If technology was human, it would have received an accolade for world domination. From the moment we awake until the time our heads touch the pillow at night, technology has become intertwined into almost every aspect of our daily lives, and its presence is on the rise. The internet, as an example, has experienced an increase of 100 million worldwide users, bringing to the total figure to 3.6 billion during 2016-2017, according to Statista. Despite the surge, is technology enhancing our lives or creating a feeling of disconnection?
According to recent figures published by NHS Digital, a gender disparity exists in how technology affects males and females, with a higher rate of mental health disorder symptoms (including depression, anxiety, and irritability) recorded among women than men. And, crucially, experts have identified the pressures of social media as a contributing factor. For all its intentions, social media users indicating a feeling of reduced happiness (compared to their counterparts on social networks), is on the upward. But the issue stems broader as technology continues to impact other areas of our lives.
"For all its intentions, social media users indicating a feeling of reduced happiness (compared to their counterparts on social networks), is on the upward."
A lack of time
“It appears that we have a culture, at least in the US, which advocates more of a work-life balance, but current research on the subject describes employees having a tougher time finding that balance,” says Dr. Colleen Mullen, a therapist who specializes in ‘coaching through the chaos’. “Work weeks are longer compared to 20 years ago, and technology sees people often tethered to their phones, on calls and emails that are expected to be answered.” The flow of new technology entering the market creates an air of urgency to remain continuously “plugged in,” in turn creating stress and anxiety in areas which previously didn’t exist.
“Despite there being very few circumstances in which a person absolutely must stay connected 24/7, there is sometimes the attachment for escapism purposes and other times it can be a case of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) that lends itself to always having to be ‘on’,” explains Dr. Mullen. “I’ve never a found a person to believe their entire business would fold if they were to take a few hours a night off their phone or computer.”
"Ultimately, our constant need to check in has detracted from focused productivity as we are faced with more outlets for distraction."
Are we more productive?
Whilst technology has streamlined our day to day functioning, facilitating the ease of workflow and allowing for greater flexibility than ever before, has it increased our productivity? For all its practicality, the desire to remain “plugged in” has opened the door to unwanted distractions, in turn hindering our ability to focus. “As an example, I often see clients wrapped up in the maze of dating apps and online dating sites,” says psychotherapist and life coach and recovery coach Dr. Sherry Gaba.
“They can’t turn off their anxiety waiting for that next text to arrive from that potential date, leading to a lack of focus on their projects at work because they are too obsessed with waiting for that next dating app swipe to make its way.”
Inc.’s recent article on the topic of unplugging in business explores the positive aspects of implementing periods of “unplugging,” to allow focused pockets of energy which can generate ideas to move a business forward. “Programming downtime into your day refuels and refreshes your ideas from your logical left-brain to your creative right brain for more ideas, intuition, productivity, and creative insights," Dr. Gaba says.
"You often get your best ideas whilst driving, napping, exercising and taking a shower,” outlines Dr. Gaba. The Best of BBC Future argued that technology may be enabling us to tick more things off our list at a quicker pace, but the reality is a shift in how we work, rather than how much we’re doing. Our lifestyle sees us in search of filling every minute of downtime with output, but there is a limit. Ultimately, our constant need to check in has detracted from focused productivity as we are faced with more outlets for distraction.
Why we need to unplug to reconnect
“One of the many benefits of switching off from technology is bringing about rest to your fatigued brain so you can work more efficiently and effectively. When you are tired, you don’t think as clearly, creatively, or effectively and are therefore more apt to make mistakes, and making impulsive decisions at all hours is now the new norm. This merged life is frantic and messy having to switch back and forth from mommy to worker bee,” explains Dr. Gaba.
“I recommend to my clients a technology detox, exploring with them the benefits of unplugging to allow time for thoughtful reflection, creative inspiration and explore activities that recharge their energy and reconnect them with themselves.”
Even for our physical health, unplugging has its benefits. A 2016 study published in Computers on human behavior discovered that people who left their mobile phone at home spent more time in the higher intensity workout zone than those who use their phone during a workout. Further, technology has bred increased laziness, with more time spent sitting and straining at screens, leading to other issues including body aches and vision alteration. And it also affects our ability to communicate with those nearest and dearest to us, with many of us suffering from feelings of isolation and loneliness.
We can’t dispute the remarkable impact technology has afforded and its crucial role in modern lifestyle, but the improved life quality from disconnecting is “incentivizing,” as put by Dr. Mullen. “The benefits gained range from better sleep, more time to spend with family and friends, and less intrusive thoughts, to keeping up with everyone else and having the time to think about life circumstances and work through some struggles.”
Armed with the facts, are you ready to unplug?
WRITTEN BYLeoni Jesner