While on a family beach trip this past month, my wife and I made a conscious effort to leave our phones inside while we were out at the beach all day with our kids. After the first day, we broke our own rule and brought our phones down to “take pictures of our kids”– this was our justification. But seriously, we have become so used to having a screen in front of us that we sort of feel “naked” when we don’t have it.
I know we don’t want to hear it but being “plugged in” all the time is having some negative effects on our brains, bodies and relationships. It’s so important to make time each day to take a break from our phones, tablets and computers. Hopefully we haven’t completely forgotten the value of being outside, visiting with friends or reading an actual paper book! But if we have, let’s take a look at a few reasons why too much of a “good” thing can be unhealthy.
1. Brain Malfunction
According to Psychology Today, one of the main consequences that a ton of screen time has on adults and kids is a restructuring of the matter that makes up your brain. We’ve got grey matter that makes up the folds, and white matter, which transmits messages between neurons. Too much time spent in front of screens actually causes shrinking in the grey matter and reduces the white matter’s ability to process information and communicate properly– not cool, huh?
2. Pain Beyond the Text Claw
Spine damage, poor circulation… acne! These are just a few of the physical effects that too much screen time can have on our bodies. Though Text Claw hasn’t actually been made an officially diagnosed illness, it’s a funny name given to a serious issue. Being sedentary for the majority of the day doesn’t promote good posture for starters but it also increases our cravings for eating poorly and not wanting to exercise. Not to mention the strain on our eyes. When we stare at the blue light on our phones and laptops for hours upon hours it actually causes damage to our retina and decreases a restful night sleep.
3. Face to Face Interaction
My Dad used to tell me, “Make eye contact when you’re talking with someone” In many ways technology has brought us into greater circles of conversation with easier access… but with all our social outlets how effective is our communication? Are we saying anything meaningful? NPR has run several programs that bring up this very topic. A lack of frequent face-to-face interaction may actually impact our ability to process emotions correctly. I can especially see it in our kids when they have been playing the Wii for an hour or two- they have a hard time adjusting back into the world; listening and staying focused when we’re talking to them. We can easily fall into the trap of “multi-tasking” on our devices: scrolling, making transactions and streaming that the relational aspects of our lives get all jumbled up in the media minutia and we literally forget how to relate to one another.
4. Put Your Feet in the Grass
We lock our kids outside sometimes… literally lock the doors! Before you call DSS on us hear me out: it’s okay for your kids to get a little dirty, climb a tree, splash in a mud puddle– even get a little sunburn! According to both the National Institute of Health and Harvard Medical School, even 15 minutes a day outside can elevate your mood, increase creativity and concentration, reduce anxiety and give you a better night sleep. Many studies have shown that being in urban settings creates a surplus of stimuli (car horns, alarms, the hum of your computer) that overloads the mind and body. Finding green space, hiking or biking and locking away our devices really does create holistic health and revives the body to function the way it was made to be.
5. Create A Real Experience
I love the benefits of technology: the convenience, the enjoyment and the access to knowledge. But I have recently noticed that we have created a virtual world that simulates the experiences offered in the real world- and we settle for them and not the real thing… how lame! We’d rather watch a show about surviving in the woods or free-diving in the Caribbean instead of packing up for the day and hiking a trail or surf fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
I have overheard conversations in the coffee house where people are so enthusiastic about some adventure they’ve just been on and come to find out they didn’t travel to some foreign destination- it was all in a video-game they were playing in their comfortable, air-conditioned dorm room! Let’s risk having an actual adventure- not a virtual one!
John Krakauer said it best in his novel, Into the Wild:
“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy.”