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Autumn Trees at Walden PondWhen technology becomes too much, where do modern consumers turn? To more technology, of course. In the face of growing recognition of the ways that new technologies have a tendency to take over people’s lives and attention spans, several newly introduced tools promise to give users a break. A recent article highlights six ways to take a technology time-out:

  1. Do-not-disturb apps. These tools help users avoid disruptions and distractions. Some basic apps simply send all calls directly to voice mail; a more sophisticated version allows calls through if the same person calls more than once within two minutes, to make sure users are available in case of emergency. If consumers place near-field communication devices in their bedrooms, a related app can automatically lower the volume on their phone’s ringer as soon as they enter the room.
  2. Driving apps. Similar technologies are available that simply turn off all ringers, beeps, and flashes when the cell phone is in a moving car. These devices, such as Cellcontrol, likely appeal to parents of teenaged drivers, who want to prevent any texting in the vehicle, but other versions, such as the Safely Go app, leave it up to the driver to implement the function, each time she or he starts the car.
  3. Website blockers. These devices appeal both to parents, seeking to keep their children from accessing inappropriate content, and procrastinators, seeking to prevent themselves from popping over to Facebook when they should be writing their term paper. Some devices even allow users to set specific usage times, so they cannot turn on Netflix in the afternoon, but they know it’s there waiting for them after dinner.
  4. Facebook options. For most people, Facebook may be absolutely the most addictive way to get stuck in a technology bubble. Yet the site itself already offers various solutions. Users can choose which updates they receive (e.g., no more Farmville updates or invitations), as well as which friends’ posts appear first in their news feed. They also can demote a friend to “acquaintance” status or, if the posts get too overwhelming, delete them as friends altogether.
  5. Exercise apps. It may sound contradictory, but some excellent apps give users hints on ways to live a more physically active life away from the computer. For example, the Oh, Ranger! Park Finder app helps potential hikers find nearby national and state parks.
  6. Extended reading. A potentially dangerous effect of the spread of technology devices is the apparent effects it is having on people’s reading and thinking skills. When information is always just a click away, people’s brains stop developing the links that support critical thinking. For technology addicts, the answer may be e-readers, which allow users to engage with long, challenging texts but still offer the lighting and convenience benefits of a portable tablet.

Henry David Thoreau, in his experiment living completely off the land, went back home to have his mother do his laundry. Similarly, all of these tools allow users to end their technology break if and when they must. In the meantime, it might be nice to take a walk and do a little reading, with all the phones turned off.

Source: Michael Hsu, “Simplify Your Tech Life, Thoreau-Style,” The Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2013

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