Technology is all around us is an understatement. There isn’t a place anymore that has not been touched or influenced by technological innovation; technology isn’t just in our world, we live in a technological world. With that being said, technology has brought us much progress, enabling us to do things our ancestors never dreamed of and have access to any information. However, the more connected our world has become, the more dependent we as a society have become on it. Technology and social media have consumed us.
It can be argued that social media is today’s hottest new drug. Users are left bored, disconnected, uncomfortable and anxious when unable to access their cell phones, and it is frighteningly addictive: 88 percent of United States consumers now use mobile devices as a second screen even while watching TV, and the average elementary-age student spends the equivalent of three school days in front of a screen per week. Cell phone checking has even been referred to as the “new yawn” due to its extremely contagious nature, and “unplugging” is now a buzzword.
Is it possible to get away from it all? Is it possible to escape or find peace from the constant connection social media provides? What are the side effects of society’s drug, and why do we as a society need the antidote?
Just as the body can’t physically metabolize the large amounts of chemicals and sugars that are ingested daily from processed foods, human brains can’t physically process the nonstop action, sound and flash of devices that surrounds the general population. Our brains have not evolved at the lightning speed that technology has, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and consumed trying to keep up. The constant connectivity to social media has created a false sense of urgency, making people crave the latest news, trends, information and updates at all times. Social media encourages brief, unfocused, unsubstantial yet multitasking-friendly “check-ins” with the online world, often robbing users of full life experiences due to the focus and emphasis on documenting and sharing everything, especially before the experiences are even over.
Technology robs time to think, reflect or be still, negatively affecting the world’s creativity and functions as a whole. The distraction takes people away from the real world and from the fundamentals of human nature — eye contact, real human relationships, and even sleep.
Ashley Brantley, local child psychologist and mother of three, has personally gone on a “social media diet” for two different Lent periods. “I wanted to disengage,” she says. “Social media sucks you in, and abstaining from it gave me more time to think about what the Easter season meant.”
She admits how hard it was, especially feeling like she was missing out on seeing things, such as prom pictures and other spring events. “I also wanted to post what was going on in our lives, but I soon realized those close to me would know or I could tell them more personally in other ways.” She found more time to engage with the people around her, a concept far too foreign in society today.
The benefits to taking a step back from technology are numerous and extensive, directly reflecting on the negative impact of its addictive nature. Quiet time is essential to brain function, and breaking the addiction to social media helps to remove unhealthy feelings of jealousy, envy, anxiety and loneliness, along with combatting the latest disease, “FOMO” (fear of missing out). Unplugging can also boost productivity, eliminating a distracting form of procrastination.
Not only are there many psychological benefits of unplugging, there are also physical health benefits. Today’s increased media usage has been linked to increasing obesity due to the constant encounter of programs and ads featuring unhealthy eating, as well as the increased sedentary activities and interference with our sleep routines that social media generates. The younger generations are impacted the most as children grow up in a world transfixed by screens instead of normal childhood activities, such as running, playing and using their imaginations. The increased rates of focus problems found in children today make sense in a world where distraction is more common than creativity.
The Brantleys also committed to a media fast as a family on a week-long vacation to the Virgin Islands. Through this, they were able to truly engage with each other and what they were doing together, instead of worrying about what everyone else was doing back home. “You don’t have to go to a foreign country to unplug,” Ashley adds. “This is something anyone can do in their daily lives.”
Ashley suggests making social media a reward. “Don’t allow yourself to check social media until you have accomplished something that day, such as exercising.” Tying tasks to something positive can actually promote productivity instead of allowing the distraction of technology to derail it.
There are also other ways to break the social media addiction:
•Take a tech time out. Whether this is around the workplace, at home or at a restaurant, put away technology, maybe even hide it, for a certain length of time and focus on what is going on around you. Encourage those with you to do the same, and your to-do list might get done faster or you might find your conversations more worthwhile.
•Schedule technology use only for certain hours of the day. Research has proven there is much more benefit to doing our technology in chunks as opposed to the constant time we spend refreshing. Designating extended breaks from technology gives you more time for relationships, accomplishing tasks or just some peace and quiet.
•Change your routine. Most people start each day, spend each day and end each day on their phones. Immediately checking emails in the morning or catching up on what people have posted overnight instantly overwhelms us and sets our day up for stress. In the evenings, the blue light waves that screens emit disrupt the natural production of melatonin that helps us fall asleep and stay asleep, another health reason to power down.
•Create a peace place or peacetime. Designate a favorite room, chair, or even your bed to be a technology-free space. This will increase the significance of it to you and give you a place to relax amidst the chaos. You might even like to pick a day, such as the Sabbath, to challenge yourself to reduce the amount of screen time in your day and spend it more meaningfully.
•Go on a data fast. Turning the data off on your cell phone for social media apps can help break the constant checking we are accustomed to. With this, you are only able to check at known locations with Wi-Fi as opposed to anywhere and everywhere.
Even if you find yourself unable to commit to set breaks, just taking one step back is progress. Take a walk, daydream or read a book, anything to relax and recover from our always-on lifestyles.
There is a solution to the madness — all you have to do is put your cell phone down. You may not realize how addicted you are until it is taken away, and then you may see that life at its best is happening right in front of you. As Ashley encourages, “Facebook doesn’t truly connect you with friends or help maintain friendships … it only let’s you see what others are doing. Actually connecting with people is a conscientious effort.” The Internet will continue in your absence, so power down, relax and make sure unplugging is not just a passing fad.