The new year is a time for resolutions. Many try (and potentially fail) to embrace a host of life-improving ventures, whether it be laying off alcohol for “Dry January” or trying to eat more healthily for “Veganuary”. With the growing awareness of the impact of technology on both our physical and mental well-being, others may also be tempted by a digital detox.
How much does technology impact upon our lives?
Despite the benefits provided by digital devices it is reasonable to ask whether we are really in control of them, or whether they are in control of us. Numerous studies have been carried out into the addictive nature of such devices and it is possible to take your pick from statistics signposting the potentially damaging impact upon our daily lives. For example, Deloitte found in a study that people check their phones on average 47 times per day, with half of people checking their phones during the night. Once awake, nearly two-thirds of people check their phones within 15 minutes of waking in the morning.
What is the impact of all this tech use?
The precise impact of all of this blue-light exposure is still being investigated, but studies have provided evidence of the negative implications for our health and well-being in being wedded to our screens. Our inability to properly switch off can affect our levels of stress and anxiety, negatively impact interactions with our family, lead to insomnia and trap us indoors, thus reducing our exposure to sunlight and vitamin D.
Over and above the physical, just because digital devices mean that we can work all the time, it does not mean that we should. Working harder isn’t the same as working smarter, and the quality of the work that we produce can also be impacted by digital overuse. Few people are at their best when tired or stressed. Add to that the immediacy of email communications and the expectation to respond instantly wherever you are and at whatever time (potentially reducing all-important thinking time), and the risk of making costly mistakes is increased.
What can/should employers do?
Is it time for a digital detox? A complete rejection of technology as part of a detox can appear extreme or backward thinking, and the answer probably lies with taking a more mindful approach towards the use of digital devices. There seems little appetite for legislation in this area, such as that passed in France in 2017 providing employees with the right to disconnect when out of hours. Instead, employers can help by taking a sensible approach to the expectations that they have of their employees. However, it is ultimately down to the individual to manage their relationship with technology, and we are free to decide how and when we use the technology available to us - and when we choose to switch off. Parents buying devices for the kids at Christmas may have set up screen-time restrictions, but perhaps should also consider limiting their own personal use, if only to avoid allegations of unfairness from their children!
So what does the future hold?
In the meantime, technology itself continues to evolve, providing new ways to interact, enabling it to slip into the background of our lives and be less invasive. The Christmas Alexa crash demonstrated the ubiquity of virtual assistants across the UK. Such technology can be much less invasive than a mobile or tablet, being available when required but disappearing from our consciousness when not needed. Similarly, tech companies have responded to the demand for simplified tech, developing stripped down mobile phones with no mobile apps or cameras and with functionality limited to calls, text, and basic internet access.
Finally, it is also worth remembering that technology can also play an important part in living an active and healthy life. Even when out in the great outdoors and enjoying some mindful time, my heart rate monitor and linked running app comes with me to help keep a track on my fitness!
Ultimately, a full digital detox may not be a practical or desirable way to start 2019, but we should look at ways in which technology can enrich and benefit our lives while seeking to make sure that we control our devices, rather than the other way around.