It’s no secret that we Australians love our gadgets. Whether it’s smartphones, tablets, laptops, internet-enabled TVs or even smartwatches, we’ve become a plugged-in nation obsessed with the latest and greatest in portable tech.
Nothing compares to the convenience and connectivity on offer from these innovations. After all, when was the last time you found your way to a new destination without the help of your smartphone’s maps?
But as with many popular pleasures, these pros are heavily counterbalanced by a list of unavoidable cons. Research suggests a growing number of Australians feel a reliance on tech devices, which can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, social anxiety… even a little FOMO
A 2015 study revealed that on average, we check our smartphone 30 times a day (or a whopping 450 million times nationwide) – and that’s not even counting the laptops and other devices we’re glued to.
This emerging phenomenon is one that personal coaching and mindfulness expert Kate James is well aware of.
‘It’s highly addictive to be on devices,’ she says.
‘There’s research that says that it lights up the same part of your brain that a pokie machine does. One of the anecdotal findings is that when we get a notification, it sends us a signal that gives us a burst of serotonin – almost like a feeling of having created a connection.’
So when our phone or laptop sends us a beep, buzz or ding, we initially feel a sense of achievement. Add more than a handful of apps to your smartphone, though, and you might soon find yourself overwhelmed. Switching off individual app notifications is one thing, but what about the texts, calls and emails that can leave you feeling like the whole world is trying to talk to you?
It’s here that Kate recommends people take advantage of the features built-in to smartphones and computers, which can help take the edge off being connected 24/7.
‘I was talking to a client who noticed that the constant beeping and notifications from her phone make her feel really on-edge throughout the day. So she has her phone on “do not disturb” all day until around 4:00pm, when she returns calls and text messages,’ she says. ‘I think that’s a brilliant way of managing it.’
Features such as ‘do not disturb’ can be programmed to switch on and off at the same time each day, which can help you leave your work in the office and resist the temptation to stay available until bedtime. Similarly, features and apps that adjust the colour of your phone or laptop screen – from ‘stay awake’ blue-toned light to a sleepy golden or red hue – are a great way to wind down at the end of the day.
‘It really is helpful for people to have boundaries around what time they switch off, because creating that stimulation late at night can keep your brain awake,’ Kate says.
‘Even if you’re using mindfulness apps or to do a guided meditation at the end of the day, you need to be disciplined enough to put the phone on “do not disturb” and use it simply for that purpose.’
If you’re finding that the temptation to check your emails or post one last Facebook status is affecting your sleep patterns, consider implementing a ‘no tech in the bedroom’ rule. Likewise, watch out for ‘double screening’ (watching TV while playing on your phone or laptop).
But above all else, Kate is of the opinion that there’s no need to panic about tech taking over our lives.
‘If you’re more aware and more conscious about how these things can impact you, then you can make choices,’ she says.
‘All positive change begins with awareness. There are some incredible benefits to smartphones and social media. We need to make use of those things and look at how we can use the devices and the changes in technology to our advantage.’