Digital Toxification – The Dangers When Tech Becomes Too Much and How to Protect Yourself

During COVID, many of us have sought to ease our stresses and anxieties in many ways.  One of the more convenient choices is through our digital devices and toys.  For those who are stuck working from home, or a student stuck with online/virtual schooling, the dependency and usage is pretty much necessary. For leisure, many will binge watch Netflix on their mobile devices, or play a few app games. But can it all be too much?  Short answer: yes!  And my apologies for the built-in irony of using technology to show how technology can be bad for you.

Even before the pandemic, and for the last few decades, there's growing research and information that points to the dangers of the deep dependency and high usage of everything from our mobile devices to the Internet.  We're slowly changing because of it...and sometimes not for the better.   

Don't get me wrong, we are all aware of the benefits of technology (in particular digital) to bridge gaps in communication and networking, accessibility to educational and informational resources normally out of reach and, opportunities to learn and explore beyond the limitations of one's physical and geographical location.  But unhealthy dependency and unchecked usage in all facets of our waking (and sleeping) lives has developed and needs to be questioned.  Whether it is a smart phone, a tablet, laptop, smart tv or game console - at work, play and rest - technology is now permanently embedded in our daily lives for better or for worse.

Dangers of Too Much Tech

There are obvious and not so obvious dangers of too much technology.  Whether it's watching Youtube videos to pass away the time, binge watching Netflix on a mobile device, aimlessly surfing the web, or just sitting in front of a laptop or tablet all day (either for work or leisure).

Physical Health Issues:

This problem is pretty obvious if we think about it.  There are clear physical problems associated with using technology of all types (similar to the physical problems we experience with constant exposure to television watching).

Vision Problems - Find yourself rubbing your eyes after an unknown period of time in front of a screen or using your smart phone?  Eyes hurting or extremely dry?  More and more of us are experiencing issues (short term and long term) with our eyes.  This is one sign of many that we're spending too much time staring at tech.  The constant exposure to the glare, bright screen or screens, sitting too close or too far to numerous devices will take a toll on our eyes.

Poor Posture - This is quite easy to diagnose ourselves when we experience neck and upper back strain and pain.  Long term use of technology in "a down-and-forward user position, meaning the person is hunched forward and looking down at the screen...can put an unnecessary amount of pressure on the neck and spine".  Studies have noted that the pain can sometimes become permanent.  

Sleep Problems - Blue light or light tones coming from the screens of mobile and desktop devices can over-stimulate the brain, and at the worst times (if used about one to one and a half hours prior to sleep) disrupt our internal circadian rhythm (physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle).  

Reduced Physical Activity - With the current state of working from home and our near dependence on technology for both work and leisure, daily activity is reduced dramatically.  After a long day of sitting in front of a computer or mobile device screen, many sometimes don't feel inspired to exercise or take part in some form of physical activity.  This inactivity and newly adopted sedentary lifestyles due to new automated and tech-based work environments (on-site and off-site) have led to increased cases of obesity, cardiovascular disease and a host of other medical ailments.  Partner that with a bad diet and irregular sleep patterns, the results don't get any better.   

Mental Health/Cognitive Function Issues: 

ADHD/Reduced Attention and Focus - Studies done have seen a remarkable increase in symptoms of ADHD/Reduced attention in youth after tracking behavioural changes after 24 months of constant exposure to digital technology.  Though the focus of many studies were on youth, other research has noted such exposure does affect adults as well, with similar effects.  

Social and Emotional Impairments - Further studies of youth also noted that video-game usage of just a minimum of 4 hours per day impacted the ability of teens (those included in the study) to recognize emotional and social cues often recognized and learned through face-to-face interactions or social settings.  "These findings suggest that time away from screen-based media and digital communication tools improves both emotional and social intelligence", which can be difficult for BOTH adults and youth as digital technology has become an integral part of their work and leisure lives during this challenging time.   

Social Isolation, Depression and Anxiety - Everyone is well aware of the dangers of social media as it replaces facetime and actual social interactions with virtual, 24/7 and immediate access to social networks.  Over time, the lack of actual meetups and real face-to-face time adversely impacts self-perception and perception of the world around high-use individuals...as "reduced offline social experiences and the tendency to make upward social comparisons based on highly curated social media feeds that produce unrealistic expectations of oneself" is truly damaging.  Research into heavy smart phone usage has also been linked to users exhibiting the greatest degree of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

Brain Development in Toddlers and Young Children - To add to the discussion, studies related to seeing how very young developing brains in toddlers and young kids have also noticed a negative impact on a child's cognitive development, as (for example) "infants 6 to 12 months, (with) increased screen time were linked to poorer early language development" as well as a host of other cognitive issues that oftentimes continue as they grow up and are continually weaned on technology.

Sources: 

Medical News Today :: National Center for Biotechnology Information ::

 University of California, Los Angeles :: Forbes.com 

Symptoms of Addiction to Digital Tech 

Digital/Tech addiction is real. Similar to being addicted to harmful substances, "common features include preoccupations, mood changes, development of tolerance, withdrawal, and functional impairment...".  Ever find yourself reaching for your phone every chance you get?  Using mobile devices even when it's dangerous or inappropriate?  Agitated or fidgety if you don't get a chance to go online to surf or check emails?  These are a few symptoms related to digital or tech addiction. To be clear, many companies, brands and engineers design technology - whatever form it may take - to be something you seek out or crave.  This isn't by accident.  Technology is meant to be addictive and command repeat usage.  Check out one of our library titles - Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked and see how they do it.   And historically speaking, technology was always intended to generate some level of dependency so as to generate repeat use AND profit.  So be very wary how you adopt and use technology, including the technology you choose to let into your life.

Sources: Psychology Today  :: Theconversation.com :: Bournemouth University, UK

What Can We Do...Wait...What Can I Do?

Limit Screen Time - Just limit the time you and/or your children spend in front of technology (outside of work or school).  As easy as it is to say rather than do, there are some simple tips:

  • Physically Separate yourself or your children from the technology by placing them OUT OF REACH
  • Find other activities NOT related to technology - board games, reading, or exercising or going out either by yourself or with a group of people
  • Aim the detoxification to be device or program specific (e.g. your smart phone or Candy Crush)
  • Remove apps or games from devices such as phones, tablets or laptops, so as not to be tempted by them
  • Schedule your device and/or technology time; this makes control possible
  • Ensure usage is related to something constructive like work, school or learning something new, and nothing more
  • Get friends and family involved - their encouragement and understanding WILL help with getting on track (and possibly get them to follow suit)

So what does all this deliberate approach to tech use and digital detoxing lead to?  In short, benefits that reverse many of the symptoms listed above AND:

  • Cognitive and brain breaks from information and stimuli overload, reducing anxiety
  • Increased physical activity
  • Regaining and reclaiming a sense of time and control, especially with your day and your relationships and friendships
  • Increased awareness of how and why you and your family use technology, resulting in more deliberate and focused actions and reactions
  • Over-all increase in happiness and energy, something we can ALL definitely use during the global pandemic.

Sources: Verywellmind.com :: University of Maryland, Baltimore County :: Forbes.com

Digital Toxification - The Dangers When Tech Becomes Too Much and How to Protect Yourself

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