It is more apparent now than ever: digital technology can hold us back from making meaningful connections. The evidence is beginning to mount that being constantly connected to one another through technology is doing more damage to our lives than we would like to admit.

The ever-present newsfeed of our social networks has, for many of us, caused us to become more anxious, distracted, and unhappy. While this is certainly a cause for concern on its own, it is especially harmless in the classroom. The classroom, a space dedicated to learning and the fostering of new knowledge, is severely held back by the temptation of technology.

Today, teachers and educators around the world are having to compete for attention with the array of high-tech gadgets that kids and teenagers now have access to. More and more, teachers are beginning to lose this fight as kids ignore their lessons in favor of their phones. This is unacceptable.

We need new ways to cope with these new constraints that have been put on both teachers and students. Foresters realizes this. For years, Foresters has been organizing the “Tech Timeout Academic Challenge”. The Challenge urges schoolteachers to pledge to a 3-day technology detox. The benefits, participants insist, are staggering.

The Challenge

Since its inception, the Tech Timeout Academic Challenge has been taken by over 12,000 students in North America alone. The Challenge is run by Foresters, which is an international fraternal benefit organization dedicated to promoting family well-being and community cohesion. For nearly 150 years, Foresters has provided many public services for communities around the world.

The Tech Timeout Academic Challenge is a social experiment unlike any other. It proposes that taking time away from technology can help us not only appreciate the many benefits that our technologies provide us, but also remember the benefits of going without them.

 

The Challenge requires participating classrooms to go a full three days (weekends don’t count!) without any internet-enabled devices. These include our cell phones (obviously), but also our tablets and computers. Without these devices, we are then free from distraction and impediments to our learning. Once a class has officially taken the pledge at the Tech Timeout website, then a start-up kit will await them.

Since many schools and classrooms require some degree of technology use in order to meet their responsibilities, it is important that entire classes take on the Challenge. If only one student takes the pledge, then this can isolate the student or even cause their learning to suffer. This, of course, is the complete opposite of the movement’s intention.

The Challenge is not just reserved for K-12 education either. Many post-secondary educational institutions have also capitalized on this growing trend, including Louisiana Tech University. This means that there is no excuse for not giving the Challenge a shot—taking a Tech Timeout is appropriate for learners of any age.

Help Build “Real” Life Skills

For many of us, having an excuse to put down our phones is sorely needed. By getting rid of the distractions of our phones and tablets, we can begin to find other, more productive activities. And with a little effort, these small changes in lifestyle can lead to major overall improvements in one’s life.

For a young student, lifestyle changes such as these are crucial. Not long ago, the phrase “screen time” implied sitting down in front of your family’s single television. Now, it refers to the countless hours that students spend glued in front of their phones, tablets, televisions, laptops, and desktop PCs. Clearly, things have changed, and our lifestyles have too.

By being constantly “plugged in”, we find that we have less time to devote to creative endeavors, face-to-face socializing, and other tasks that require concrete life skills. These skills, which often require high emotional intelligence or physical fitness, were once taken for granted. As we lose them, we realize how necessary they truly are.

The Tech Timeout Academic Challenge asks us to do exactly that. To realize the necessity of unplugging, and to take the time to celebrate the time we spend without our gadgets.  

What’s In a Kit?

Once you take the pledge on the Tech Timeout Academic Challenge website, you are then sent a start-up kit. This start-up kit costs $79.95 and includes a DVD that explains how to get started. The kit also features loads of other great, informative stuff that can help you along the way.

Every kit features a DVD copy of “Sleeping with Siri”. This is an award-winning documentary film by Michael Stusser. In it, Stusser does the exact opposite of the Tech Timeout pledge: he commits to an entire week of binging on technology. Afterward, he rewards himself with a much-needed week without any tech whatsoever.

“Sleeping with Siri” is a great movie that nicely showcases all the many health benefits that come with this (brief) lifestyle change. It makes for a fantastic, family-friendly watch at home or in the classroom to show students what they are in for and why they are taking the challenge in the first place.

Second, every kit comes with the official Tech Timeout Academic Challenge promotional video. This is a short documentary-style movie that chronicles the experiences of an elementary classroom in the US’ Pacific Northwest. The action follows the class as they take their 3-day tech hiatus, and interviews the students both before and after.

Another important feature of the start-up kit is the activity guide. This handy guide is a booklet that lists all of the critical discussions and classroom activities that are recommended to get the most out of the experience. Even if the class does not follow through with the whole time-out, this still allows them to realize its benefit.

