Finding Offline balance in an Online world

Is your family leading a life that is heads-down or heads-up? Did we get you thinking? Read on for inputs a hands-on ‘expert’ dad in this exclusive conversation.

By Dr Meghna Singhal  • 10 min read

Finding Offline balance in an Online world
Connecting in an offline world

Short-sighted. Elsewhere in thought. Self-absorbed. This is how Blake Snow describes himself in the years 2003-2009—a period which he calls his workaholic, Internet-addicted years. He neglected his family, his health, his social life, and his hobbies. Ironically, though a workaholic, always on his laptop, his ‘being logged on’ also hindered his work.

Fortunately, he abandoned this stagnant period of his life through a life changing moment while vacationing in Montana with his family, where he was cut off completely from the Internet and cell phone coverage. Deeply impacted by how much he was able to focus on his family and how enriched his life had suddenly become, Blake started penning his book. Titled Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting, the geek-turned-author presents rigorously researched and tested connectivity strategies for finding offline balance in an online world.

When we contacted Snow for an interview, he not only promptly agreed, he reverted with the answers in less than three hours! Now, that’s an instant connection!

We present to you Blake Snow. Thank you Blake! It is indeed an honour to interact with you.
Read on for an interesting conversation. It’s a ParentCircle Exclusive:

You have credited your struggle with work-life balance to the alluring draw of the smartphone. How do you manage to resist this allure?

With lots of boundaries! I turn off all audible notifications unless I get a call or text from my wife or children (This summer Apple CEO Tim Cook said he does the same!). The only visual alerts I have are little bubbles for text messages. If I want to see what's there, I decide when and where I look at them; same goes for email. It's liberating and time-creating!

“I truly believe that keeping our phones in our pockets is one of the bravest things that any of us can do” you say in your book Log Off. Why do you think so?
Smartphones actually make us asocial. So, if we want to change the world, both professionally and personally, we must be present in it (the world). That's why I think it's such a brave thing to do now.

Smartphones make us asocial. That’s an interesting thought. What strategies can one utilise to ‘disconnect to connect’?
The above boundaries and anti-social advice are a great starting point. The problem with smartphones is they're made by some of the smartest mathematicians and behavioural scientists working in Silicon Valley. They're the most powerful tool invented since the Internet, but they're also incredibly addictive. Never before have those two things been combined in one, which causes a lot of problems. To better-connect with the humans in front of us and in person (instead of the distant ones via electronic screens), we must break away from our phones with greater regularity.

Is that how one finds ‘offline balance in the online world’?
In addition to the above, I practice the Rule of Thirds. That means 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work, and 8 hours of free-time each day. I also believe in taking several breaks after 90 minutes of intense work, like concert violinists often do.

But is the rule of thirds realistic in today’s world where work-life balance is accentuated by commute to and from the workplace?
As my book recommends, the rule of thirds is an ideal, not a mandatory practice. I realize this isn't feasible for everyone, but I think it's something each of us should strive for. So if you have to work extra hard for a season of your life, that's okay. But that's not a sustainable strategy in the long-run. The sooner we accept that, the more fulfilling personal, professional, and healthy lives we can each lead.

Coming to children, how can parents become more aware of the device habits around their children? Is that turning into a big problem, which could explode any moment?
Do you want to teach your children how to live a heads-down life (always looking at your screen) or a heads-up life (mostly focused on the people and things in our immediate vicinity)? Example is the most powerful thing we can do as parents. That said, we must also instil even stricter usages boundaries for our children. For example, not giving them smartphones until 14-16 years of age and not allow them to sleep with their phones. Parents should limit the apps, adult content, social media usage, and monitor their children’s overall gadget usage.

What are some of the ways you propose to prevent our gadgets from harming our connection with our children?
We must teach our children that social media is mostly an illusion. Yes, it's a great way to keep up with distant family and friends, but it's also a proven way to make us miserable when we overuse it, which many of us do. Therefore an increasing number of people (including I) are choosing to delete social media in favour of a more enriched in-person social life. I believe we need to teach our children the difference between in-person and electronic relationships and encourage them to prioritize the former over the latter.

ParentCircle is hosting the world’s first ever #GadgetFreeHour campaign to help families connect better. The idea is to keep away from all gadgets for one hour upon returning from work (7:30-8:30pm on Nov 14, which is celebrated as Children’s Day in India) and rediscover the magic of spending time with your child. What do you think of this initiative?
I think it's great! As I outline in my book, my family does two week-long screen fasts per year to reset our appreciation for analog life and spending time with one another while avoiding our phones. My children hate it but we always come out a stronger family at the end of each fast. 

In a Nutshell

  • Breaking away or fasting from our smartphones at a greater regularity is important
  • Families should start practising the Rule of Thirds. That means 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work, and 8 hours of free-time each day
  • Parents should not give their children smartphones until 14-16 years of age and not allow them to sleep with their phones
  • Children should understand the difference between in-person and electronic relationships and should be encouraged to prioritize the former over the latter

What you can do right away

  • Turn off all audible notifications on your phone
  • Every year take a screen fast with your family

About Blake Snow

  • American writer-for-hire and work-from-home dad
  • Has written for half of the top 20 U.S. media and dozens more in the top 100
  • Advises Fortune 500 companies as a strategic consultant
  • When he’s not working, he enjoys staying offline, soaking it up with his soulmate, raising five children, working on his body, trying to visit all seven continents, and cooking

About the author:
Interviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD on 25 October 2019. Reviewed on 15 November 2019.
Dr. Singhal is a clinical psychologist with a doctorate degree from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia). She is Head of the Content Solutions Zone at ParentCircle.

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