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How to go on a digital diet

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By Chicago Tribune
Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Cellphones, for many people, have morphed into an extra appendage, always within reach except for that time you accidentally left it at home and suffered a minor panic attack.

Our constant connectedness has its benefits, but when people can't get through dinner without responding to their phone's pings, or they so restlessly check their Facebook and Twitter feeds that they walk blindly into traffic, it may be a sign that the white-knuckled grip people have on their phones is actually the phones' grip on them.

Here are 14 exercises to help you practice phone restraint.

• Charge your phone outside of your bedroom so you don't plunge into the digital stream as soon as you open your eyes, said Daniel Sieberg, author of “The Digital Diet.”

• Don't check your work email until you get to work.

• Keep your phone off the table during meals so that you're not interrupted or tempted to fiddle with it.

• Play “phone stack” when dining with friends to give everyone a financial incentive to focus on the flesh-and-blood humans in front of them. Here's how: Everyone puts their phones on the table, face down, stacked one on top of the other. The first person to grab his/her phone has to pick up the whole tab.

• Experience something first, post about it later, Sieberg said. Interrupting the activity you're engaged in to tweet or post photos of said activity distracts from your enjoyment of the experience — especially when you then keep checking to see if anyone has commented.

•When you compose your out-of-office reply for a vacation, say that any correspondence sent during that time will self-destruct; if it's important, people will just have to contact you upon your return.

• Leave your phone behind when you go on a walk or to the gym or take a lunch break or any other time you don't really need it.

• Log out of Facebook every time you close the page, suggests Nancy Baym, author of “Personal Connections in the Digital Age.” Just having the extra step of logging on each time you pull up Facebook can make you reconsider whether it's really what you want to do.

• Establish “tech breaks,” during which you spend a minute or two catching up on your virtual social connections before turning your phone on silent and placing it face down, suggests research psychologist Larry Rosen. Wait 15 minutes before you allow yourself to look at your phone again (set an alarm). As you become accustomed to letting it sit, lengthen the time between tech breaks.

• Abstain from automatically whipping out your phone any moment you find yourself alone. Instead, take in the scene around you. Strike up a conversation with a stranger. Think deep thoughts.

Put your phone in the trunk while you drive. Keep your phone on silent. When you happen to look at it later, you can see what you missed. iPhone users can also use the new “Do Not Disturb” feature.

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