A world of constant entertainment and connectivity
We live in a world where technology is nearly inescapable. As a species we have created tools that our ancestors could have never imagined. I say tools because nearly every device with a screen has been created in order to make our lives easier. Smartphones alone have more computing power than the crafts that brought humans to the surface of the moon and back. We can have alerts letting us know when an email arrives in our inboxes, we can read maps via GPS satellites circling the Earth, answer and make phone calls, merge into group calls, send texts, surf the internet, engage in an ever-growing number of social media sites, know at the exact moment when our friends are at a restaurant on the other side of the world, and take video, audio, and photos… all from a tiny device that fits into our pockets. And, of course, we have many other devices with screens that do even more to divide our attention, like TV’s.
So all this technology is improving our lives right? Well, in some areas it certainly is. For example, as I write this on a laptop with autocorrect, sitting in a comfortable chair, I’m reminded of how difficult it was to compose anything on a 1980’s desktop computer, or worse, an electric typewriter. However, I would argue that the volume and timing of our screen time is doing much more to hinder our functionality than it is improving it. The tools themselves are wonderful, but are the ways we are using them wonderful?
It hurts your grades-
Kids between 8 and 18 years of age were studied for how much screen time they had in a day. Get ready for it… The study revealed that the kids used an average of 9 hours of screen time per day! The screen time didn’t even include school-work exclusive screen time. However, school-work was included into the screen time average when the child split his or her attention between academic screen time and something non-school related such as social media. There has yet to be a study that has revealed the direct correlation between screen time and suffering grades, but anecdotally I can attest to several young men I have worked with that in an “ADHD kind of way”, without actually meeting criteria for ADHD, seemingly cannot focus long enough when studying or writing a paper to complete the task in an efficient and timely manner. From my observations, the screen time appears to divide the student’s attention to the point their grades are negatively impacted.
When you wake up in the morning is the first thing you do roll over and give your partner a kiss and cuddle them a little bit, or is it roll over to check your phone? I can answer that question for myself and almost everyone I know that uses their cellphones as an alarm clock. We get on our phones before we are even fully awake or have clear vision. Do you even acknowledge your sleeping spouse before you get up and start your day? One study I’ve read found that 6-11% of people admit to checking their social media while engaged in sex! What?! If there is one time you should probably give your full attention to your partner it is then right? Have you ever sat on the couch with your partner, each having your smartphone in your hands, TV on in the background, and realize it’s been a really long time since you snuggled or talked to each other? Do you think this would be the case if there were no screens on?
Work becomes constant and inefficient-
Admit it. You have several work apps on your phone, have the alerts set to on, and check it frequently while at home. I do. I have found that between my two Gmail accounts that I use for work, a chat app that we share at work, phone calls, texts, and writing work that I do at home, I spend the vast majority of my time at home thinking about work in some capacity. A German study found that I’m probably not alone, and that it’s really unhealthy. They found that more than half of workers (across nearly every profession) do it. They also found that people who worked during off hours at home were more likely to complain of anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and fatigue. Self-care is an important feature of avoiding burnout in nearly every profession, no matter how much you love it, do your hours away from the office contribute to burnout or good self-care?
You fail to live in the moment-
I see it all the time, parents doing some activity with their kids and not paying any attention to them because they are glued to their smartphone. I’ve also seen people, in some of the most amazing places on earth, spending all their time trying to get their camera just perfect in order to capture something nature rarely shows (northern lights, natural geyser, cheetah chasing prey, etc.). They witness the entire event through their screen, not with their naked eye, which allows your mind to fully grasp and appreciate what you are looking at and witnessing. Sometimes I catch myself listening to music or a podcast when I am somewhere breathtaking and I stop to think “Is this contributing to my appreciation for this, or taking away from the genuine nature of it?”
You “compare and despair”-
We use the term “compare and despair” as one of many types of “cognitive distortions” or unhealthy thinking habits that people can have. It is essentially when you see someone else’s success, beauty, house, muscles, or car, and compare with your own and get down on yourself because you notice theirs are better. It’s unhealthy to say the least. In a world with constant bombardment of social media where people naturally “show-off” the positive things in their lives, it’s easy to believe your life fails miserably in comparison. Let’s face it, people don’t often post on Facebook when they are feeling down, getting divorced, filed for bankruptcy, or having family troubles. Instead what you see is lots of fun trips, money being spent, careers being advanced, and smiling faces all around. It’s easy to get caught up in and believe that everyone lives the most amazing life ever. Because of this phenomenon of being bombarded with this in your news feed, you begin to have less appreciation for what you have in your life, a dangerous and notoriously slippery slope that certainly leads to happiness decline.
What to do about it-
Step one, smash your smartphone and live as a luddite… Just kidding.
As I said earlier, smartphones and other screen devices are an amazing technology that can improve our lives and make them easier. They can help in keeping you connected with family and friends from around the world, keep you organized, plan your entire cross country road trip, send pictures, videos, and messages, etc. So don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I would recommend doing as I have done and start a “screen-time assessment.” Basically, get to know your own habits around the use of your devices that divide your attention. For me, many of the things listed above are problem areas. I feel as though I could spend more time with my wife without my smartphone being in my hands. I need to problem solve around how to work less when at home. I need to be more aware when I’m not living in the moment because my attention is divided.
Once you have made your assessment, make an action plan. For me I am going to turn my alerts off on my phone for work related things after 6PM, and will only be available via phone calls in the event of an emergency after that time. I am also going to put my phone away after 8PM so that I focus on my wife when she is home, and start getting my brain ready for going to bed which will hopefully improve my sleep hygiene. These seem like small steps, but knowing myself, I’m guessing they will lead to meaningful improvements in these areas.
Have you noticed areas in your life that have been impacted by screen time and divided attention? What do you plan to do about it?
Rory K. McLaughlin, CEO