Do you suffer from technology addiction? Technology have become a huge part of our daily lives, from smart phone to video-games to media and social media. This article will discuss technology addiction, provide insight into the warning signs and how you could address it appropriately.
The average adult spends close to 11 hours looking at a screen per day (computer, TV, phone included), with at least 6 hours of these being on video (1).
As for our phones, the average adult checks their phone every 10 minutes (1), and touches their phone an astounding 2,617 times a day (1).
We Spend More Time Screens Than Any Other Activity
To put this in context, we adults spend more hours on screens than doing any other activity in our daily lives including:
- Work: 8 hours (2)
- Sleep: 6.5 hours (3)
- Eating: 78 minutes (4)
- Hygiene: 50 minutes (4)
- Household Activities (such as housework, cooking, lawn care, or financial and other household management): 2.3 hours (2)
And while much of our workday may include much of our screen time nowadays, this does not mean our workday is productive. Technology addiction is a growing problem in many places around the world.
According to a study conducted by Voucher Cloud (5), adults are “productive” at work for ONLY 2 hours and 23 minutes, leaving about a good five-and-a-half hours to social media, text messages, news headlines, and funny cat videos.
Children Screen Habits
These habits are starting earlier and earlier.
Today, the average child spends a lot of time on screens as well. Kids, ages 0-8 years old spend 2-3 hours a day looking at screens, and by the time kids reach age 13, they are on screens upwards of 6-7 hours per day (6, 7).
Kid Screen Time Recommendations
This is a far cry from the American Academy Pediatrics’ guidelines that suggest screen time for kids include:
- 0-18 months: ZERO screen time
- 18-24 months: Limit screen time to video chat only with family
- 2-5 years: 1 hour or less daily
- 6-8 years: Less than 2 hours
According to research, kids with parents who spend longer amounts of times on screens each day are more likely to spend more time on screens as well (8). Technology addiction might start early.
Ironically, knowing what they know about the power of technology and cell phones—especially in kids— the “Big Three” tech leaders (Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, tech billionaire Mark Cuban and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian) ALL limited their children’s phone and screen use regularly (9).
A Good Example
For instance, Jobs’ was known for making his kids put away devices in the evenings, and spending time with them in “real conversations” (no iPads or iPhones included). Similarly, Gates’ did not give his kids any devices until they were 14, and they still had to turn them in by 10 p.m. every night. And Alexis, of Reddit, who says “My wife and I both want [our daughter] to be bored.”
The Bottom Line
Houston, we have a problem.
Although 6-11 hours of screen time each day may be the “norm” for teens and adults, this stark reality has only been the case for the past 5-10 years, as technology has evolved.
Circa de 2007 (prior to the launch of the first iPhone), smart phones and instant access to every single form of media (social media, email, videos, etc.) did not exist in the hands of the nearly 2.5 billion people who are now connected 24/7—with more than 60% of people on their phones within the first 5-minutes of waking (10).
Humans were more connected—to each other (not just on Facebook, but in real life); we lived in touch with nature and the natural rhythms of the sun; we were arguably less multi-taskers and more focused on the present moment; and we knew how to be bored.
While modern day technology is a wonderful asset, it is also addicting. Technology addiction can damage the brain systems connected to attention, decision-making and emotional processing.
Technology Addiction 101:
“Addiction” is technically defined as anything we are physically or mentally dependent on that disrupts our lifestyle, daily function, or causes adverse effects.
Hence technology addiction is the frequent or obsessive use of technological devices—such as computers, smartphones, and gaming systems—to the point that it causes negative consequences or runs our daily lives (such as: social disconnection, anxiety, health, cortisol imbalances and more).
Are You Addicted?: Self Assessment
Consider your answers to the following questions. Keep track of your “Yeses,” giving yourself a point for each “Yes.”
