How is Technology Changing Us?

You’re walking down the street, talking to a friend, when suddenly you feel your phone vibrating in your pocket. “One second,” you say. “I just need to check this.” You reach for your device — finding nothing but some lint.

What happened? You’re not hallucinating; you’re feeling “phantom vibrations.” Your phone doesn’t only train you, it becomes part of you! We’re so accustomed to text, message, email, and call notifications that we mistake a slight muscle twitch or the movement of our clothes as an alert. And we’re so afraid of missing out that we are compelled to check!

Reaching to answer a text that you never received may not seem that concerning — about 90% of us experience this very phenomenon, and most say it doesn’t bother them much or at all. But the ways in which technology alters our brains, our behaviours, our relationships, and our lives, is something of which we need to be aware.

Your Brain on Technology

What’s happening in our brains as we continually stare at screens?

  • Our attentions spans get shorter. A decade ago, the average attention span was about 12 seconds. Now, it’s just eight — one second less than the attention span of a goldfish.
  • We can’t filter out extraneous information. We’re constantly distracted, and we cannot filter out irrelevant stimuli. This impacts productivity, our ability to learn, and even our relationships.
  • We can’t retain information as effectively. Constant distraction and multitasking keeps us from remembering information. A study found that millennials are more forgetful than senior citizens! While we can find information on virtually any subject online, we are far less likely to form a memory of it.
  • We’re becoming “more shallow thinkers”. Neuroplasticity allows our brains to change and adapt. But as Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, says, “What you have to understand about neuroplasticity is that the process of adoption doesn’t necessarily leave you a better thinker. It may leave you a more shallow thinker.”
  • As he writes in The Shallows: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.”
  • We’re literally being rewired. In one study, UCLA professor Gary Small asked experienced internet users and “newbies” to Google different topics. He monitored brain activity and found that the veteran browsers showed much more activity in certain areas. Small asked the new users to spend an hour each day searching online. Six days later, he had the participants back. Giving them another task, he found that the novice searchers’ brains changed. “Five hours on the internet and the naive subjects had already rewired their brains.”

And this is for adults. Imagine the impact of technology on the brains of babies and children? Between birth and age three is the “critical period.” Our brains develop rapidly, and to do so, they rely on stimulus from their environments. Devices provide too much of the wrong kind of stimuli.

Here’s what happens when a parent reads a baby/toddler a story: she has to take the time to learn and process the words. She visualizes the pictures. She exerts effort to follow the story. She’s using a lot of mental muscles!

Now, what if you plopped her in front of an iPad with a narrated story? The device thinks for her, and she doesn’t have to build or flex those same mental muscles.

The cognitive effects are life-long. Not only that, overreliance on technology can impact how children relate to others. They’re less able to “read” emotion and to empathize, for example.

It is for these very reasons I never let my son sit longer than 10 seconds in front of a screen until he was over the age of two.

The Dangers of Overusing Technology

The average smartphone user checks their phone 110 times a day; 75% check it before doing anything else in the morning. Half of us feel anxious when we leave our phones at home. Fifty percent of teens say they’re “addicted” to tech. Just stop for a moment and think about these stats. They are mind blowing.

Many people think, “So what? I check my phone every now and then? I like to use my tablet or laptop a lot. Not a big deal.” But overreliance on technology can lead to significant problems in life.

San Francisco State Professor of Health Education Erik Peper says, “The behavioral addiction of smartphone use begins forming neurological connections in the brain in ways similar to how opioid addiction is experienced by people taking Oxycontin for pain relief — gradually.

They experience that “high.” And then they need more. One study found that even looking at the Facebook logo created irresistible cravings in some people. That’s one powerful logo.

We’ve all heard stories: a friend lost his wife because he was addicted to online pornography. A neighbour lost her home because of her online gambling habit. A teen lost his life because he became so anxious and depressed while spending 10 hours a day gaming. Whether it’s cybersex, video gaming, shopping, or excessive texting, digital addiction poses a real threat.

But it won’t happen to me. It won’t affect me. Sound familiar?

The truth is, an estimated one in eight people experience digital addiction. It can impact your life. Even if you do not suffer from full blown addiction, overuse of technology can have serious consequences for your brain, your relationships, and your life.

How Do You Know If You Have a Problem?

Last night I was rocking my four-month-old baby to sleep. I was tired and not in the mood. Without thinking, I picked up my phone and started scrolling aimlessly. Ten minutes in it hit me; for every one thing I say yes too, I say no to something else. In this case, I was saying yes to a screen and no to my precious baby. In essence, I’m telling her this screen is more important than her. Now that’s messed up.

Some other signals to watch for:

  • You neglect friends and family.
  • You feel a sense of euphoria when on your device.
  • You’d rather browse, game, shop, chat, or binge-watch than sleep.
  • You feel anxious, guilty, or depressed about your tech use.
  • You do not engage in once-pleasurable activities.
  • You get head, back, and/or neck aches.
  • You are preoccupied with the internet.
  • You panic at the thought of missing a text or email.
  • You are restless or irritable when you can’t use your device.
  • You use tech to escape from problems and difficult emotions.
  • You prefer the virtual world over the real one.
  • You feel those phantom vibrations!
  • You check your phone even when you don’t hear/feel notifications.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

The Bible teaches us to put boundaries in place in all aspects of our lives. They’re a beautiful thing! Rather than restrictive, they create more freedom — empowering us to do more with our time and our lives.

God is our Creator, and He created us in a particular way and for particular uses. Think of it like this: if you use a laptop as a hammer, you’re not going to get the job done! And you’re going to destroy your laptop. But when you use a laptop as a device to research, create, write, communicate, and connect, you optimize its use.

It’s the same with us. We’re not made to sit in a chair all day. We’re not made to stare at a screen for hours at a time. We’re not made to relate more closely with machines than we do with people. God says, “Take rest.” Go for walks. Talk to your family. Connect with your friends. Reach out to neighbors. Help strangers. Unplug more often with regularity.

God wants us to put these boundaries in place not to restrict our lives but rather to help us live life to the fullest. He wants us to put boundaries in place so we do not put anything above Him. When God is the priority in your life, that’s when you experience the greatest joy. That’s when you experience true love and true life. That’s how we are designed and built.

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