5 ways to kick your tech addiction in 2014

Living with the world at your fingertips is intoxicating. If you struggle to unplug, maybe it's time for a digital detox in the new year.

By MSN Money Partner Dec 19, 2013 3:39PM

People use cellphones in downtown San Francisco. © AP Photo/Ben Margot

CNBC on MSN MoneyBy Ellen Lee, special to CNBC.com


You're a busy executive maneuvering down a crowded Shanghai street while manipulating an Apple (AAPL) iPhone in your right hand and a BlackBerry (BBRY) in your left -- the gunslinger of the Old West re-armed for the age of global 24/7 technology access.


Could you lose one of those smartphones for a whole day and still find meaning in the universe?


Most people don't have a tech addiction and might not even admit to having the profile of an "addict," except in the most snarky, BuzzFeed-approved terms. But many people display some of the symptoms.


In a recent University of Maryland study, college students from around the globe were asked to unplug for 24 hours. Most struggled with the task. One student even likened the experience to being a crackhead going through withdrawal. Researchers at the University of Washington have even coined the term "pushback" to describe how some tech addicts are making a concerted effort to "unplug," go on a "digital detox" or take a "technology sabbatical" -- even if it's just for a few hours a day.


"We have reached a tipping point in our culture about what relationship we want to have with digital technology and how much we want it to run and rule our lives," said Dr. David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. "There's been more backlash against the overuse and abuse of the technology."


New Year's resolution: Should you go dark?
Over the summer, Timothy Maurer, vice president and CFP with the Financial Consulate, decided to go off the grid -- or at least detach from Facebook (FB). His wife joined along with him for solidarity.


The couple wanted to take a "less is more" approach to their lives, said Maurer, who blogged about his experience. They didn't stop connecting via social media altogether -- Maurer still uses Twitter (TWTR), for instance -- but they wanted one less reason to check their smartphones and be distracted from their family and work. Like Maurer, 61 percent of Facebook users reported taking a break from the social networking site, according to a survey last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.


"There is not one day that I have woken up and thought, I wish I had Facebook today," said Maurer several months after deleting his account.


Launched in 2010, the National Day of Unplugging in early March has drawn more and more attention each year, sparking 6,749 tweets -- somewhat ironically -- that were broadcast to 19 million people during the final two weeks of last year's event. Almost a third of the spaces have already been filled for next summer's Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults who are required to turn in their smartphones when they arrive.


"This is a time of year to renew your health, and part of your health is finding a good digital diet," said Dr. Kimberly Young, founder of the Center for Internet Addiction. "It's about using technology in a healthy and positive way that adds to your life and doesn't take away from it."


Easier said than done, right? How can you stop reaching for your smartphones more than 150 times a day?


With New Year's around the corner, here are five steps to setting boundaries with your devices. The road to recovery beckons.


1. Tell time the old-fashioned way. Get an alarm clock and a watch. Waking up with your smartphone means you're connecting to the digital world first thing in the morning instead of the people around you or even just yourself, said Levi Felix, founder of Camp Grounded. Likewise, checking your phone for the time means that you will be tempted to check Facebook, too. "If you wake up with a cell phone as your alarm clock, you're probably a good candidate to be a camper -- and that's almost everyone," he said.


2. Stop using your smartphone in the bathroom. Or in line at Starbucks (SBUX). Or on the street corner waiting for the light to turn green. In other words, it's okay to be bored occasionally. If anything, it could spark your creative juices. "People have no tolerance for boredom," Greenfield said. "They can't tolerate not doing something, because they have the world in their pockets. It's very intoxicating."


3. Schedule a tech break. Make a regular appointment to put down the smartphone or turn off the computer. Most likely, you will have to do it more than a dozen times in a row for it to become a new habit. "You have to pick how and when and where and why you use it," Greenfield said. "You become the master of the technology instead of the technology mastering you."


4. Disable notifications on your smartphone. That gives you at least one less reason to check your phone. "The smartphone is like a portable slot machine," Greenfield said. "The buzz and beeps let you know there's something there. We've all become conditioned by our smartphone unwittingly."


5. Carry a journal. The new digital lifestyle has become "I share; therefore, I am," Felix said. But you don't always have to snap a picture or check in to a spot to remember the experience. Participants at Camp Grounded are given a journal to help them record their camp life, especially when they're tempted to take a photograph and share it across social media. It makes for a fuller experience, Felix said.


He should know: The former executive at a tech start-up was inspired to start Camp Grounded after his always-on "Silicon Valley fantasy lifestyle" -- he lived with his cell phone under his pillow -- contributed to an emergency trip to the hospital. Felix was on his way to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, but a tear in his esophagus landed him in the ER instead. His doctor told him to lay off spicy takeout and coffee, and to take it easy.


