Science fiction often predicts that robots and machines will take over our lives. Considering our reliance on our gadgets, that might not be too far from the truth. How many times a day do you check your cell phone? Your Facebook page? Your Twitter feed? How many texts do you send and receive each day? Now tally up the time you spend in front of screens — from your computer to your iPad to your TV — and you’ll see how technology is running — and maybe even ruining— your life.
Some people have joined in on the National Day of Unplugging. Founded by the Sabbath Manifesto, a creative project designed to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world, the unplugging is meant to mimic the religious sabbath, where work ceases so you can become closer to your family, friends, and spiritual life. Others are trying “technology fasts”sporadic breaks at different times from various technologies.
Here are eight reasons why it’s good to take a tech break.
1. Technology Can Cause Stress
“The purpose of almost all technology is to do things faster, and often better, than we humans can,” writes Jim Calloway, co-editor of “Winning Alternatives to the Billable Hour: Strategies That Work.” although the promise of technology used to be that it would lighten our load, it often increases it — by giving us more time, we now have more time to work. “We can, and therefore do, run at a faster pace. And if you let technology set your pace, it will be make you run faster and faster.”
2. Technology Can Impact Your Health
Researchers who surveyed over 4,000 american high school students last year found that excessive texting and social networking — sending 120 text messages or more during a school day, and using online social networking sites for at least three hours per school day — was linked to a range of poor health behaviors, including smoking, drinking, use of drugs, and sexual activity. These were the results of a study led by Dr. Scott Frank, director of the Master of Public Health program at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. Frank presented the findings at the 138th Annual Meeting & Exposition of the American Public Health Association. In addition to the aforementioned, “hypertexting” and social networking was also linked to perceived stress, having suicidal thoughts, obesity, disordered eating behavior, missing school due to illness, having lower self-rated health, feeling unsafe at school, not getting enough sleep, and parental permissiveness.
3. Technology Can Rewire Our Brains
“We know that the brain’s neural circuitry responds every moment to whatever sensory input it gets and that the many hours people spend in front of the computer — doing various activities, including trolling the internet, exchanging email, video conferencing, IMing, and eshopping — expose their brains to constant digital stimulation,” write Dr. Gary Small and Gigi Voran in “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind.” Small and his UCLA research team wanted to look at how much impact this extended screen time was having on the brain’s neural circuitry, how quickly it could build up new pathways, and whether or not they could observe and measure these changes as they occurred. Using functional MRI, they compared computer users to “naive” (noncomputer) users and found that after five hours on the internet, the naive subjects had already rewired their brains. “This particular area of the brain controls our ability to make decision and integrate complex information. It also controls our mental process of integrating sensations and thoughts, as well as working memory, which is our ability to keep information in mind for a very short time — just long enough to manage an internet search task or dial a phone number after getting it from directory assistance.”
4. Technology Can Affect Our Attention Spans
Small and Voran also write in “iBrain” that the high-tech revolution has put us into what software executive Linda Stone calls “continuous partial attention,” which means continually staying busy — “keeping tabs on everything while never truly focusing on anything.” This differs from multitasking, where there’s a purpose for each task and we’re trying to improve our productivity and efficiency. “When paying continuous partial attention, people may place their brains in a heightened state of stress. They no longer have time to reflect, contemplate or make thoughtful decisions. Instead they exist in a sense of constant crisis — on alert for a new contact or bit of exciting news or information at any moment.” According to Small and Voran, once people get used to this state, they tend to thrive on perpetual connectivity. Eventually, they say, the endless hours of unrelenting digital connectivity can create a “unique type of brain strain.” Many people who have been working on the internet for several hours without a break report making frequent errors in their work. Upon signing off, they notice feeling spaced out, fatigued, irritable, and distracted, as if they are in a “digital fog.” They call this a techno-brain burnout.