Avoid the dangers of digital overload - Word&Way

Avoid the dangers of digital overload

Ken Satterfield

Is there such a thing as being too plugged in to your electronic gadgets?

Increasingly, the answer is yes.

Consider that we each receive an average of 400 texts a month; for teens, that number skyrockets to 3,700 texts each month. More than a third of smartphone users go online before getting out of bed.

A Stanford study found that 10 percent of iPhone users felt "fully addicted" to their devices, and 3 percent won't allow others to touch their phone.  

Eighty percent of those on vacation bring laptops and smartphones with them to keep up with work.

When the University of Maryland asked undergraduates to abstain from the Internet and mobile technologies for just one day, at least two other schools couldn't do their own studies due to a lack of participants.

These findings were reported in Newsweek's "Is the Web Driving Us Mad?" (tinyurl.com/toomuchweb). The publication reviewed findings from more than a dozen countries and learned that Internet addiction is becoming linked to sleep disruption and a variety of mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Scans show that the brains of those addicted to the Internet look like those of drug and alcohol addicts.

Time (tinyurl.com/toomanylights) looked at another cause of depression — too much late-night exposure to artificial lights, such as televisions and computer screens. This also contributes to obesity and diabetes and possibly even affects the growth of cancers, according to the magazine.

An early finding in another study suggests that teens who engage in heavy texting may be more likely to focus on materialism and be less concerned about moral and spiritual goals (tinyurl.com/toomuchtexting).

Think none of this applies to you? Consider that a 1996 study found that spending more than 38 hours a week online is to be an early indication of Internet addition!

What steps can you take to avoid spending too much time online?

Gauge your time. Journal your schedule for a week to find out how much time you really spend online on computers, tablets and mobile devices. To be totally honest, factor in those times when you are on multiple devices at the same time. Or use a timer for your sessions.

Watch your behavior. Are you avoiding family or friends to be online? Are your real-life friendships taking a backseat to Facebook friends? Are you eating meals at the computer? Are you getting enough sleep?

It may be time to make some changes.

Prioritize. Take care of necessities — work, paying bills, studying — before doing all the fun and useful things you can find to do online.
Watch your mood. Be alert for signs of depression, compulsive behavior and short attention span.

Be accountable. Listen to family, friends and co-workers when they express concern about your Internet or smartphone usage.

Be an example. If you have concerns about your children and teens, make sure your activities reflect what you want from them. It is difficult to be taken seriously when you are instructing from another room while on a computer or answering email on your vacation.

Consider a fast. Maybe it is unreasonable for you to turn off your phone. But you can structure your schedule to answer email and texts at certain times each day.

Try setting goals for how long your personal use will be, establish a computer curfew or try an unwired weekend.   

Consider alternatives. Use exercise or a hobby that doesn't require a screen. Share tasks. Go outside. Join a team. Play family games or schedule regular fun times with others.

"Upgrade" your relationships. Instead of texting, try more phone calls. Instead of emailing, walk down the hall to a talk to a co-worker. Instead of using Facebook, go visit a friend.

Ken Satterfield is marketing coordinator for Word&Way.