Darian Kovacs: For young professionals, screen time is the new smoking

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      By Darian Kovacs

      Apple’s announcement this year that it will be launching features into the iOS 12 update that will help people overcome their dependence on looking at their phone screen multiple times per minute. Although the app is a step in the right direction, Apple seems to have forgotten that most users are too ashamed to take a deep dive into how much time that they are spending staring aimlessly into a piece of glass and LEDs.

      Most business people whom I’ve tried discussing the screen-time issue with have been reluctant to do so. Likely because they know roughly the amount of time they spend on their phones. As we’ve learned from other habits, like cigarette smoking, shame is not the best tactic to use for overcoming addictions.

      Just ask those who smoke around you; they know their actions are increasing their risk of life-changing and even life-ending diseases, yet still, they persist.

      Last year, a Japanese firm made international news for providing nonsmokers with extra vacation time to make up for the time stolen by their employees who smoked. But I challenge that having a cellphone on an average workers’ desk leads to a higher-than-desired amount of screen usage, which could have been spent on something a bit more productive.

      For business people or working professionals, the hours spent behind one screen or multiple screens are easily double that of the average person. Always being connected and still being available can lead to rapid burnout, meaning that the employee is no longer performing at their peak, leading to more wasted time and potentially a higher turnover.

      Screen time causes complications, too

      Over the past few years, media reports have been coming in droves on the adverse health complications caused by the insatiable thirst for more. In fact, spending too much time on our favourite apps like Instagram might not just have a lasting effect on our psyche, it can have a physiological impact as well. From grey-matter atrophy to blocking important receptors for emotion control, cognitive function, and impulse control.

      That’s not even mentioning the impact that cellphones have on our relationships on both a physical and emotional level. According to Victoria L. Dunckley, author of Reset Your Child's Brain: A Four Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen Time, the 6” by 3” wedge in our relationships can cause “damage to an area known as the insula, which is involved in our capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others and our ability to integrate physical signals with emotion. Aside from the obvious link to violent behaviour, these skills dictate the depth and quality of personal relationships.”

      Much like secondhand smoke, screen-time addiction affects our children, too. Experts from the University of Michigan and Illinois ascertained that interference from cellphones can lead to destructive behaviour in children in an attempt to capture their parents’ attention.

      That’s why I’ve actively sought ways to reduce and, in some cases, eliminate screens and electronic devices from parts of my home life. It’s simpler than what you might imagine. For example, I invested in a landline which allows me to receive text messages, thanks to my service providers’ text-to-voice software. That way, I know that I don’t have to panic-check my phone to see whether I’ve missed an important notification. Chances are, a vast majority of “emergencies” can wait until the next day anyway.

      The era of screen time is coming into its maturity phase in developed nations. This is borne out by monthly active user data of the top social media sites over the past year. That’s why now is the time for a mature approach to how much time we spend behind a screen. Ask yourself: what’s the purpose of your screen time and, more importantly, isn't there something else that you’d prefer to be doing?