Leona O'Neill

Leona O'Neill has been a journalist in Northern Ireland for over 20 years working with, among others, the Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life, Daily Mirror and the Irish News. She is also a news reporter on Q Radio, a weekly columnist with the Irish News and a commentator for the BBC. She is a mother of four children - two of them teenagers - and as such is also a full-time professional worrier.

I’m sure by now, like me, you’ve ditched all the New Year’s resolutions, are back on the chocolate, have convinced yourself that wine is a fruit and therefore part of a legitimate healthy living regime and that you never really wanted to be a supermodel size eight anyway.

But if there’s one resolution that might do all of us some good and that costs considerably less than a gym membership card that will just sit gathering dust in a drawer, it might be to spend our time more productively online.

The term ‘digital detox’ will become a familiar one in 2019 as more people move away from the at times toxic environment of social media and opt to put down their phones and submerge themselves in the real world.

Where once upon a time, people who chose to unplug from the online world might have been, rather unfairly, branded ‘hippies’, the trend is becoming more and more commonplace as people see the impact that constantly being hooked up to online domains is having on their lives.

And, of course, the digital world has tapped into this newly emerging fad, and have developed apps and features to feed the public’s new desire for real time experiences.

Apple have developed a new Screen Time feature which has been horrifying Apple users the land over in recent weeks. The feature is designed to log the time you spend on your phone each day, what apps you use and indeed how many times you pick up your phone daily. It is designed to help users spend less time on their phones.

The tool, which was recently launched by Apple CEO Tim Cook, has left phone-addicted customers across the land aghast at the amount of time they are spending glued to their screens. Quite alarming recent research has revealed that people in the UK check their phone every 12 minutes. As a reporter who has to have my finger on the pulse of the news 24/7, I’d say for me that is a gross underestimation of the time I spend online.

There is a huge pressure these days on people to be ‘constantly on’ in the cyber world, but being perpetually connected is not doing none of us any good. For many of us our phones are the last thing we look at at night and the first thing we reach for in the morning. It takes us away from our children and loved ones, stifles conversation and causes great distraction.

So what can we do about it in 2019?

Set yourself free

Untether yourself from your phone. If, like me, you walk around with your phone in your back pocket it’s always there and so is the temptation to get sucked into the social media abyss. Stick your phone in a drawer for a few hours. Your phone loses its addictive power if it’s out of reach and isn’t so easily accessible. If you are on a diet, walking around with a tasty hot BBQ chicken drumstick constantly in your hand is not the most sensible of plans. Apply the same ethos to your phone.

Make your distinctions between good and bad online use

Sorry to mention turkey at a time when people are fed up looking at it, but you do not need to go cold turkey with your device. We should just be more mindful where we are spending our time and our energy. Perhaps social media is your distraction downfall and you want to be more productive. Just de-install your social media apps and your time online will be a lot more peaceful and productive.

Kids do what they see

Children follow the example made by us parents. If your kids see nothing but your blue lit face and your head constantly in your phone, they will rightly assume that is normal behaviour. If we set good examples by putting our devices down and taking part in real conversations, looking them in the eye and engaging fully, they might just follow our lead.

Everyone slips up

As with all New Year resolutions, this one will be hard to keep. Don’t set strict rules for yourself, just vow to cut down and try to stick with that. Breaking habits is a hard thing to do. Any kind of lasting healthy habit takes time to get established. A lot of what we do online is almost on autopilot. If you’re like me you’ll have picked up your phone and have been scrolling through Facebook for half an hour without even taking anything in. Vow to pick up your phone to do something purposeful – send a text, post a photo to Facebook, check emails, read an interesting article – and then put it away again.