Since the rise of the Internet and the integration of technology into our everyday lives, our society has fundamentally changed to become more digitally dependent than ever before. With workplaces shifting business functions online and activities like social media increasingly occupying free time, the day-to-day experience of the average person is becoming dominated by the digital space. In fact, between TV and personal devices, Americans spend an average of seven hours in front of a screen on any given day, and for good reason -- the Internet puts the world at our fingertips, offering instant access to all the information we could ever dream of. Smartphones keep us constantly connected to the people that matter most in our lives, with loved ones just a button press away. While there are many upsides to an online lifestyle, excessive screen time can have a negative impact on your health and overall wellbeing.
The Toll of Technology
Between personal smartphones, work computers, and smart televisions, the average person can plug into online content anytime and anywhere. While this allows us the flexibility to work and connect from anywhere, it can also lead to digital dependence – just think about how much time you spend tethered to a laptop during the day or how often you find yourself compulsively checking your phone for no real reason. In effect, personal devices have removed any sense of downtime in our lives, a shock to the system that disrupts our mental health and daily routines. The burden of digital dependency can be felt in many ways – here are three concrete examples of how it can impact our lives.
- Disrupted Sleeping Habits: Device usage before bed can impact the quality of our sleep – the electronic light disrupts sleep patterns and alters our brain’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
- Shortened Attention Span: Between platforms with intentionally short formats and algorithms that produce an endless stream of content, attention spans among heavy social media users have become noticeably shorter than the average person’s.
- Vision Issues: Anyone who sits in front of a computer screen all day can tell you firsthand how much of a strain LED light places on your eyes. Prolonged exposure to screens can cause users’ vision to become blurry and make focusing more difficult.
Starting Your Digital Detox
While using screens for hours on end is inevitable in today’s connected world, here are a few tips to help you use technology more mindfully in your daily life.
- Take a Break from Screens: This one might seem obvious, but it’s important to schedule time away from screens each day. Determine which devices you are most attached to and come up with a rule for how long you’ll allow yourself to use them uninterrupted. If you find yourself stuck staring at your work laptop all day, set a reminder to take a five-minute break to walk around the office or stretch for every hour you spend online. If you’re spending too much time on your phone, set a timer for how long you can spend on a particular social media app before switching to offline activity.
- Begin the Day Without Screens: Whether it’s checking the morning news headlines or watching a video with breakfast, for many of us, our phones are the first thing we see every day. If you’ll be in front of a computer all day at work, try to plan your morning routine so that your screen is not the first thing you reach for when you wake up.
- Delete Unnecessary Apps: If you often find yourself mindlessly scrolling or wasting time on a particular app, take away the temptation by deleting apps from your phone that aren’t absolutely necessary. You’ll find that when timewaster apps aren’t as readily available, you’ll lose the desire to seek them out.
The devices in our lives provide a world of opportunity for connection and engagement, but can encourage unhealthy habits because of the short-term dopamine cycles they rely on to keep our attention. Keeping these tips in mind can help you realize the amazing benefits of technology, while also balancing your digital dependence on smartphones and other connected devices.