A new pandemic: the rise in technology addiction
The coronavirus isn’t the only pandemic hurtling across the world and wreaking havoc on people’s lives. A wave of severe obsession with technology has accompanied it, hiding from plain sight and stealing people’s time, attention and mental wellbeing.
With many people working and studying from home, spending more time on the internet and on our devices is inevitable. This has become the “new normal” and many of us have come to accept it as a way of life amidst a deadly pandemic. After all, technology has allowed us to keep in touch with loved ones, continue studying and working from home, and (mostly) get on with our lives. It has been our saviour amidst all the chaos and bleakness – but at what cost?
Crunching the numbers
We may not realise just how severe the issue of technology overuse is. I sure didn’t, until I had a look at how much time I had been spending on my phone every day. I didn’t paint myself to be a technology addict and estimated that I was spending around 2-3 hours on my phone per day. Sounds reasonable. But the truth was far more concerning. I was appalled to find that every day for the past week, I had been on my phone for at least 6 hours. That’s easily a whole school day. Well, at least one in the ‘old normal’.
When identifying what I was spending the most time on, it all came down to social media, messaging apps and YouTube. I was often up till late scrolling through my social media feeds or watching mindless videos on YouTube, which disturbed my sleep cycle and left me feeling groggy in the morning.
Sounds familiar to you? You’re not alone.
I recently talked to someone I know who has also been struggling with staying off his devices. With the current lockdown in Sydney, this person found that his screen time on his phone often swelled to 11 hours on some days.
When asked what he thought was the contributing factor for this, he mentioned that so many aspects of his physical life have moved online and that it was inevitable not to stay off devices for a long time. Bored? Just watch YouTube or play online games. Need to buy something? Hop onto Amazon for cheap deals. With the instant dopamine and satisfaction that smartphones provide, he has struggled to find hobbies that he likes but that don’t require looking at a screen.
One study from the US found that the average person spends almost 2.5 hours daily on social media alone. That amounts to more than 5 years of their life. Shocking? Probably not. You may also find it unsurprising to know that 75% of users use their phones in the toilet (and of those, 19% are unlucky enough to drop it down the bowl!).
As if that wasn’t enough, 71% of us even take it to bed. We have become so dependent on our mobile phones that there is barely a second in our day when we leave it alone. They are with us 24/7,almost serving as an extension of our arm.
The worst part? We almost never question it.
The long-term consequences
Time is something we never get back. It’s one of the few things money can’t buy, so why are we so willing to waste it away? When mindlessly scrolling through our feeds or spending endless hours on TikTok, we hardly sense the urgency that we don’t have an infinite amount of time. We are too addicted to the instant gratification we receive to worry about the long-term consequences of such a behaviour.
In his book Limitless, Jim Kwik explains how the overuse of technology, especially smartphones, hampers our lives in more ways than one. He states that “if we consume too much technology, just like if we consume too much food, it can have ill effects”.
Do you whip out your phone the second you are in a “waiting” zone (e.g. waiting for an appointment, waiting for your friends, waiting at the bus stop)? When you find yourself briefly left with nothing to do, is your phone the first thing you turn to? When every idle moment is replaced with a constant injection of dopamine and addictive stimulus, we don’t give ourselves the downtime we need to let our mind wander. Kwik warns of the consequences of this, which includes poor memory, mental fog and fatigue.
Do you also find yourself Googling something when you might have gotten the answer with a little bit of thinking? It’s so easy to do this when we have our smartphones with us almost every second of the day, and might seem like a harmless decision. But this makes our mental muscles lazy and it’s harder for our brain to create memories. Here, Kwik emphasises the value of forcing yourself to remember (also known as ‘active recall’) in order to build long-lasting memories and avoid being dependent on technology.
Technology overuse is real and will only get worse as we progress through this pandemic. For me, it’s time I treat my time like a currency and only spend it on things that are valuable - especially in these unprecedented times.
What will you do differently from today?