Technology is a wonderful thing. After all, this article is being written on a computer in Massachusetts, and you might be reading it on a tablet in New Zealand. If you like it, maybe you'll tweet it to followers who span continents. Technology has enabled us to connect with each other across the globe and talk as if we were in the same room.
Paradoxically, technology can also make connecting to those in the same room more difficult -- hard enough that our family and friends on the couch right next to us may as well be across the globe. Tech addiction is a very real thing, with people paying hundreds of dollars to attend tech-free camps.
So, going into the holiday season, what's the best way to unplug from work and Twitter long enough to reconnect with the world immediately around you? Here are five hair-of-the-dog solutions (much cheaper than camp!) to prevent your work email from interfering with your holiday dinners this year.
The Freedom app (Figure A) costs $10.00 (USD) and is available for Mac, Windows, and Android.
The Freedom app.Freedom is designed to shut your Internet off so you can get work done on your computer, but if the Internet is what's tempting you back to your screen this holiday season, you can definitely use this app to remove that concern. Simply turn on Freedom and tell it how long you'd like to stay off the Internet, and it won't allow you to access the Internet for that amount of time. Freedom is touted by successful people like Zadie Smith and Dave Eggers, so you know it has to be great. If social media, in particular, is your Achilles Heel, you can bundle Freedom and Anti-Social together.
Unplug and Reconnect
The Unplug and Reconnect app (Figure B) is free and available for Android devices 2.1 and up.
The Unplug and Reconnect app.With this app, you can schedule the time you want to unplug. When that time arrives, your phone will turn off all notifications and tell people who try to contact you that you'll get back to them later. It'll even post to Twitter and Facebook to let people know not to bother you. After the specified amount of time, your phone will go right back to the way it was -- no need to remember to turn the app off. Not only is this app free, it's free of ads as well.
The Pause app is free and available for both iOS (Figure C) and Android devices.
The Pause app on an iPhone 5.Still have fidgety thumbs? Make a game of it by competing with your friends for how long your phone can stay in airplane mode. This app lets you pick an amount of time to do an activity (play a sport, spend time with family, etc.) and then challenges you to go to the settings and stick your phone in airplane mode. The downside is that you have to remember to switch it back. The upside is that it still lets you brag about how wonderful your life is -- tell your friends what you're doing with all this glorious time you're not spending texting them. Even add a picture.
4. Silencify: Smart Silence
The Silencify : Smart Silence app is free and available for Android devices 2.2 and up (Figure D).
The Silencify app.Are you the kind of person who doesn't go to your phone unless it beeps or buzzes at you? Schedule times, like when you're supposed to be sleeping or when you're supposed to be taking your Christmas picture, as notification-free. The best part of this app is that you can have repeat scheduling. So, if you have Sunday dinner, you can silence your phone from 5:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. every Sunday.
The brb. app is free and available for Apple devices with iOS 6 or later (Figure E).
The brb. app.
Do you have a tough time putting down the tech because you don't want to snub a friend or a co-worker? The brb. app might be perfect for you, because it lets your friends know what's up -- it's like a big away message for your phone. It also has an analytics component, letting you know how much time you've spent away from your phone (called "checking out") and showing you how you rank among your friends. And, as with AIM away messages of yore, this app yields some humorous results.
If the idea of unplugging seems crazy or unattainable, you could always turn your tech into a holiday fireplace. I'm sure that there are many other apps on the market to help you disconnect and thus reconnect with family and friends over the holidays. What apps, if any, do you recommend? Share your experience in the discussion thread below -- and then get out of here and unplug!