"It's reclaiming personal space and having permission to be unavailable for everyone and be available for the people you're with and for yourself," Felix said. "That transforms your life."


And the first step -- before these five -- is admitting you have a problem.


More from CNBC:

23Comments
Dec 20, 2013 8:42AM
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the first thing you want to do is get a real life, instead of a BS life
Dec 28, 2013 10:32AM
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All those movies about machines and computers taking over humans don't seem so far-fetched anymore.
Dec 28, 2013 12:58PM
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The old days when people just played with themselves was probably more healthy.
Dec 28, 2013 4:41PM
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I'm not a social person, and I don't use social networking sites.  I'm pretty anti-social and I married a woman who most people find surly and unpleasant, so most people will leave us alone.  I can't stand people, they're the worse.
Dec 28, 2013 6:07PM
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I do have a simply cell phone, I used it as a phone, imagine that, All other devices are useless to me, facebook stinks, twitter stinks, smartphones stink, No wounder everone so fat and lazy, everything is done for you. Most idiots are addited, the next time you go to a store, look and see how many people have there eyes glued to there screen. With all this technology people are still very lonely inside, Sad, very sad indeed
Dec 28, 2013 1:50PM
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These smart phones help distract the people from what's going on in real life.. IE  Obama destruction of our country..
Dec 28, 2013 6:22PM
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THE SAD PART IS !

Soon people that need to Think Too Breath wont even be able to do that ?

And KIDS are just screwed when the ELECTRO BOMB go's off !

They have never lived without TECH !

Dec 28, 2013 7:20PM
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Will we ever go back to calling them "cell phones" instead of "smart phones" the people using them are not smart themselves.
Dec 28, 2013 1:48PM
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Man to his hand held electronic device:  "What is wrong with my wife, today?  Everything I say to her is either wrong, or just plain stupid, according to her!

Electronic Device to Man:  "How the hell you expect me to know these things?  I am not human! i AM merely a piece of plastic filled with little diodes, and other artificial parts.  Besides, you are the one who asked her to marry you and you gave her all the gifts to bribe her into marriage."      
Dec 28, 2013 3:46PM
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If we are so obsessed with technology, why doesn't someone put effort into creating that flying car we all want, instead of just the next smartphone with a slightly clearer/more colorful screen than last year's model?


Dec 30, 2013 5:08AM
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I apologize, I actually do NOT carry a cell phone of any kind.  I am NOT glued to my home computer either.  There is a life beyond cell phones and computers and tablets and whatall.  Set them down folks.  Geez, we've taken cell phones from (in case of an emergency) to being a full time occupation.  I hardly see ANYONE in the grocery store anymore that are not blocking aisles and yacking on a cell phone.  WAKE UP people!  You are missing out on what... just ALL of life that's all!  When is the last time any of you robotrons noticed a nice bird or a squirrel or the seasons changing or the beauty in nature that is all around you?Do any of you notice ANYTHING that is going on around you?  When is the last time any of you made a single decision based on what you know inside rather than the bland and generalized information you get from being online?  Life is TOO short and you folks are letting it pass you by.  I hope and pray that some of you think about it.  Technology isn't the be all - end all.  It's a tool, a utility, no more than that.  It's not life, it excludes you from the human race, it erases your independent thoughts.  I think you know what I am saying.  Please, at least, for 24 hours, turn it all off and step outside, for your own good.  See what is going on around you.
Dec 28, 2013 4:31PM
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The easiest way to tell if you have a problem: If you update your facebook status more than once a week. those of us who use our mobile devices to learn, to read books, listen to music, also known as doing things you would NORMALLY do, except now, convieniently its all in your hand, is NOT 'addiction'. Addiction is if you must know everything everyone is doing. everything the kardashians tweet out, (or whoever the .f.grr.. is popular today.) just do what i have always done:

 

To cure yourself of this "addiction" do this.

If you use facebook and cant resist using it multiple times a day: Stop using it. if you cant stop, you suck and are a wussy whos life is being controlled. a lemming.

If you use twitter and have to read and respond to every tweet you see: STOP using it, If you cant, you suck and are a wussy.

 

I have and never will use facebook or twitter, i talk to my friends on the phone, through email, or text messages. (yeah i know, i was really suprised that most people didnt know their phones made PHONE CALLS, seems they thought they were made for twitter and facebook)

 

in short: If you are addicted.. you are allowing yourself to be addicted.. if you want to stop, you will.

Dec 28, 2013 1:29PM
Dec 20, 2013 10:24AM
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I honestly don't get what's wrong with technology. Phones are new technology just as clothes were at one point. Technology is a GOOD thing!
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