A Publication of WTVP

When you begin to feel overwhelmed by any type of technology, it’s time to take a break.

As technology progresses, it’s becoming ever more advanced and readily available. But is that a good thing? While the answer may be debatable, there’s no question that technology has a permanent place in our lives, so each of us must try to make it a positive thing. There can, however, be a negative side to technology, and we must not avoid coming to terms with that.

Rewiring the Brain
This is not an attempt to prove that technology is bad for the human brain, but an effort to shed positive light on what we can do to keep it from becoming bad. Is it possible that staring at screens all day can rewire the human brain? We spend a lot of our days staring at screens, and yes, it can be a bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Generally, when we feel overwhelmed in any situation, the brain’s reaction should be to take a break. Unfortunately, we don’t always take the breaks our brains need, sometimes because we cannot (e.g. work), and other times because we don’t want to.

The brain is malleable, so yes, technology can indeed reshape it. There is plenty of good coming from our screens, but positive change will only occur if we do not overwhelm ourselves. The word multitasking, often used in the workplace today, originated in the technology world as computers grew capable of performing multiple tasks at once. Obviously, multitasking for humans is quite different.

It’s not uncommon for people to sit at a desk and field phone calls on their cell phones while checking emails on their laptops and surfing the Internet on their tablets. Is all this really necessary? In large part, that “necessity” lies solely in the perception that we must perform multiple tasks at once to stay caught up. Yet research shows humans are much better off focusing on one task at a time. So why do we often seem incapable of doing so?

Chemical Factories and Self-Control
Each time you hear an alert notifying you of a new text message or email, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is released when something enjoyable happens, especially when it happens unexpectedly. This could be an argument as to why technology is good for the human brain. But too much of a good thing, it turns out, can be bad. That’s because we can gradually become our own “chemical factories,” seeking ever more “hits” on our screens just to keep the dopamine flowing.

Self-control is the key here. When you begin to feel overwhelmed by any type of technology, it’s time to take a break. If you’ve lost the ability to recognize you are overwhelmed, try these simple guidelines:

  1. The 20-10/30-10 Rule. If you don’t work at a computer, set a timer for 20 minutes; do 20 minutes of screen time followed by 10 minutes of activity, such as walking or climbing stairs. If your job entails a lot of screen time, do 30 minutes at your screen followed by 10 minutes of activity. This allows your brain to reset and refocus, while high concentrations of dopamine are returned to normal.
  2. “When in Rome…” The old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” can help you achieve natural breaks from the dopamine overload that arises from screen overuse. The same refers to social settings. If no more than two people in a group or meeting are checking their screens, then you should refrain as well. Use that time to allow your brain a break from screen-related dopamine hits.
  3. 20th-century technology to the rescue. Make yourself use “20th-century technology” at least once a day; that is, take handwritten notes in a notebook. Because you—not the computer—are composing the note, a different part of your brain—and thus a different neurotransmitter reward pathway—is being used. Again, your brain gets a well-deserved break from dopamine overload.

We must also be mindful to use technology in the ways for which it is best suited. Every day brings new stories of how technology, the Internet or social media are hurting our culture. While there is some truth to that notion, there are some rather simple ways to make sure we are using technology appropriately—and that’s what we need to focus on.

Advances in technology are only going to increase. The goal should be to embrace it, not run from it. iBi