Back to School, Back to Routine: The Cost of Tech Addiction

By: Jen McWaters, Psy.D. | August 31, 2018

The final weeks of summer are upon us. The sun is out, final vacations are being savored. We have the time and space to interact with the people around us. Weekend adventures and warm evenings prompt us to step outside to engage with the natural world. We noticeably “feel” better, healthier, and are consciously aware of these facts.

Summer ends, however. School begins, and we notice ourselves reverting back to old routines. We experience a sense of relief as we experience more structure, predictability, and consistency in our daily lives. On the flip side, the repetitive routine and stressors of work or school lead us to want to escape, often through the addictive, colorful screens of our electronic devices.

I recently attended a national psychology conference where Dr. Adam Alter gave an intriguing talk on the impact of screen and social media addiction, based on his latest book entitled Irresistible. During his talk, Dr. Alter pinpointed the reasons why we get sucked into the online vortex of social media so easily, and the strategies big businesses such as Instagram and Netflix use to keep us hooked and wanting more. Businesses use these strategies to increase their user numbers, and therefore their profits. They are not in the business of considering your well-being including the impact their products have on your mental health.

Perhaps most shocking was Alter’s reference to a quote taken from a famous New York Times interview with Steve Jobs in 2010, after the first iPad was released. In the interview, Steve Jobs was asked whether his kids liked the Ipad. Jobs replied “They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.” This is a jaw-dropping response given Jobs’ resources and Apple’s promotional marketing of their products to adults and children of all ages.

What does this mean for us? It means that we must take responsibility and consider the impact electronics, internet, and social media have on our personal and our families’ well-being. We consistently hear from research studies that our mental, emotional, even our physical well-being is at risk. Yes, it is amazing that we now have access to unlimited, on-demand information owing to the internet. It’s wonderful also that we are able to stay close and connected to loved ones even from afar. However, most of our time on our devices is often not spent calling and texting family members. This is especially true for young adults and children.

Time. We need to consider how social media overuse and addiction through electronics rob us of our most precious resource: time — time out in nature doing activities we enjoy; time spent meditating and learning how to be present; time spent practicing and developing social skills and relationships; and time spent connecting with our loved ones face-to-face.

As we return to school and return to our routines, let’s consider making a commitment to not doing everything the same. Create limits around how much and when electronics are used in your home. Reclaim the dinner table as a sacred time of connection if you can. Remember: It is up to you to set the boundaries.

Alter, Adam (2017). Irresistible: the rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked. Penguin Press. New York, NY.


Image: Kevin R. Colvin on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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