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The truth behind our reliance on digital technology

​Have you ever looked at those around you on your morning commute, and noticed that the vast majority have their heads buried in their phones? Were you busy scrolling through your LinkedIn news feed before looking up yourself?

It is a fine line between digital addiction and mere dependence. Digital addiction to social media, online publications, shopping, email monitoring and completing work assignments on the move is on the rise. 90% of our time is spent looking at a screen, which can continue even after we leave the office as we switch to following social media and spend our evenings watching Netflix. There are of course generalisations here but I suspect a good deal of this does apply to the majority of us.

Without even realising it, we are dedicating a huge amount of our time and attention to being stuck on the digital hamster wheel. Perhaps not surprising since we live in a digital world where all aspects of our home and work life is run through a programme or app?

Did you know that it took around 60 years for the world’s industries of water power, iron and textiles to grow, but in the past three years we have created the equivalent of the entire world’s data!

Last year for mental health week we explored the mobile phone aspect of the digital addictions, in which research graded 91,000 middle-aged people on their sleep pattern and about one in 25 were still active late into the evening checking social media and replying to work emails. A few of the side-effects include: sleep deprivation, mood swings, and lack of engagement and workplace performance.

For many, you may see no alternative. You have to use your phone to call clients and your laptop for emails and research, it is the world we live in right? However, it is a question of balance and over-exposure to technology and screen time has been proven to be detrimental to our mental health so shouldn’t we address it like any other health consideration?

Digital side affects

For many, setting a time to stop replying to business emails in the evenings may go against your work ethic when you have been stuck in that routine for years. Arguably the worse culprit is social media addiction, and broader obsession with mobile devices in one capacity or another.

Let’s explore some of the consequences of not establishing the right balance:

  • Screen time: One of the outcomes with the excessive use of digital channels is screen time. The artificial blue light emitted from screens suppresses the hormone melatonin and increases alertness. With melatonin acting as the hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles and screens making you wanting to stay awake – it is no wonder some of you feel drained after spending too much time online. 47% of UK adults are losing sleep due to over usage and experiencing symptoms of digital eye strain.

  • Emotional impact: Later in the week we will be exploring the signs and ways to avoid ‘burn out’ at work. One of the key factors in this is not giving your mind a break. If you are constantly switched on with your brain running at 100 miles an hour, your emotional, physical and mental state starts to head downhill. Think of your brain as a muscle, after a strenuous workout it needs time to recover with good sleep so it can come back stronger. That is the key is giving your mind time to unwind by turning off your phone and closing that laptop screen you are more alert the next day.

  • Outsourcing our memory: Over-reliance on digital devices could be the reason why you are becoming more forgetful. Do you ever notice that the harder and longer you work, the more you struggle to remember everything you had to do that day? An interesting study released last year (as a comparison to the same survey in 2015), examined the memory habits of 6000 adults in the UK and globally. It found that more than a third of adults would turn to their phones or computers first to recall information. The UK scored the highest with over half admitting they would ‘search online first for an answer’.

Without realising it, we are gradually increasing reliance on digital technology. Voice activated artificial intelligence might reduce screen time but it doesn’t help us think for ourselves.

Are you tired of trying to achieve an unreachable work-life balance?  As part of Eames Mental Health Awareness Week, we will be looking at how you can rethink your approach.