Toxic tech: is it time to take a break?

19 Aug 2019

In today’s technology-driven world, we’re expected to be available, online, at any time. But with frequent studies telling us technology overuse is bad for our productivity, our sleep, our relationships and even our mental health, is it time to go offline?

The average person checks their phone 200 times a day—that's once every six and a half minutes, so1 it’s not surprising 44% of people in Australia think their phone use is a problem and are trying to reduce how much time they spend using it.2

But technology use isn’t limited to our phones. We’re sitting in front of computer screens at work, at home with our smart TVs, tablets and laptops, we even have technology on our wrists with our Fitbits and smart watches. Online connections are sometimes prioritised over real-world ones, we’re bombarded with information and a never-ending news cycle, and we can purchase just about anything with the click of button from the comfort of our own homes.

While this level of connectedness has benefits - it’s easy to stay in touch with friends and family, you can choose to work from anywhere, you can do your banking and other financial transactions online - there are also drawbacks.

What does technology overuse do to us?

  • Social media use can have a negative impact on our mental health: Many studies have shown the relationship between social media use and a number of mental health issues, specifically, narcissism, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem - especially among teens. 3 4
  • Overusing technology makes you less productive: Do you need to concentrate on a problem at work? It may be impossible to reach a state of true concentration and productivity when you’re constantly distracted (and stressed) by notifications.
  • Overusing technology can be damaging to your relationships: If you’re stuck in cyber world too long, your social connections in real life can take a back seat. 43% of people in Australia who are in a relationship believe their partner uses their phone too much and 70% admit to using their phone during mealtimes with family or friends.5
  • Using technology after dark messes with your sleep: Blue light from screens affects your natural sleep-wake cycle by tricking your brain into thinking it must remain alert and awake, preventing melatonin (the sleep hormone) from being released.

What impact is technology having on kids?

It’s common to hear parents complain about the amount of time their kids spend playing video games, in front of a TV or on a tablet. But, while these leisure activities can (theoretically) be limited, the reality is that most of our kids’ world is geared towards screen time—their homework is often completed on laptops, their schools are fitted out with computers, their downtime of choice is to go online.

Because their brains are still developing and malleable, frequent exposure to technology is actually wiring this generation’s brains in different ways to previous generations – rather than reading, which encourages our brains to be focused and imaginative, the internet is strengthening the ability to scan information rapidly and efficiently. The use of search engines like Google means children are becoming less adept at remembering things and more skilled at remembering how to find the answer to things.

And while over use of technology has been linked to social interaction issues, learning difficulties, eye problems and increased rates of obesity amongst our kids, it isn’t all bad. For example, research shows that video games and other screen media improve visual-spatial capabilities, increase attentional ability, reaction times, and the capacity to identify details among clutter.6

Is it time for a digital detox?

Taking time out from technology every now and then is good for your brain to reset and recharge. Here are five simple ways you can start reducing your technology use.

  1. Put the phone away
    If you’re going to go see a movie or attend your child's soccer game, leave your phone in the car. If you’re exercising during your lunch break at work, leave your phone at your desk. Give yourself permission to spend a few hours concentrating on just one thing.
  2. Commit to changing one habit at a time
    Choose one technology habit to change at a time. Maybe this would be banning all devices from the dining table, or from the bedroom, or only checking emails every two hours.
  3. Replace technology with real-world rewards
    As you decide what you’re going to reduce, determine something positive, healthy, and uplifting you’re going to replace it with. If you want to reduce your Facebook time from daily to every other day, arrange to meet a friend in person or take the dog for a walk in the park on the non-Facebook days. You may even find you have time to do some volunteering.
  4. Shut down your most-used social media app for a week
    If you feel like you overuse one app in particular, try completely turning off notifications for that app for a week so you’re not tempted to check it. Tell friends they can call or text you if they want to reach you.
  5. Set yourself up for success
    Turn off your phone notifications during work hours and only check your messages at designated times throughout the day. If endless emails throughout the day (and night) leave you feeling stressed, set up your email system to only download messages once every two hours.

If you find yourself feeling time-poor and pulled in every direction by this ‘always-on’ age of technology, financial stress is the last thing you need. We are here to alleviate some of that stress by helping you make important financial decisions – contact us and we can help.

1 The telegraph UK, ‘9 ways to start (and stick to) a digital detox’, 1 June 2016.

2 Beyond Blue website, ‘The benefits of a digital detox’.

3 Addictive Behaviours, ‘The relationship between addictive use of social media, narcissism, and self-esteem’, January 2017.

4 Journal of Adolescence, ‘Sleepyteens’ August 2016.

5 Beyond Blue website, ‘The benefits of a digital detox’.

6 University of Rochester, ‘Video games lead to faster decisions that are no less accurate’ September 2010.

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