Have you ever tracked the amount of time you spend in front of a screen on a given day? What about the number of times you check your phone or smartwatch? It’s a huge part of our daily routines that barely requires a second thought as if it’s completely natural to immediately address the summoning of our devices. You hear a ding, so you check the ding. Flashing notifications need to be cleared. An actual phone call? It must be important!
That’s the side effect of our connected lives. And it’s why, from sundown March 9 to sundown March 10, thousands of people are committing to the National Day of Unplugging. Their tagline reads “a 24-hour global respite from technology. It highlights the value of disconnecting from digital devices to connect with ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities in real time.”
Unplugging is often overlooked as an important element of security, since the more time you spend connected, the more personal information you’re likely to share, especially with every new device you activate and every new app you install. But unplugging also features health benefits that deserve your attention.
Why Unplugging is So Important
Imagine you’re having a conversation with one of your friends at a café when she casually, as you converse, pulls out her phone and begins typing. She’s still talking to you. Her head is moving, her mouth is moving, she occasionally looks up. But her thumbs are moving, too, as they bounce around on a screen blocked from your view.
Annoying, right? It’s called phubbing, a term coined to describe the habit of snubbing someone in favor of a mobile device. It happens to all of us. In fact, most of us have done it. But there is one specific word in that definition that illuminates the issue at hand: habit.
According to a variety of studies, U.S. consumers spend between four and five hours a day on mobile devices, with social media accounting for the majority of that time. The average American checks his phone upwards of 80 times a day. Those two stats alone blur the line between habits and addictions.
But the effects of phubbing, as annoying and rude as it may be, look harmless when compared to the overall impact phone addiction has on society, particularly with teens. A study published in 2017 found a significant link between “time spent on new media” (screen activities) and depression and suicide, stating that “adolescents using electronic devices 3 or more hours a day were 34% more likely to have at least one suicide-related outcome than those using devices 2 or fewer hours a day, and adolescents using social media sites every day were 13% more likely to report high levels of depressive symptoms than those using social media less often.”
Of course, there are many other factors to consider when it comes to teens and depression, but the negative impacts of phone and screen addiction are obvious. From the dangers of texting while driving, to the diversion of attention in classrooms, to rude behavior in social settings, our culture is more distracted than ever.
And app developers know this. It’s their objective to keep us coming back. Often. The notifications we receive from social media apps are like “taking a hit”, that is, they give us a buzz. This infographic neatly lays out what our brains go through with each ding. Basically, notifications make us feel good, therefore we want more of them.
In fact, this issue has grabbed the attention of two of Apple’s largest investors, who issued an open letter stating that “we have reviewed the evidence and we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using their products in an optimal manner.” The letter cites numerous studies that highlight the ill effects of smartphone abuse by young people.
Regardless of age, the need to address these issues rings loudly. We can’t blame our children for their phone habits if we don’t set examples. That’s what National Day of Unplugging is all about: committing to a 24-hour period of no devices; something we should all do at least once a month. So, join us, get your friends and family involved, and commit to unplugging for a day. How often have you wondered “where would we be without smartphones?” Take a device timeout and see for yourself!
Not sure if you’re addicted to your device? Take this smartphone compulsion test and find out. You might be surprised by the results.
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