchen is now the hub of family life and using one open plan space for the kitchen, dining and living room is a popular layout. As such an important part of the home, it is clear to see why so many people choose to include a television and/or games console in this space — keeping children occupied while you cook being one of the main reasons people cite for doing so.
However, a television in a space where you also eat and entertain can distract from the social interaction traditionally associated food — sitting down for a meal whilst all staring mindlessly at a television screen without speaking goes against everything good about family mealtimes, as well as being a cause of over-eating according to nutritionists.
If you really can’t imagine life without a television in the kitchen, consider installing one within in a wall unit or take a look at some of the latest ‘pop-up’ televisions which are concealed beneath the worktops when not in use — this way they will be out of sight and out of mind for the majority of the time.
Pop-up and under-counter sockets are also a good idea in the kitchen, meaning laptops and tablets can still be plugged in (handy if the children want to sit and do their homework here, or if you often find yourself working from home in this room) — but without the visual clutter.
A snug (also referred to as a den, man cave and, less fashionably, a drawing room) can work in two ways here. Having a second living room solely for quiet relaxation or family time, with no television or screen in sight, is a great idea where the space is available. The main living room can then be used for movie nights and playing on consoles whilst this more ‘grown up’ space remains a haven of calm.
Conversely, a second living room can be the technology room — a den complete with huge television screen, gaming chairs, consoles galore and storage for all the various paraphernalia that goes hand in hand with it all. This leaves your main living room gloriously tech free and allows you to give it a complete digital detox.
Lacking in space for a dedicated tech-free zone in the house? Then create one in the garden instead. Modular garden rooms are a big trend at present. They are usually delivered in kit form to be constructed on site and usually won’t require planning permission. Failing that, disused outbuildings or integral garages also work well as tech-free areas, as do loft conversions. A space in the garden also promotes a sense of wellbeing and of being closer to nature.
If you are limited on space, you might find that you need to think a little more creatively. Something as simple as setting aside a corner of the living room as a tech-free space is a great idea. A large comfy armchair by a window with a wall light or reading lamp placed alongside is a good start. Hang a favourite piece of artwork in this corner and place a statement side table or nest of tables alongside your chair and you are well on the way to carving out a little bit of solace without using up too much space. Bookshelves optional — but a great way of very firmly saying “this is a modern-technology-free space!”
Tech Free Essentials
Certain items of furniture make tech-free spaces all the easier to achieve. Whilst TV cabinets that close up when not in use overcome the issue of the television being the overriding feature in a room, choosing a good TV stand capable not only of blending in well with the rest of your décor but also providing shelving for DVD players and games consoles will go some way towards minimising the visual impact of your television.
* (Martin, 2011)