Escape from the land of screens

We spend far too much time staring into the bottomless pit of our laptops and phones. Perhaps it’s not quite the uniquely Internet Age dilemma we think it is. Was our parents’ generation any less addicted to the TV? Or their grandparents’ generation to the radio? I suppose it doesn’t help that our source of addiction is no further than our pocket. Whatever the case may be, it’s an issue and one that we would do well to address as a society and in our own personal lives.

An article by Kelly Wallace for CNN cites a poll conducted by Common Sense Media which found that 50 percent of teens feel addicted to their phones and 80 percent of them check their phones at least hourly.

The detrimental effects of excessive screen time are abundantly evident. I’ve found my reading attention span (and maybe my attention span in general, to some extent) isn’t what it was when I was a kid. Years of surfing the instant gratification-driven Internet, jumping from article to article has taken its toll on me.

The social impact is undeniable, as well. It seems the more that technology has facilitated communication, the more opportunity it has given us to isolate ourselves. Before class begins, most students are not having conversations and building new relationships with those around them – they’re buried in their phones.

We’d often rather send a text than have a real, face-to-face conversation. We prefer to hide in the virtual world behind the screen rather than interact with the real world that surrounds us (making the prospect of virtual reality all the more terrifying.) We allow our devices to eat so much time out of our day. How I long for the days when I could do homework without Facebook’s incessant siren song.

There are many productive, worthwhile ways to use technology, but so often it’s not used in moderation. It interferes with the things that matter most to us, like school, hobbies, and work. Studies have even shown that various forms of screen addiction can even produce negative physiological impacts on the brain, according to an article by Victoria Dunckley for Psychology Today. Examples include loss of brain tissue volume and “impaired cognitive functioning.”

We’re allowing our screens – designed to make our lives easier – to rob us of our attention spans, our social lives, and our time. But even for those of us who realize what a serious issue it is, reducing screen time is much easier said than done.

The first step to combatting excessive screen time is discipline. Though I didn’t enjoy it at the time, I’m glad now that my parents enforced rules on the amount of time I spent on the computer and watching TV. These days it takes self-motivation, but I also understand the value of it now.

Create rules for yourself. If you don’t take the initiative, nothing will change. Currently, I’m only using Facebook on Sundays. You could try checking your phone no more than once an hour or committing to no more than one episode on Netflix a day. An article by Tova Payne for lifehack.org suggests simple steps such as staying off your phone for the first half hour after you wake up and create “no-phone time zones” – chunks of the day when phone use is off-limits. The key is to make sure the goals are realistic. Setting a goal that you can’t keep is no different than setting no goal at all.

In addition to restricting yourself, set positive goals too. Have one conversation with someone you haven’t talked to in a class. Instead of another top 10 list online, go to the library and check out a real book to read.

Take five minutes and examine the ways screen time is negatively affecting your life. Set a handful of goals for this week. If you have five minutes to scroll through your Twitter feed, you have five minutes to take steps to make a positive change in your habits.

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