Start-up kits also feature the organizer’s guide. This pamphlet includes basic tips and tricks for putting on a Tech Timeout, including how to best leverage social media and other social networks to engage the community. (Yes, yes, there is some irony at play here).

Each kit also comes with the all-important informational guide to speaking with parents. For many teachers, there are parental conversations that are uncomfortable to have. Explaining why their child’s phone has been taken away is certainly one of them. That’s why this little guidebook is so important.

FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out

The “fear of missing out”, otherwise known as “FOMO”, is a psychological phenomenon characterized by a deep fear of being left behind or excluded from group activities. In recent years, this has become a whole lot worse.

The rise of FOMO has been brought on by excessive social media use, which causes us to be constantly aware of what our friends and colleagues are doing from minute to minute. This creates a social environment in which everybody believes that others are having a better time than themselves. This is because social media users only see a selective view of others’ lives.

In reality, we all have our share of ups and downs. Our lives are certainly not the non-stop highlight reels that our Instagram and Facebook accounts purport them to be. Realizing this is one of the first major steps in any Tech Timeout experience. Once this fact is internalized, we no longer feel as compelled to constantly check our phones.

The strong pull of FOMO keeps us all locked into our phone screens. Many of us, whether conscious of it or not, are overwhelmed with a sense of urgency when it comes to our social media presence. We always need to check out the newest content on those addictive apps, and immediately.

FOMO keeps us sucked into the matrix that is social media gone amok. It does not have to be this way, though. By taking a hiatus from digital devices, we can learn about why we experience FOMO, why it is a counter-productive and erroneous psychological impairment, and also how to overcome it. It all starts with taking the pledge.

What’s There to Gain?

Those who take the Timeout pledge cite a long list of benefits that they experience. From mental health, to physical health, to environmental sustainability—there are countless reasons to try the Tech Timeout Academic Challenge.

The jury is out, a digital diet plan is a fantastic idea if you care about not only your own wellbeing, but the planet’s too. By conserving the amount of time we spend on our screens, we give our minds a break from the constant input of ours newsfeeds. We are also encouraged to get up and move our bodies, and to save on energy consumption.

That is why the Tech Timeout experience is not about “losing” access to your device. In fact, it is about so much more than just that. It is about gaining a whole new world of health, wellbeing, and gratitude that our phones and personal devices rob us of.

The Health Benefits

There are many physical health benefits that taking the Tech Timeout can give us. Each of which are important for maintaining our wellbeing and full participation in the classroom.

One of the key benefits to putting down our devices is a massive increase in sleep quality. By restricting our access to the blue light emitted by our devices, we can enjoy a natural, restful sleep. When we look at our phones and other digital devices before sleep, we essentially trick our bodies into thinking that it is daytime. This disrupts our body’s internal clock.

Second, getting off of our devices usually also leads to getting out of our chairs and away from our desks. This, in turn, encourages a greater amount of physical activity. Our bodies crave physical activity, and being glued to our laptops and phones prevents this.

The Mental Benefits

Most of the mental benefits from the Tech Timeout experience are social in nature. Although it is somewhat of a paradox to some, getting away from social media can in fact make us more social in our day-to-day lives.

Sealing away our phones for three days lets us reconnect with others in the way that we are naturally inclined to do. That is, face to face. This causes a greater sense of togetherness with whoever it is you’re socializing with, as well as a greater degree of empathy and understanding.

Lastly, getting away from technology also causes us to de-stress and report lower levels of depression, anxiety, and restlessness. By taking a hiatus from our gadgets, we can finally relax and kick back without the constant nag of our inboxes and newsfeeds.

The Environmental Benefits

The environmental impact of taking a tech hiatus is often not well understood. However, it is crucial to realizing the full benefits of the exercise.

Household electronics consume a massive amount of energy every year. By getting rid of small devices such as phones or tablets, even for just a few days, can make a considerable impact on your “carbon footprint”. By using less energy, you contribute less to environmental exploitation and help encourage more sustainable consumption habits. From this, everyone benefits!

What’s There to Lose?

The Tech Timeout Academic Challenge is the perfect way for your classroom, or family, to reconnect. By sealing away your devices in a Tech Timeout envelope for a whole three days, our lives begin to change. And in big ways.

Suddenly, we find lectures and class lessons to become easier to follow. We find our relationships with friends and family are more engaging, as we are no longer mediated through phone screens. Instead, face to face interaction becomes a more gratifying and rewarding emotional experience.

Does the Tech Timeout Academic Challenge sound right for you? We can’t recommend it enough. After all, there is nothing to lose (except a whole lot of FOMO) and a world of reconnection to gain. So, why not give it a try?

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