Technology permeates the lives of everyone – who have access to it. (I add that caveat because there are millions of people in developing countries who don’t have access to technology – to their detriment. But that’s a discussion for another time.)
The ubiquitousness of smartphones is the prime example. According to Statista, the number of smartphone uses is “forecast to grow from 2.1 billion in 2016 to around 2.5 billion in 2019.”  (Going back to my caveat, those numbers sound impressive, but that means 36% of the world’s population are using smartphones.)
Smartphones are, in essence, miniature computers. And in developed countries, their owners use them like mobile computers on the go. In fact, the sale of smartphones, tablets, and laptops have begun to outstrip the sale of desktop computers.
Much of the popularity of smartphones is due to the easy access to social media – such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on. Millennials, Generation Z and future generations have grown up with this technology and communicating with their friends, and total strangers, on social media is done as a matter of course.
While I don’t think we’ve reached the point where people sitting across a table from each other in a restaurant will text rather than talk to each other, who among us has not seen families or even couples at a table ignoring each other and texting to their friends?
Social Media is an Essential Tool
There’s no doubt that social media is an essential communication tool. But there’s also no doubt that a particular segment of the smartphone-bearing population has become addicted to it, just as they have become addicted to video games.
The concern is with this population segment, that does not use social media as a tool to accomplish tasks – whether to ascertain information such as where to meet a friend for lunch or when the release of a new DVD is due – but rather just to kill time mindlessly. Make no mistake, the “digital well-being” of these individuals is at risk.
According to research published in Psychology Today , excessive technology use (such as “going down the social media rabbit hole”) results in:
- Musculoskeletal symptoms (aches and pains) from remaining in a fixed posture bent over a small screen for extended periods
- Visual problems such as eyestrain, blurred vision, and headache
- Accidents caused by an insistence on texting or reading a phone while driving or walking
- Sleep deprivation
- Cyber Bullying
Technology and human nature
Is it the fault of social media that many become addicted to it, or is it because the individuals involved are prone to addiction? After all, before people walked into open manholes because they were reading on their smartphones, they did it because they were reading books. Before drivers rear-ended someone at a stoplight because they were texting, they did it because they were applying makeup or cleaning their fingernails.
Addictive behavior as a whole is the concern here – it just happens that it is more prevalent than ever now because of the large percentage of people who have access to smartphones and addictive technology.
The key to healthy use of technology and social media is to set boundaries.
Track how much time you spend on social media.
Do you know how much time you spend on social media? Facebook has recently created an app that will tell you.
Once people realize how much of their day is spent on activities that haven’t accomplished anything, they are more amenable to changing their behavior.
Solutions are to place one’s phone in an inaccessible location while driving, so one is not tempted to check one’s messages every few seconds.
Encourage children and teens to leave their phones in their room during family lunch or dinner times. Communicate with each other the old fashioned way at this time.
Leave phones in pockets while walking – whether in the home, in the office or on the streets.
It may take a while to break oneself of the social media obsession and tech overload, but with effort and diligence, it can be done. In the end, it’s a habit like any other and can be broken.
And your productivity and happiness – both at home and work – will go up as a result.
About Carole Hambleton-Moser: With a M.A.L.D. (Master of Arts in Law & Diplomacy) from Tufts University, a BA (with concentration in French) from Gettysburg College, and a Diploma from the Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva, Switzerland, Carole Hambleton-Moser has learned a set of qualities that have helped her in her career and now facilitate resolving problems which she encounters in her non-profit work. Her networking skills, diplomacy, tenacity and the ability to move onward despite any obstacles are of paramount importance in her current work as a volunteer, Board member, Trustee, and donor to the organizations she works with.