If you are like most people, in recent times you’ve spent considerable time glued to a variety of screens including smartphones, laptops, tablets, computer screens or TVs.
Lockdowns, periods of isolation and the need for social distancing were collectively responsible for our skyrocketing average daily screen-times, raising concern among health professionals that our once-delicate balance between online and offline lives has been massively disrupted.
While we were once fixated on the concept of work-life balance, many health experts have shifted their attention to the way we incorporate technology into our lives and our ability to achieve a so-called tech-life balance.
Tech-life balance refers to using technology in such a way that it does not impact negatively on your personal life or relationships.
And health experts are concerned that a cocktail of pandemic-related conditions has pushed our tech-life balance way out of whack.
Even before the pandemic entered our lives, our dependency on technology had become a serious concern.
We use technology more than ever before for everything from work to shopping to connecting with friends through to checking on our children’s whereabouts.
We can read the news, respond to emails, watch TV, listen to music and make a phone call – wherever we are and whenever we want – all from a small hand-held device.
There is no question that technology makes our day-to-day life easier. But as our parents almost certainly warned us at one point in time, we can have too much of good thing.
Our devices have made us feel under a great deal of pressure to be available 24/7 – to respond instantly.
But by being so readily available to whoever wants our online attention, we often make ourselves less available to those who are right there in the room with us – family, friends and colleagues – and in the process we put those relationships at risk.
The wider health impacts of too much technology
And when it comes to our health, too much technology has been blamed for a range of other issues including increased irritability, heightened anxiety, digital eye strain, sleep problems, reduced attention span, inability to concentrate and failing fitness levels.
You will know your tech-life balance is broken when you see your smartphone, laptop or tablet as an extension of your personal self and you prefer the company of your device to the physical presence of family and friends.
And if you lose your device momentarily to spark a frenzy of pulling cushions off the lounge or rummaging through piles of newspapers or magazines, then consider your tech-life balance to be compromised.
Even worse, if you sleep with your phone within reach so you can attend to notifications as they come in during the night, then your tech-life balance is in jeopardy.
You may even know that your tech-life balance is totally out of sorts but feel powerless to do anything about it.
Tips on how to digitally detox
The good news is that, with some persistence, it is possible to restore your tech-life balance if you gradually increase your NST – your non-screen time.
Simply becoming aware of the seductive attributes of most devices and the damage caused by digital addiction is an important first step. And we need to question our relationship with our screens rather than accepting the status quo.
Consider introducing “phone stacking”, where everyone surrenders their phone and places it in a pile in the middle of the table during meals or catch-ups with friends, families or colleagues.
It may help, too, to have tech-free zones in certain areas of the workplace (think: pause areas) or at home (think: bedroom or meals area).
And, of course, having a digital detox from time to time, like regular screen-free Sundays, will go a long way to resetting your tech-life balance.
Scheduling regular downtime, limiting notifications, taking advantage of the “do not disturb” function and switching off mobile data can also bolster your NST and improve your tech-life balance.
Every one of us has a choice about how much time we spend in front of screens, where we pay our attention and how we manage the many digital distractions that confront us on a minute-to-minute basis.
Ultimately, maintaining a tech-life balance is less about cutting out technology and more about understanding when it is time to go offline.
And achieving a better tech-life balance will always require us to disconnect to reconnect with others.