THESE days it's totally acceptable to send a text mid-conversation, check your email in bed and be conversing on Facebook while doing your supermarket shop.
We have adopted this notion that the more connected we are, the better. And, no matter where we go, we seem to stay plugged in. We multi-task, trying to absorb different media streams (Twitter, email, Facebook etc) at once, and new evidence shows that multi-tasking isn't simply making us more efficient, it's also making us more stressed, and less focused.
As much as I love the digital advances in our modern world, and having everyone and everything a click away, I sometimes wonder what it would be like if we didn't have all of this media and technology at our fingertips. Would I have better relationships? Would I have more time to exercise? Would I be calmer?
And, I can't help worrying about what effect this digital age is having on society in terms of our physical, mental and emotional health – are we in danger of modern information overload?
We're all aware of the positive effects that digital devices have on our lives, but, have you ever stopped to think about what some of the negative effects might be?
Are mobile phones bad for us?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently urged mobile phone users to limit their usage, admitting mobiles may increase our risk of brain cancer. WHO advised that we limit potential damage by using hands-free sets and texting, where possible, which can greatly reduce our exposure to radiation. There have also been studies showing decreased fertility in men who carry mobile phones in their pockets. While there isn't enough evidence to say for sure that mobiles increase cancer risk or reduce fertility, it doesn't hurt to be aware of the possible risks.
Too distracted to function?
Recent studies have found that many of us are spending a large portion of our lives in an 'anticipatory' state ie: constantly waiting for the next email, text or tweet, which puts subconscious stress on the body and can leave us unable to focus properly on our work or personal lives.
Do you find it impossible to ignore your email/ phone if you see that there are new messages? If so, you're not alone, because, checking for new emails/texts can literally be addictive. Scientists have found that we get a little squirt of dopamine whenever we check our devices for incoming messages. Dopamine is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that provides a feeling of pleasure. For example, dopamine is released when we eat a sugary food. When we eat for pleasure, we're often looking for this dopamine rush. When we check our email/ texts when we don't need to... you got it... we're also looking for this dopamine rush.
Loss of originality and self-esteem
There is also an argument that the more connected we are, the more we depend on the world outside of ourselves to tell us how to think and live. This is relevant for young people who are highly impressionable and susceptible to being influenced by online groups ie: 'groupthink syndrome'.
We are coming close to living in an age where we have to Google ourselves to see if we matter. For young people or vulnerable individuals, social acceptance may depend on the amount of comments they get on Facebook or Twitter, which can lead to a variety of self-esteem issues.
Digital technology provides new and innovative ways for people to communicate, which are super efficient and can help build and maintain relationships. However, modern technologies can also have negative effects. With the advent of smart phones, tablets etc, people can, and are often expected to, address work issues from home. This can limit precious family time and cause conflict between family members.
Modern technologies allow couples to be in contact with each other more than ever before which has its merits. However, this can lead to increased expectations and conflict. Nowadays, we expect an instant reply. A delayed reply, or none at all, can often lead to hurt, suspicion and anger. The use of social networks can affect relationships. Information that was once private, such as relationship status or conflicts, is part of the public sphere.
Strike a balance
The bottom line is that our increased consumption of information technology isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's an essential tool in our developing world. But, we need to manage it and acknowledge the necessity and benefits of unplugging from time to time. In a way, information flow is like food. If you think all food is good, if you consume indiscriminately, then you will likely have health problems. Just as we need to learn how to eat healthily, we also need to learn how to manage our digital consumption in healthy ways.
Give your brain a break
Because our understanding of how the brain processes data is still being developed, we may not be able to form definitive guides to the modern information age. No one can really tell you that X hours of email per day is okay, but Y minutes on the internet can cause eye damage or poor concentration. It is apparent, however, that unplugging on a daily basis, removing yourself from all distractions, is beneficial. Enhancing your mind sometimes means knowing when to give it a break.