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These days, we seem to be constantly plugged-in. Always at our laptop, our iPhone, and our iPad, seeing what new news the world sends. From the time we wake to the time we go to bed, even into the night, we monitor our email, our Twitter feed, our Facebook wall and our Pinterest boards. All day, we watch our screens, on tenterhooks, waiting for the reply to that email, to be liked, to be shared.
Most of this technology is very new, and there's no way to know how it might affect us long-term. However, some worrying research suggests that unalloyed time staring at our screens may be storing up problems for the future.
What kind of problems?
Recent studies have found that excessive screen-time, and especially excessive use of social media, is making us into anti-social, narcissistic, unempathetic insomniac computer addicts.
Let's begin with anti-social. A recent study of over 3000 participants under 30 found that 76% of females check social media at least 10 times while they're socialising with friends. 54% of males also check social media the same amount of times while out with friends. A survey by social network Flashgap asked 150,000 millennial users if they had missed part of a real-life conversation due to checking their social media. 87% admitted they had.
Now let's look at narcissism. One study looked at 486 college students. They were given a personality test that measured narcissism, and were asked about their social media use. A follow up study tested 93 adults with an average age of 35. Both studies found narcissists post differently on social media, in order to boost others' opinion of them. However, it was unclear if narcissists are more drawn to social media or if social media creates narcissists.
It may be harder to convince you to banish your iPhone from the bedroom (according to a Facebook commissioned study, 57% of us use them as alarm-clocks), but, if you suffer insomnia, it may be worth it. Neuroscientist Orfeu M. Buxton, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, believes the blue light of the iPhone in the bedroom may set off "threat vigilance", anxiety which keeps us awake. He says:
“This means that you’re never off, you’re always watchful, which is a hallmark to insomnia."
Finally, some neuroscientists have found that excessive use of phones in young children can leave children as young as five unable to read emotions in a human face, causing lack of empathy. This could be a serious problem for the future, as research suggests that as many as 68% of children aged three to 17 own a smartphone, using them for twenty-one hours and 48 minutes every single week.
Adults are just as bad. 59% of adults feel "hooked" to their devices, with 30% feel their friendships suffer due to the amount of time they spend online.
So are you saying screens are bad for us?
Screens can be helpful. The internet can find information that would have required a very knowledgeable and friendly librarian twenty years ago. Letting a child use a screen can give a parent five minutes of free time, and give the child time to practice vital hand-eye coordination skills. However Janine M. Cooper, research fellow at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute stressed moderation, saying:
“Perhaps the best advice for parents is to monitor the content of the apps their kids access and tell them from a young age that they’re for ‘sometimes use’, just like sweets and lollies.”
That might be a good rule for everyone.