- Do you find yourself spending more time on your cell or smartphone than you realize? Y N
- Do you find yourself mindlessly passing time on a regular basis by staring at your cell or smartphone? Y N
- Do you seem to lose track of time when on your cell or smartphone? Y N
- Do you find yourself spending more time texting, tweeting or emailing as opposed to talking to people in person? Y N
- Has the amount of time you spend on your cell or smartphone been increasing? Y N
- Do you wish you could be a little less involved with your cell or smartphone? Y N
- Do you sleep with your cell or smartphone (turned on) under your pillow or next to your bed regularly? Y N
- Do you find yourself viewing and answering texts, tweets and emails at all hours of the day and night—even when it means interrupting other things you are doing? Y N
- Do you text, email, tweet or surf while driving or doing other similar activities that require your focused attention and concentration? Y N
- Do you feel your use of your cell or smartphone decreases your productivity at times? Y N
- Do you feel reluctant to be without your cell or smartphone, even for a short time? Y N
- Do you feel ill-at-ease or uncomfortable when you accidentally leave your smartphone in the car or at home, have no service or have a broken phone? Y N
- When you eat meals, is your cell or smartphone always part of the table place setting? Y N
- When your cell or smartphone rings, beeps or buzzes, do you feel an intense urge to check for texts, tweets, emails, updates, etc.? Y N
- Do you find yourself mindlessly checking your cell or smartphone many times a day, even when you know there is likely nothing new or important to see? Y N
1-2 Your behavior is “normal” and doesn’t mean you have technology addiction.
3-4 Your use is leaning toward problematic or compulsive use.
5-7 It is likely you have a problematic or compulsive smart phone use.
8+ Consider seeking support for addictive like behavior.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of “relationship with your phone,” there’s no question that technology still impacts the vast majority of people in the developed world.
Your Body & Brain on Screens: 9 Side Effects
Questions about whether screen exposure, particularly cell phone use, harms our health have persisted for decades. Our cell phones emit electromagnetic radiation similar to microwave heating, but scientists have struggled to conclusively link cellphone use to cancers and other illnesses.
As research continues to evolve, here are 9 things we now know that our high technology and screen use does to our body and brain. This is how technology addiction could affect you!
1. Disease Influence
A recent 2018 study suggested positive correlations between cell phones and the development of cancerous tumors and chronic diseases in rats (11). The study’s strongest finding was that male rats had an elevated risk of developing tumors, called malignant schwannomas, in the connective tissues surrounding nerves in the heart.
Another study found that higher levels of screen time is associated with a higher risk of “all-cause mortality” as well as a higher risk of both heart disease and cancer (11), and other studies suggest a link between exposure to screens at light at night (such as working the night shift or looking at our phones in evening hours), to some types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
This link is primarily correlated with circadian rhythm and cortisol (stress hormone) disruption (11). While it may be a little too early to blatantly say that “screens and technology cause disease,” there is no doubt that our high usage of our devices does cause imbalances that affect our overall physical and mental health.
Your body has a natural biological clock—wired with the rhythms of natural light and the sun. Your body clock is what helps keep your body in “homeostasis” balance, allowing it to function and feel good like all bodies should. It helps your body digest your food well and at appropriate times; get good quality sleep; and feel energetic during the day. However, when your clock is “off,” so is your overall health.
Until the advent of artificial lighting, the sun was the major source of lighting, and people spent the evenings relatively in darkness. Now, in most of the world, evenings are bright. Because light from screens mimics daytime, it suppresses melatonin, a sleep signal released by darkness. Even just a few minutes of screen stimulation can delay melatonin release by several hours and throw your body clock off. Once your body clock is disrupted, all sorts of other reactions occur including:
Common side effects of a “disrupted circadian rhythm” include:
- Digestive issues (constipation, bloating)
- Needing coffee to function
- Sugar or caffeine cravings
- Poor concentration
- Hormonal imbalances
- Feeling wired and tired at night
- Waking in the middle of the night
- General fatigue or low energy
- Slow metabolic function
- Poor workout recovery
Our bodies are highly sensitive to light exposure, and innately wired to function in rhythm with the sun (i.e. more energy during the day time, more sleepy and relaxed in the evening time). Continual screen exposure sends your body—and all of your bodily processes—into high alert for longer than ideal. Technology addiction keeps us from time spent outdoors, in nature and keeping active—which have been shown to restore attention, lower stress, and reduce aggression.
3. Cortisol Spikes
Just like artificial light and screen exposure disrupts your circadian rhythm, it also wreaks havoc on your hormones, namely cortisol (your stress hormone). Cortisol is a normal hormone all humans have that helps us deal with and “fight” off stress. In an ideal world, cortisol spikes in the face of a stressor—only to fall back to normal levels once the stressor is removed. However, in the case of high screen exposure, your cortisol levels don’t know how to deal with the constant stress at hand.
Bright Light Exposure
Interestingly, in one study of adolescents found a significant “spike” of cortisol upon waking in those who used technology for longer periods as well as at night time (12). Another study confirmed that bright light exposure, specifically in 6+ hours each day, significantly impacted the adrenal glands and cortisol output in adults (13).
