All the technology and screens that we surround ourselves with have become so ubiquitous in our societal day-to-day, that it’s strange to think that they just weren’t there a generation ago. How often do you think you stared at a screen in 2005? If you were anything like 11-year-old me, it was probably only an hour after dinner and homework, before it was time for bed. Now, we spend an estimated 13 hours a day in front of the TV and tablets, our laptops, and our smartphones.
Life has changed irreparably, we all know that. What we’re still relatively unaware of is the impact all this technology will have on our future mental and physical health. For this generation of 11-year-olds, the effect could be quite dramatic according to a new study published by the journal PLOS ONE.
The study took 1,239, eight to nine-year-olds in Melbourne, Australia, and used a national achievement test to measure the children’s academic performance at baseline and again when they were 10 to 11 years old.
The researchers found that watching two or more hours of television per day at the age of eight or nine was associated with lower reading performance compared to peers two years later; the difference equivalent to losing four months of learning. Using a computer for more than one hour per day was also linked to a similar degree of lost numeracy.
It compounds any lingering doubts we may have had around the impact this over-use of technology is having. Now, of course, it has become an integral part of our daily lives, and as such, it is impossible to completely quit.
But do you need to be scrolling through Insta on a Friday evening, or bingeing Netflix through your whole weekend? It’s unnatural to be sitting at a computer for 10 hours straight. Aren’t you due a break?
Here we highlight a few more effects using technology has on our minds and bodies then to help encourage you to take some much-needed time away from the screen.
Remember when your parents told you that too much TV would make your eyes go square? Not strictly true, mum. But there is certainly an effect.
Just like the bad backs, you can get from sitting down too long, a type of repetitive strain injury (RSI) on your eyes can be caused by staring at a screen with insufficient rest periods and incorrect working conditions. Our eyes are naturally positioned straight ahead and down below so your screen position should reflect this.
Eyestrain can also be obtained from glare, which often results from computer screens being too dark or too bright and can lead to eye muscle fatigue as they struggle to make out the images on the screen.
In order to combat eye strain while you work use the 20-20-20 rule: after every 20 minutes of screen time, take a 20-second break to look at something at least 20 feet away.
Falling asleep with your laptop on or just after a heavy bout of Insta scrolling could cause you massive issues when nodding off.
The issue is the blue light emitted from cell phones, e-readers, and computers, which go on to over-stimulate the brain.
A 2014 study from the University of Texas found that this blue light is enough to disturb the body’s natural circadian rhythm which could make it harder to fall asleep or lead to a person feeling less alert the next day. Make sure you wind down at least an hour before bed then and switch off all electronic devices.
A lot of technology promotes a down and forward position which is thought to have serious implications for your posture with the potential for injury and skeletal issues as a result.
A 2016 study from the University of Gothenburg found a clear association between texting on a mobile phone and neck or upper back pain in young adults over a five year period. Similar to dealing with back pain from sitting down in an office chair for too long, remember to take breaks and stretch out regularly.
Compared with generations before us, we are spending increasing amounts of time in environments that not only limit physical activity but require prolonged sitting. Technology is largely to blame, as we spend 10 hour days stuck in front of our laptops beavering away (a situation likely exacerbated by current working from home needs).
From an evolutionary perspective, humans were designed to move throughout the day. This is essential to our survival as a species. The WHO identifies physical inactivity then as “the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality” and estimates that it’s caused 3.2 million deaths globally to date. It’s important to combat any inactivity you may endure through the working day by regularly partaking in bouts of exercise.
While social media and technology have the ability to bring communities and friends together, it can also have an adverse effect.
A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine surveyed 1,787 U.S. adults aged 19–32 years to see if there was any association between their social media use and perceived social isolation (PSI). The research found that those in the top quartile for social media use had twice the odds of having greater PSI than everyone else surveyed.