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'Slow tech': What it is and how to do it

There are techniques to make our relationship with technology healthier. (Getty Images) Source: EyeEm

Follow the principles of slow living so you don't lose hours in an Instagram black hole.

If you feel like you're a slave to your devices, you might like to try slow tech.

We're not talking about going back to dial-up and faxes, rather slow tech is about borrowing from the concept of slow living to make our tech use deliberate and thoughtful so we don't accidentally lose hours in an Instagram black hole.

Brooke McAlary, author of Slow and host of The Slow Home podcast, has spent years experimenting with different slow living tools to make her life – and brain – less cluttered, and says analysing her use of technology has been pivotal in helping her tune in with her real wants and needs.

"Tech gets a bad rap, but it's also got so much positive stuff to offer if we know how to use it mindfully," she tells SBS Life.

Here McAlary shares her top tips for doing tech slow so you get the benefits without the backfire.

1. Have a screen-free bedroom

Not only do our phones and tablets often emit a blue light that slows down sleep hormone production, the stimulating nature of a lot of our scrolling can mean we're mentally firing up when we should be winding down.

A 30-day experiment of leaving devices out of their bedroom has turned into a way-of-life for McAlary and her husband and podcast co-host Ben.

"For 30 days we didn't let any laptops, tablets or phones into our bedroom and the impact that had on our sleep was enormous," she says.

But McAlary says even more profound was the affect it had on her morning headspace.

"I used to wake up, turn off my alarm and within 30 seconds I'd either be flicking through my emails or through social media," she says.

"I never had a chance to wake up and start the day without all that information in my head."

By waking up without an automatic scroll, McAlary says she was able to start her day at a much slower pace.

"When we start our day [reading the internet], we're on someone else's agenda from the minute we're awake, and it's exhausting," she says.

"Now I get up and sit and have a coffee quietly or journal by hand and won't open my phone or computer until after I have gotten ready for the day – it really impacts the way I start my morning."

2. Set tech boundaries

McAlary puts a curfew on her tech use to allow space for creative thoughts or quality time with loved ones.

"It gives me at least 12 hours a day where I'm not connected and not hearing notifications and getting that dopamine hit of an Instagram like or Facebook message," she says.

"[After introducing this] I started to realise how nice it felt to not be attached to it constantly."

If you feel like you're at the mercy of your devices, McAlary suggests considering an experiment that might work for you.

"Whether it's taking 24 hours off your phone from lunchtime Saturday to lunchtime Sunday or finding an hour a day to close everything down and do deep work by hand, try it and see the impact it has," she says.

"For me, it was about the distraction factor – I didn't realise how distracted I was by all of the notifications until I removed them."

3. Challenge the urgency

When our phone bleeps with a message or notification, it can be tempting to instantly check it and respond, but McAlary says that we need to consider our priorities before being at the beck-and-call of our devices.

"I used to think every text message or email deserved a response right then [but now] I take them at the level of importance they need," she says.

"I've started to realise that what one person will think is urgent is their agenda and if it takes me an hour to respond, I no longer feel guilty about it."

A good way to determine what requires an instant response is to consider how else you could spend your time.

"Time is finite and our energy is finite so I no longer feel okay about spending it doing something I don't want to do," McAlary says.

"I weigh up, 'Is me spending half an hour on this group message a good use of my time?' and 'What am I having to say no to as a result of doing this? Am I saying no to hanging out with my kids while doing this, or am I happy to be doing this and missing out on that time?'"

4. Make it fun or productive

There's no reason why we can't all indulge in some Twitter scrolling or Pinterest stalking if that's what we feel like doing – McAlary says the slow living way simply requires us not to use tech on auto-pilot.

"If you're doing it and you're enjoying it [that's] fine – it's about using it as a tool, rather than using it as a crutch."," she says.

"But if it's something that is bombarding your brain and you're diving head first into the internet every day not getting anything from it at all, then that's really the opposite of slow tech."