Take a moment right now and think about how many times a day you’re looking at a screen. How many hours of your day is taken up by technology? From the moment you wake up, looking at your phone’s alarm clock, to the moment you switch off the tablet at night. Even if you’re not looking at a screen, are you listening to an electronic device, are you cooking on an electric stove, is the TV on for background noise, is your digital watch calculating your steps?
Now take a moment to imagine one day without all that technology and electricity buzzing around you constantly. Imagine you’re camping by a gentle, burbling river. The sun is high in the sky, providing vital solar energy to your body’s cells. The grass is warm and tickles your bare feet. Your belly is full from the meal you cooked without online instruction, you are unconcerned with updating your overcrowded mind with the events of the day. You are perfectly present.
Technology is not bad. In a post-Covid reality, technology helped us stay together at a time when we couldn’t be physically near, it helped many people keep their jobs, and it helped thousands of people of all ages continue to go to school. Technology helped launch online businesses, food delivery services, hospital care, and so much more. However, there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to technology. That’s where tech fatigue comes in.
Tech fatigue is the body’s response to too much stimulus, and “overstimulation could be damaging our ability to concentrate, with many of us finding it harder to switch off.” One of the biggest culprits of tech fatigue is the amount of time we spend on our smartphones—2-4 hours a day on average in the US! We’re drawn to our phones largely because our brain has equated our phone with successful social interactions (calls, texts, social media, online shopping, and even scrolling through the news is interpreted as a social activity to our brains). Our brains then reward us for these successes with a hit of dopamine—the pleasure compound. However, Harvard University says, “Studies are beginning to show links between smartphone usage and increased levels of anxiety and depression, poor sleep quality, and increased risk of car injury or death.” Tech isn’t just affecting our mind, it is also affecting our quality of life. The New York Times says our body’s response to technology is instinctive as our survival instincts are hard-wired to be social, so consistent reliance on tech would “play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.” That boredom and lack of pleasure create fatigue and thus an endless cycle as the brain signals to the body to return to the source. This is why researchers at the National Drug Abuse Institute “compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess.”
This is all very fascinating stuff, but how do you get out of the endless loop once you know you’re in it? Technology is an ever-present fact of 21st-century life. In 2020 American households had an average of over 10 connected devices per household—that’s smart TVs, tablets, phones, gaming systems, laptops, desktops, etc. So how do we escape technology if it’s all around us? We don’t. It’s time to stop seeing technology as the omnipresent enemy and remember our own powers of self-control.
First, you need to understand how technology is taking advantage of your brain. Harvard University has some insight there: “Variable reward schedules were introduced by psychologist B.F. Skinner in the 1930’s. In his experiments, he found that mice respond most frequently to reward-associated stimuli when the reward was administered after a varying number of responses, precluding the animal’s ability to predict when they would be rewarded. Humans are no different; if we perceive a reward to be delivered at random, and if checking for the reward comes at little cost, we end up checking habitually (e.g. gambling addiction). If you pay attention, you might find yourself checking your phone at the slightest feeling of boredom, purely out of habit. Programmers work very hard behind the screens to keep you doing exactly that.” Technology triggers the reward centers of our brain with the prize of deliciously addictive dopamine but knowing this makes it easier to produce your own, healthy dopamine-filled experiences—like talking with a friend in real life or cooking food with your family. Purposely choosing to disconnect from technology opens the doors to more fulfilling interactions.
International Workplace Group (IWG) says, “With technology constantly feeding us new information, our ability to focus is decreasing. There are problems associated with this across all aspects of our lives. How we learn, how we interact with others and how we work can all be impacted by shortening attention spans.” They suggest taking very specific and dedicated technology breaks—working longhand with pen and paper for an hour, reading a book, going for a long walk without any technology distractions. Reconnecting to the self, to the physical space around you, and in-person social interaction decreases the brain’s chemical dependence on technology. Screen Free even hosts Screen Free Saturdays, a pledge to be completely screen-free one day every week to reconnect to the world without technology. iHASCO has a slightly less radical approach and suggests a 5-10 minute break for every hour of technology usage.
Ultimately is it up to you to set the boundaries for your technology usage. Perhaps you work with technology all day, so you choose to be tech-free when the work day ends. Perhaps you take mindful steps simply to limit your dependence on technology every day. Or perhaps you set alarms to remind you every hour or so to unplug. The main point to take away is that you are in control. You have the power to heal your mind from the grip of alluring technology. Technology is not the enemy, it is a tool that helps foster your imagination, hard work, and connections. However, if you’re feeling a little fatigued from too much technology, now might be a great time to take a small break.