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Do we need a digital detox?

Posted by: Greg Hall
22/09/2016

The term “digital detox” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary 3 years ago to describe a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers. The detox is regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress and focus on the more social aspects of your life and the world around you.

Our over-reliance on technology coupled with our increasing obsession with being constantly “connected” is changing many aspects of our lives, most without us even realising it. UK adults spend an average of 8 hours and 41 minutes a day looking at a screen of some description; we spend less time sleeping. With 71% of UK adults owning a smartphone and 80% of these saying that checking it is the first thing they do in the morning, our reliance is affecting our productivity and perhaps other areas of our lives too. We are still a long way from fully understanding the effects that the overuse of technology can have on us, but research is increasingly being conducted on the subject.

Most recently, Ofcom compiled their annual communication report and discovered that 34% of internet users have taken up to a month off from the web after becoming “hooked” on their devices. This high usage of smartphones has been linked to high levels of anxiety caused by the fear of losing or being without a smartphone; a condition known as nomophobia. 

Other studies have shown strong links between heavy internet use and mental health issues such as depression, which is often exacerbated by frequent social media use. In fact, social media has been linked with high levels of low self-esteem and has been found to make 7 million Brits “depressed” after looking at their friends “perfect” lives. But always keep in mind that these lives that are promoted on social media are often not comparable to reality. Social media has also been found to promote traits such as narcissism and reduced empathy. Further, excessive social media usage has also shown to result in poor academic performance; this is probably due to being constantly distracted and not being able to focus on completing school work or studying for exams.

So what is all this tech addiction doing to our brains?

Neuroimaging research has shown that excessive screen time actually damages structural and functional changes in the brain that relate to our emotional process, executive attention, decision making and cognitive control. Further, our attention spans have significantly decreased to less than a goldfish since smartphones came onto the market around 15 years ago. The average human attention span is now recorded at just 8 seconds, falling from 12 seconds before the mobile revolution began. Our memory has also been directly affected as we are unable to process information during conversations because we tend to be attached to some form of device and therefore we are not present in the conversation. Plus, why would we engage our brains with learning when we rely on Google for information and knowledge so much?!

What about the social consequences?

Studies have shown that 21% of UK children feel that their parents don’t listen to them properly because they are too busy using their mobile. Face-to-face communication is declining with more than 58% of adults saying they use texts once a day to communicate with friends and family while only 49% meet people face-to-face on a daily basis; and 39% of children say that sometimes they communicate with a parent via text, email or social media whilst actually in the house with them, rather than going and speaking face-to-face. However, 67% of adults say that they would prefer to communicate face-to-face, but their busy lives prevent this from happening.

Finally, what about the physical affects?

A study conducted by Kovert, a creative agency who’s mission is to help people detach from technology and live happier lives by creating technology boundary products, concentrated on how technology is transforming peoples physical bodies and behaviours. As part of their research Kovert handpicked 35 CEOs to take a trip to Morocco. On the first day of the trip the CEOs stayed in a hotel together with connections to technology. For the following four days the group travelled out into a remote area of Morocco no access to technology. Kovert’s neuroscientists monitored the differences in the CEOs behaviour throughout the study and observed a number of changes between the days with and without technology. Due to the absence of screens and smartphones the CEOs had improved posture, began looking forward and made more eye contact rather than being hunched and bent down over their phone. This opened up their chests, realigned their head with their back and created a general sense of improved energy. The increased eye contact meant they had more meaningful conversations, felt empathy and created better bonds. Memories were also improved with the CEOs remembering detailed information about each other. The CEOs described their sleep as better and deeper and feeling more rested. It was also recorded that the CEOs began to make more decisions and contemplate their life choices and state of well being, which has often been neglected due to the constant distraction of technology.

Andrew Przybylski, an experimental psychologist at the Oxford Internet Institute has commented that much of this research creates a contradiction in our digital life because 3 in 4 people believe technology brings us closer but nearly one in two people say it gets in the way. Przybylski claims that currently, internet addiction is not a recognised psychiatric disorder; it’s not as serious as addictions such as gambling or alcoholism. Although, the US and China have both created rehab like facilities to treat technology overuse. But I think everyone can benefit from a little less “irrelevant” technology use such as browsing YouTube and wasting hours of your life achieving nothing from it. A digital detox may give you the time to think about what is really important in your life and help you prioritise what you really need do rather than responding every time your phone makes the smallest noise.

 







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