By Dr. Bev Rodgers and Rev. Linda Newton
In our new book Tech-Pecked or Tuned In: Finding God in a Digital World we share a great deal of research about how technology use can have a negative effect on the brain. Concepts like “switch cost “which is the time it takes to get refocused on a project after you get interrupted by the latest ping, ding or buzz. And we discuss FOMO, fear of missing out which elevates your anxiety levels, as well as the google effect, how we don’t remember important information because we can let Siri do it for us. We make a strong case that chronic tech usage is creating higher anxiety levels in all of us. The book offers tools to help find balance. We also found research on several scientists who decided to take a tech break and study the results. Here is what they found.
New York Times technology journalist Matt Ritchel accompanied several scientists, all of whom were studying the brain, on a retreat to a remote location in Utah. They decided to spend a week with no cell phones, no Internet access, and no digital distractions. The scientists wanted to observe what happened to their brains as they took a break from their digital devices in order to note whether it warranted further study for the rest of us in this wired-up world.
After three days of no tech, all of the scientists on the retreat noticed something significant happening. “You start to feel more relaxed. Maybe you sleep a little better. Maybe you don’t reach for your phone pinging in your pocket,” Richtel says. “Maybe you wait a little longer before answering a question. Maybe you don’t feel in a rush to do anything—our sense of urgency fades.” And research shows that along with that, your anxiety decreases.
One scientist attending the weeklong getaway observed, “I am not as engaged in my world when I’m constantly using devices as I am when I am away from them.” Richtel terms this newfound feeling of freedom the “three-day effect.” And the scientists concluded that this three-day effect could be the basis for future study that might help us understand what happens to our brains when we’re overwhelmed with data, and what happens to us when we get away from it.
Weighing in on this concern, Matt Richtel concludes, “One way of looking at all of this research is to think of technology the way we think about food. Just as food nourishes us and we need it for life, so too—in the twenty-first century and the modern age—we need technology. You cannot survive without the communication tools; the productivity tools are essential. And yet, food has pros and cons to it. We know that some food is Twinkies and some food is Brussels sprouts. And we know that if we overeat, it causes problems. Similarly, after twenty years of glorifying technology as if all computers are good, science is beginning to embrace the idea that some technology is Twinkies and some technology is Brussels sprouts.”
The truth, by anyone’s standards, is that whether we are ingesting Brussels sprouts or Twinkies, too much of anything can be a problem. Finding a balance leads to a healthier life. Just like the scientists concluded that monitoring their use of technology gave them more opportunity to tune in to the world right in front of them, the rest of us could find benefit from doing the same. Don’t you think?