Consider this: what if the various laptop, tablet and smartphone screens surrounding you are reshaping your brain to the same extent that they have already reshaped your daily habits? Think about it for a moment.
Instead of talking with a friend over the phone or walking over to a colleague’s desk to ask for feedback, you can forego real-time face-to-face conversation with the help of emails and texts. Instead of trying to find your way in a new town using a paper map, you mindlessly follow directions offered by GPS software. Instead of getting lost in deep thought during your commute home or while waiting in a store line, you outsource your attention to relentless streams of updates scrolling under your thumbs, whenever you feel the itch to leave the current moment.
The problem is that there are consequences to these seemingly innocuous bouts of screen time. We are becoming ever more dependent on entertainment-enhancing convenient screen tech, and our spatial and investigative intelligence are getting worse as a result. Recent research shows that our increasing dependence and usage of screen technology is rewiring our brains and causing shrinkage of 10 to 20 per cent of several small regions of that complex organ. And the longer the duration of the addiction, the more pronounced the tissue reduction. The effects? An increase in inappropriate behaviour and a reduced focus on goals.
Most average smartphone users nowadays have an excessive relationship with their screens. The result is long-term changes in the brain which closely resemble ADHD and even dementia. Perhaps this is happening because screen time works to deactivate the prefrontal cortex. Multitasking, divided attention and information overload from computer screens and smartphones have made people unable to fully understand what they are reading as our brains focus on details rather than overall meanings. Excessive time spent online can rewire structures deep in our brains. Even worse, surface-level brain matter appears to shrink in step with the duration of screen addiction.
On top of this, since we spend so many waking hours staring at screens, we are weakening our social skills.
None of this represents good news for us Mensans, but frankly no one can afford to suffer the consequences of falling headlong into screen addiction.
Are you at risk? You nay have an overuse problem of screen devices if you’ve asked yourself any of these questions:
- Why an I doing this instead of…
- Where did the time or money go?
- Why an I hiding this behaviour from my spouse or partner?
- What would people think of me if they saw me?
- Why can’t I stop using it?
Do you think you qualify as someone who is succumbing to excessive screen use, that interferes with your normal daily activities? Here are four ways to keep the negative influence of screen-tech at bay.
Make a point to interact with others face-to-face
In many professions and social circles it’s no longer possible (or even polite) to avoid use of emails or social media entirely. To counter this phenomenon, start thinking more creatively about the small ways in which you could limit screen-based communication by talking to people face-to-face.
Keep your phone tucked away while travelling on public transport and allow interactions with strangers to happen. Instead of writing emails to and fro, go for the slightly less convenient option of meeting in person. Your social-skills muscle is one that needs to be worked regularly, like any other.
Use alternatives to screens wherever possible
Rediscover habits that were so common for you until recently. Grab a real newspaper rather than flipping through a news app. Appreciate the smell of the newsprint, the various attractive fonts used, and the wideness of the open pages. Carry a pencil and small notebook and enjoy the fuller brain engagement that comes with writing in longhand instead of typing on your phone or tablet. Keep a real calendar on you desk and take comfort in the physical presence of an object that keeps all of your scheduling information. While you will still use your phone and computer for the majority of the other tasks in your life, adding these additional textures and visual stimulation will do your brain good.
Avoid screen time for at least one hour before bed
It’s fairly well known by now that we shouldn’t stare into the bright blue light of smartphones and so in the hours before we go to sleep, yet how many of us really go out of our way to heed that advice? The problem is that too few of us fully understand the very real physiological basis for that advice. More specifically, the light from our screens hits our optic nerve and signals to the pineal gland that we don’t need to produce melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep. When your are interacting with screens shortly before bed, you’re basically telling your brain that you don’t need to worry about getting ready for sleep, and your recharge time suffers as a result.
Remember to counterbalance your screen time
If screen time dominates many of your waking hours, you’re not alone, and you needn’t necessarily worry. Being intentional about couterbalancing those hours lost in screens will take you far: take regular breaks in the middle of a long day at the computer. Go outside or do something that involves stepping away from technology for a while. Your mind and eyes crave regular breaks.
Although plenty of studies have been performed, we still don’t know the full impact of all the new, rapidly evolving technologies on our brains and lives. We need to ensure that we don’t lose ourselves in an all-in plunge into screen addiction.
Some will need counselling to help them step away form an unhealthy relationship with screens. For most of us, however, it’s not too late to become aware of this modern issue and find time to enjoy living a healthy life that’s possible without a screen to hide behind.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. My blog BeatScreenAddiction.com is for those of you who want to:
- Live a happier life with reduced screen-time
- Increase self-esteem and confidence in yourself
- Reduce procrastination, become more productive and effective and feel less stressed
- Simplify things and slow down
- Imporve your relationships and offline social skills
I look forward to hearing your story about your experiences with screen addiction, you can contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Maurece van Liempd