The Invisible Tether
With the changes in technology, we can easily read about current events, keep tabs on what our friends are doing, and even play games with strangers living in a different country...all without leaving the confines of our own homes. While it can be useful, as the internet allows for a near endless supply of information, it can also be beneficial to “unplug,” taking a vacation from technology. Information overload is the phenomenon that occurs when too much information is taken in by the brain, that it becomes challenging and nearly impossible to process all of it.
An estimated two billion people access the internet on a regular basis, with a recent study revealing that 35% of iPhone and Android users check their email or Facebook accounts before getting out of bed in the morning, with 40% using their phones to access the internet before going to bed at night (Greengard, 2011). The same study discovered that the average American is digitally connected almost four hours per day, with social networking, online games, and emails garnering the most attention during the time connected.
While technology continues to advance, research into the impact constant connection has on our lives has not kept up with the swift advances. And while it may not be a diagnosis within the newest Diagnosis and Statistical Manual, research has suggested that about half of all cell phone owners suffer from what is termed “nomophobia,” or the fear of being without their phone, with an estimated 40% of iPhone owners said that they’d rather give up brushing their week rather than go without their phone (Bratskeir, 2013).
Information Technology Overload
Do you experience a feeling of withdrawal when you are without your cell phone? Do you constantly check your phone and use it to feel good? It’s easy to see that addiction to cell phones and other forms of technology can rival addiction to more conventional drugs. Quitting technology “cold turkey” can be a challenge, as research has revealed that students between the ages of 18 and 24 years of age send over 100 text messages a day, which works out to more than 3,200 text messages per month (Smith, 2011). The possible side effects of being overly connected to technology has been recognized recently, with the introduction of Information Overload Awareness Day, which calls attention to the problem of information overload and how it impacts both individuals as well as organizations on a larger scale.
Some warning signs of being overly connected include feeling lost without your cell phone, family members ignoring one another when they are using digital devices such as cell phones or computers, and even when you are not using a media device, you’re thinking or talking about using it.
While multitasking may feel like a wonderful asset, having everything you could ever need at your fingertips, it is not without drawbacks. Multitasking actually hinders productivity, slows down the ability to complete challenging problems, stifles creativity and can even increase the level of anxiety and stress hormones (Dean & Webb, 2011), while decreasing the short-term memory (Greengard, 2011). Although there appears to be negative impacts through utilizing a variety of technological devices, stepping away from them can be a challenge, both to the individual and to the employer, as many workplaces contact their employees through emails and text messages.
How to Unplug
When deciding to embark on a temporary break from the internet, it should be noted that previous research has suggested that individuals go through a process similar to grief, in which they report experiencing depression, defiance, and eventually acceptance. Likewise, unplugging can also be likened to working through an addiction, with withdrawals and anxiety present when one is not connected with the internet. However, there are ways to successfully conduct a “digital detox,” allowing you to return to a more balanced outlook. The need to unplug has recently made it into the Oxford Dictionary, with the recent addition of the phrase digital detox, which is defined as:
digital detox (n): a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.
Just as with breaking other addictions, some recommend weaning yourself from using the internet, limiting the time you allowed to use various digital devices or the number of texts you send. Often, just by being mindful about the reliance one has on such devices, positive effects can occur without going to the extremes of cutting all ties to the internet.
Bratskeir, K. (2013, February 26). Unplug from technology: 19 ways to spend time off the grid.The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/27/unplug-from-technology_n_2762116.html
Dean, D., & Webb, C. (2011). Recovering from information overload. Retrieved from McKinsey Quarterly website: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/recovering_from_information_overload
Greengard, S. (2011). Living in a digital world. Communications of the ACM, 54(10), 17-19. doi:10.1145/2001269.2001277
Oxford Dictionaries (2013). Digital detox. Retrieved from http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/digital-detox?q=digital+detox
Smith, A. (2011). Americans and text messaging. Retrieved from Pew Internet & American Life Project website: http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Cell-Phone-Texting-2011.aspx