Are you addicted to technology? Rules for healthy screen time for adults

January 28, 2015

As you will no doubt discover this year, I am a huge fan of technology. Technology has delivered us amazing gains, particularly in the past decade with mobile devices, productivity apps and social media. But I also recognise that there’s a fine line between being a tech fan and having an unhealthy attachment to our various devices. So this year, I’m going to try to cut back on my ‘screen time’ a little in the interests of my health. Care to join me?

How do you know if you are addicted to technology, especially your mobile devices?

  • Do you reach for your mobile to check emails and messages first thing in the morning – maybe even before you even get out of bed?
  • Have you checked calls or messages while driving? (even knowing it's illegal and dangerous?)
  • Do you check messages/calls/emails as soon as they come in – regardless of who you are with or what you are doing?
  • Do you sneakily check your mobile messages while out to dinner with friends – or worse, a date?
  • Do your kids, partner, friends complain that they can’t compete with your phone for attention and win? (My cats do it by eating iPhone cords)
  • Is the need to constantly check your email/phone affecting your daily activities, work, and relationships?

If you responded yes to a few of these, perhaps you should consider the potential impacts on your health, which include:

  • Shoulder, arm, wrist, neck pain from long periods of being tensely hunched in the same position
  • Insomnia from the inability to ‘switch off’ from being connected, or glowing devices in your bedroom affecting your melatonin levels
  • Exhaustion from late nights after ‘losing time’ browsing on your iPad/smartphone
  • Dry, sore eyes caused by endless staring at screens
  • Headaches
  • Excessive sedentary behaviour – a leading cause of obesity and early death

Just like all of the other things we can be addicted to in our society (alcohol, chocolate, reality TV), a balanced approach is usually healthiest – and the risk of multitasking overload and neural addiction from excessive use of mobile devices is no exception. So how can we curb the addiction?

Start your day technology free: This is a tough one for me. My natural urge is to ‘get connected’ and see what is happening in the world immediately via Twitter, email, news sites. I also use the blue light of an iPhone as a substitute for real sunlight to wake me up. A better option for me (and you!) would be to get the real thing and do some stretches or go for a run/swim/bootcamp in daylight.  Or at least focus on doing things that will set you up for a successful day - have a shower, eat a healthy breakfast, talk to others in the house. It will also give you a better chance of getting to work on time!

Try to be device free for at least a few hours: Mobile devices are great – but they’re not the only thing in life. We all have other things we love to do in life – and we should make time for them each day.  Go for a bike ride, read a book (a real paper one!), explore your neighbourhood.  Spend an afternoon with the kids or family where they aren’t competing with your phone (be really courageous and leave your phone at home!) - they will love you for it and the world will not fall apart - I promise. You could also make a commitment to keep certain hours of the day device free (eg. 9pm – 7am) or at least avoid checking work emails during holidays (which 73% of us did this year).

Turn off devices well before bedtime & don’t leave your phone by your bedside: This one is going to be a struggle for me. I don’t have a landline, so my mobile currently lives on my bedside at night so I can be reached in an emergency.  Of course, this plan is undermined by the fact that my phone is always on silent – so I wouldn’t hear it even if there was an emergency!

This shows that having the phone beside my bed is really just another sign of addiction and the gnawing fear that I’ll miss out on something – which tends to be emails and tweets more often than genuine emergency calls. Experts warn that the light emitted from digital screens can have a disturbing effect on your body clock and gadgets in the bedroom could be souring your relationship.

Let technology be your friend, but don’t let it be that toxic friend who dictates your life. Now I’d like to hear from you – are you addicted to your devices?  Have you broken the cycle of addiction and how did you do it? 

Katie Miller, 2015 LIV President

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