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How to get your guests’ faces out of their phones this Thanksgiving

enjoy thanksgiving holiday digital free
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The upcoming holiday is not just about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the football game, or all the turkey you will eat that will sooner push you into food comaville – really it’s about spending time with friends and loved ones and having fun, in real life rather than on the Web, where most people are lurking periodically. This digital cut off isn’t easy: According to research, most consumers who have regular Internet access are meltdown prone upon unplugging. 

The Unplug Series – a site that helps social media addicts, geeks and the overly wired come to terms with their dependence on technology – has released the results of their recently concluded study which asked over 6,000 respondents 18 years and older the question that’s almost as old as the Internet: What would you do if you could unplug from technology for 24 hours?

The answers are obvious and expected. They would read books (17 percent), go outside  (13 percent), hang out with their families (11 percent), and even clean their houses (10 percent). But a very high 20 percent admitted that they would feel crazy, depressed, and suffer terrible withdrawal symptoms if they have to go on a 24-hour Facebook-free diet. “With users checking their smartphones every six and a half minutes and people spending over six billion minutes on Facebook each day, the results of this study are not surprising,” says Gemini Adams, founder of The Unplug Series and author of The Facebook Diet. 

But if you don’t want to see your guests’ heads buried in their smartphone screens this upcoming Thursday, there are options for minimizing the online time without going cold turkey (pun intended). 

1. Don’t underestimate the pre-game.

You barely have a week left till Thanksgiving, so much like dieting for the main event in order to make room for all the food you will stuff your face with, it’s best to do warm-up tasks that will distract you from needing your social media fix.

We’ve already established that Internet addiction is a real thing and that while some people readily spend money on things like digital detoxes, there are actually a number of ways you can fight it off without spending a lot of money. You can start off by setting hourly computer breaks for yourself. Going “Away From Keyboard” for even just 10 minutes is long enough to clear your brain cache and will hopefully wean you off the habit of refreshing your News Feed every five minutes.

While you’re on that 10 minute break, choose a positive new habit to fixate on to replace your social media-related one, like reading at least five pages of an actual book or doing 20 sit-ups. Engage in a conversation or organize your desk.

Schedule “social media time” and keep it short – 15-30 minutes to check your email as well as all your social media feeds is more than enough time. You have the option of breaking it down into two separate 15 minute breaks, as it will force you to prioritize which sites are more important to check and will give you more time for other things. Install a program like RescueTime to track where you’re spending all your online time and set goals for minimizing wasted minutes and hours. 

Now that we’ve adequately laid out all the groundwork, let’s move on to a couple of cool things for you and the family to do on D-Day (or should I say, T-Day):

2. Disconnect and hide the wireless router.

This really isn’t rocket science – if you have relatives coming over to your house for a Thanksgiving feast, not having Wi-Fi enabled will surely hinder people’s Internet surfing capabilities. And while most people will simply use their smartphones for Internet, there’s a quick and easy fix for that, if you’re brave: Allow everyone to use their phones as they please, but make a “no phones at the table” rule. Or, have a charging station – conveniently located away from the kitchen and living room areas. If you’re truly bold and hell bent on keeping phones out of the celebration, this next suggestion is for you.

3. Instead of having a flower arrangement for a table centerpiece, assign a bowl to be your family’s smartphone stash.

Doing this is an awesome indication that you intend to uphold a digital-free holiday dinner –anyone who sees the bowl knows that they’re in the same gadget-less boat and wouldn’t feel deprived or oppressed. Of course, this is assuming that as a host, your self-control is the most intact, so don’t be the jerk who secretly goes to the bathroom with your iPhone to post an Instagram pic of the turkey in the oven. No phones means no phones. The first person to reach for theirs loses. Have prizes, if you’re really into this, for the longest holdout.

4. Create a new Thanksgiving tradition.

It can be any fun group activity, like a friendly game of flag football or a scavenger hunt for random themed items like mini-pumpkins (kind of like an Easter egg hunt, Thanksgiving edition). The great outdoors is an effective stress reliever, so as long as you keep everyone busy outside, you can rest assured that their Facebook feeds will be the last thing on their minds. People might take a photo here and there, or even check Facebook or send out a tweet, but the distraction could keep these things from becoming the main mode of entertainment. 

5. Try to limit the food porn pics.

You have to concede to the fact that it’s nice to have at least one memento of your holiday spent with your loved ones, and also that everyone will want at least one picture of their heaping plates. But after the first, maybe second, maybe third picture, suggest it’s time to put the phones away and actually taste the meal. 

6. Use “time’s up!” apps. 

It seems like the worst offenders of digital addiction are small children, with their little iPad, smartphone-hogging hands. Install an app on your tablet or smartphone that allows them to play for a set amount of time, and then locks up after the clock runs down. There are a few good options out there. They’re made for kids, but useful for anyone. 

Jam Kotenko
Former Digital Trends Contributor
When she's not busy watching movies and TV shows or traveling to new places, Jam is probably on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or…
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