With little to no relief (11 of your total 18 waking hours spent on screens), your cortisol levels get out of whack, in turn, contributing to many similar symptoms to circadian rhythm dysfunction including:
Imbalanced cortisol symptoms:
- General feeling of unwellness or “grayness”
- Reactive hypoglycemia (blood sugar dips after meals)
- Hyperglycemia rollercoasters (up and down blood sugar throughout the day)
- Feeling wired and tired at night
- Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep
- Not “feeling like yourself”
- Easily tired (despite sleeping) or low energy
- Afternoon headaches or chronic headaches
- Easily keyed up or trouble calming down
- Needing caffeine to function
- Feeling wired or jittery after coffee
- Shortness of breath
- Arthritic joints/pops or clicks
- Allergies and/or hives
- Sweat easily
- Salt foods before tasting/crave salt
- Slow metabolism or catabolism (muscle wasting)
- Poor fitness performance/gains
- Hormone imbalances (PMS, infertility, amenorrhea)
- Dry and thin skin;
- Skin conditions (acne, rashes, psoriasis)
- Low immunity (easily sick)
- Easily forget things/brain fog
- Panic attacks
- Low immunity
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss;
- Poor memory
- Autoimmune disorders
- Low sex drive
- Decreased ability to handle stress or everyday tasks
- Mild depression, low mood
- Don’t really wake up until 10 a.m
- Afternoon lows around 3 or 4 p.m.
4. Declined Cognitive Function
Brain studies have discovered that high screen exposure leads to less efficient information processing, reduced ability to think through impulse decisions, and abnormal spontaneous brain activity associated with poor task performance (14, 15).
5. Moodiness, Anxiety & Irritability
Irritability and mood changes have been shown to affect at least 1 in 2 screen users (16). Both acute stress (fight-or-flight) and chronic stress (like screen use) produce changes in brain chemistry and hormones that can increase irritability. High screen use and technology addiction creates a vicious cycle for your own mood. In fact, as cortisol—is raised, leading to increases in your hyperarousal and addiction pathways that suppress your brain’s frontal lobe, where mood regulation takes place. Hello unexplained moodiness, anxiety and irritability.
Fear of missing out, and constant-comparison are two side effects from our constantly connected world. In a report by Glamour magazine, nearly 70% of women reported feeling worse about themselves after looking at social media (17). Another U.K. study of 1,500 people found that 62 percent of people felt “inadequate or jealous” after looking on social media and comparing their lives with the projected lives of others (18).
7. Instant Gratification Syndrome
Studies suggest that we get our most original ideas and creativity when we stop the constant stimulation and let ourselves get bored (19). Unfortunately, with everything we ever want or need at finger’s reach, we no longer know how to be bored. “Instant gratification” is the name of the game, and high levels of screen exposure release high levels dopamine—the “feel-good” chemical—that on a brain scan it looks the same as cocaine use.
When our reward pathways are overused, they become less sensitive, and, in turn, more and more stimulation is needed to experience pleasure. The result of technology addiction? Less patience and more “I-want-it-now” or “I-don’t-know-how-to-be-bored” conundrums.
We are connected more than ever, but disconnected more than ever at the same time. In a study (20) on the effectiveness of social media and connection, researchers found that face-to-face communication increased subjective well-being by both increasing connectedness and decreasing social isolation. Social media use, on the other hand, only increased subjective well-being through increasing connectedness, but not through decreasing social isolation.
Another study (21) of 1,787 U.S. adults ages 19 to 32 and asked them about their usage of 11 social media platforms outside of work, and gauged their social isolation by asking participants questions such as how often they felt left out. Findings revealed people who reported spending the most time on social media — more than two hours a day — had two to three times the odds of perceived social isolation than those who said they spent a half hour per day or less on those sites.
One-fourth of all car crashes are related to cell phone use and 70% of drivers admit to regularly using their phones while driving their two-ton land vehicles—contributing to more than 1,000 injuries daily and prompting 6000 deaths annually (22). Even off the road, our phones and devices are equally distracting and detrimental to our productivity and “normal” function. 8 in 10 people report being distracted by personal activities—like checking Facebook, Instagram, personal e-mail and texts at work (23).
