“How Connected is Too Connected? Finding Balance in the Digital Age”
As I scrolled through research for this post on my iPad, my husband asked what I was reading about. “I’m researching for a blog post about the impact being connected has on our daily lives.” A knowing grin crept onto his face, and I didn’t need to ask why. I stood for a moment to satisfy the alert from my Apple Watch, cleared the notifications from my iPhone, turned on my Bluetooth headphones to stream the Beethoven station on Pandora (one of my favorite work stations), and opened my MacBook to begin writing this post.
I entered this endeavor knowing that my digital devices and media consumption have become an integral part of my daily life as they have for so many Americans. The Nielsen Company’s audience report for the first quarter of 2016 revealed that adults in the U.S. spend an average of 10 hours per day consuming media (2016). Deloitte’s Global Mobile Consumer Survey (2016) found that 77% of Americans have ready access to a smartphone and 40% of consumers reported checking their phones within 5 minutes of waking. Another interesting finding is that many individuals reported using their phones in many settings and while engaging in other activities, including shopping (93%), at work (93%), and spending leisurely time (90%).
I can’t say that I am surprised by these statistics, as they ring true for me personally. I typically check my email from my smartphone as I’m making my morning coffee and then again multiple times throughout the day. When I’m waiting in the doctor’s office or in line at the grocery store, I often find myself scrolling through my Instagram or Facebook feeds, liking and commenting on posts made by my “friends.” And anyone that knows me knows that I am an avid consumer of podcasts and almost always listen to them as I’m cleaning the house, exercising, or driving the car.
And yet, despite these benefits, I do wonder about the potential negative impact of technology in our daily lives. If we are spending 10 hours a day consuming media, what impact is that having on our relationships? If I am focused on taking the perfect photo to document a moment on social media, am I truly in that moment?
In Alone Together, MIT social psychologist Sherry Turkle (2011) laments the effects of online presence on our identity development. Where once she was hopeful that social media would provide ample opportunity to explore and “try on” different identities, the reality is that we are becoming more and more confined by the identities we create on Twitter and Facebook, putting a great deal of time and effort into cultivating the perfect online persona for our followers. Turkle also describes the infringement of technology on our relationships, such as the limits of expression and empathy through electronic communication and our device's ability to contaminate our time with others by drawing our attention away from the individual immediately in our presence.
NYU Stern School of Business psychologist Adam Alter (2017) describes the addictive nature of digital devices and social media in his book Irresistible, citing statistics that 60% of adults keep their cellphones next to them when they sleep and half of those check their emails during the night. He cautions that our relationship with our devices is to the detriment of our personal relationships, our attention spans, and our ability to retain information.
Despite these potentially negative outcomes, the reality is that digital devices and social media will likely remain a part of our daily lives and can actually enhance our lives in many ways. So how do we mitigate the bad while keeping the good?
Balance. Striving to be mindful of our media consumption and digital use and its role in our lives.
Some strategies for this include:
These are just a few ways that you can maintain more control over your digital use and avoid allowing it to control you. You could also see improvement in your personal relationships and mental well-being. I encourage you to try one or all of these as an experiment this week to see if there is any positive outcome in your life.
Alter, Adam. (2017). Irresistible: The rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked. New York, NY: Penguin Press.
Deloitte. (2016). 2016 global mobile consumer survey: U.S. edition. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/global-mobile-consumer-survey-us-edition.html
The Nielsen Company. (2016). The Nielsen total audience report: Q1 2016. Retrieved from http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/reports-downloads/2016-reports/total-audience-report-q1-2016.pdf
Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Jodi is a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) and is currently serving as the Upper School Counselor at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. She has a Master’s of Education with a concentration in Mental Health and a Certificate of Education Specialist with a concentration in School Counseling from Louisiana State University. Prior to working as a school counselor, she worked in various clinical settings, including a community-based family clinic, a university mental health clinic, and a substance abuse detox facility. Jodi’s areas of focus and experience include school counseling, adolescent and family counseling, individual and group counseling, identity development, girls’ and women’s wellness, military personnel and veterans, academic and career counseling, and substance abuse treatment.