Unfortunately, our widespread addiction to these messages is so strong that, in one study, when researchers tried to recruit just 30 people for an experiment where all phone notifications (including text and email) would be disabled for 7 days, they initially couldn’t find volunteers (24). With great coercing they filled the study, and by the end of one week, participants voiced a tremendous shift in their notification use habits—many of them opting not to turn them back on, which lasted through their 2-year followup.
According to psychology studies, we spend nearly 50% of our days with our minds wandering and day dreaming (25). Couple this with constant pings on our iPhones and e-mail, and Microsoft reports we have attention spans shorter than a goldfish—8 seconds (26).
Combat Technology Addiction: 13 Game-changers to Combat It
Technology is not going anywhere, but our response and use of it can dramatically influence our health experiences with it.
Here are 13 simple game changers you can do now to avoid or address technology addiction :
1. Get Your Mind Right First Thing
Before tuning in straight to your phone, consider how to welcome “being present” first and foremost to your day. Use the first 1-2 hours for a “morning routine,” such as a positive devotional, prayer or meditation, workout or positive podcast and music only—in place of social media, email checking, texting and the other crazy influences in the day.
2. Set E-mail Times
Instead of constantly checking your email, pencil it in. For e-mails that take longer than 2-4 sentences to respond to, save these to a special folder, and intentionally establish a “longer email block” in your week to get to those. If you feel paranoid about being “off” email more often, create an automatic reply to inform people you only check your email at certain times and if they need to reach you, they can call you. Technology addiction won’t help.
3. Put Your Screens to Bed at Night
Begin to disconnect at least 2-3 hours before bed—subbing out a book, journal, yoga, meditation or sleep in place of screens. While you’re at it, keep screens out of the bedroom in general. Place your phone outside your door with the alarm on high ring if you use if or your alarm clock. Keep computers and TVs in the main living spaces to get rid of technology addiction.
4. Turn On “Nighshift” (at all times)
Switch the light brightness setting to the “yellow” or low light night setting at all times.
5. Orange Tinted Glasses
If you do work on screens in the evening hours, slap on a pair of blue-blocking, orange tinted glasses for evening wear.
6. Get Some Fresh Air
Natural light does a body (and circadian rhythms) good. Intentionally seek to incorporate 30-60 minutes of fresh air and sunlight (at least) each day. You should keep doing this to avoid technology addiction.
7. Turn Off Notifications
Ideally, turn off all nonessential notifications. All of them you REALLY don’t need—texts, social media, e-mails, slack messages, etc. Unfortunately, all of these serve as distractions and interruptions to your productivity.
8. Kick Social Media Apps Off Your Phone
As a matter of fact, they will still exist. They just will become less tempting when you click that “x” button to get rid of them.
9. Pay it Forward (on Social Media)
Instead of using social media to constantly compare, consider using it to leverage. Connect with others genuinely—shoot a friend a sincere message, like someone’s post and leave a thoughtful comment, etc. Pay it forward online and be a diamond in the rough of many self-seeking behaviors. This will help you a lot to prevent technology addiction.
10. Keep Meetings Structured & Brief
Video meetings, phone meetings, coffee meetings, etc. They all add up. Set clear start and end times to your meetings, and try to “batch” meetings as often as you can together, so you can protect your “productive” work time.
11. Connect Offline
In real life, you can do a lot to avoid technology addiction. Grab lunch or tea with a friend. Suggest a walk. In addition, rally the troops for a conscious connection, potluck or game of frisbee on a Saturday afternoon. We are alone behind our screens enough.
12. Customize Your Screen Saver
Write out your current bigger goals, a reminder to “be present”. Also, you can take a picture of someone or something that is important to you (like your child, or a pic of you being present with others). Then, save this pic as your screen saver. Every time you look at it, you’ll be reminded that there is a bigger world out there than your tech. Technology addiction may hinder you to explore the big wide world.
13. Take a Tech Break
Lastly, in the evenings at home, put your phone in the other room—away from you. Set up a regular tech break as well, be it the weekends, or planned intentional vacations to address technology addiction. Get outside. Connect with others. Read. Do hobbies and activities you enjoy. Tune out.
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- Bureau of Labor Stastics. 2017. Average hours per day spent in primary activities for the civilian population, 2017 quarterly and annual averages. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t12.htm
- Voucher Cloud. 2017. How Many Productive Hours in a Work Day? Just 2 Hours, 23 Minutes. https://www.vouchercloud.com/resources/office-worker-productivity
- Common Sense Media. 2017. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight 2017. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/research/csm_zerotoeight_fullreport_release_2.pdf
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