I am struck by the irony of this week's topic being communicated via computer. I feel like a hypocrite already! Honestly, this may be the most important topic we explore in our series on the Paleo Lifestyle. In case you are just now joining us, we are working our way through a special edition of Paleo Magazine - "Going Paleo: The Step by Step Guide." You can catch up on other articles in this series on our blog. Unplugging, for the purpose of this article, is the intentional consideration of how, why, and how much to use our electronic devices. There is no doubt that the inter-connectivity of our world via computers, phones, and social media has opened up amazing possibilities in knowledge, relationships, and communication. However, the speed this has developed and become utilized has left open several potential pitfalls. We are going to look at this through three different filters:
- How It Affects Cognition
- How It Affects the Body
- How It Affects Relationships
cog·ni·tion /ˌkäɡˈniSH(ə)n/ noun
- the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses
I have my own biases on cognition: how we think versus how we acquire knowledge. I am sure these come from how I started the learning process - paper and pencil (not the stone tablets my sons envision!). I just assumed everyone learned the way I did and liked to. Still, even I have started, albeit very slowly, to process information and learning on a more digital level. PDFs and eBooks are all things I would have never considered ten years ago, but are slowly finding their way into my tool kit for learning. Beyond intentional learning, things like video games, surfing the web, and YouTube videos are all having an impact on how people gather and process information. In doing online searches for cognition and digital devices, I kept coming back to one main theme: Distraction. While many of us pride ourselves on being able to multitask, most of us probably think others are lousy at it. If we were honest with ourselves, we might admit we don't do our best work when we are trying to focus on multiple things at once. A 2012 article on the impact of technology and education compares students taking notes using paper and pencil with no tech access versus those taking notes while having access to texting emailing, messaging, and Facebook. Big surprise - the group that wasn't multitasking out-performed the group that was. Another article from the Cleveland Clinic relates ADHD-type symptoms as proportional to greater use of digital devices throughout the day. Finally, this article discusses the term "Digital Dementia" in relationship to how the use of digital devices may lead to atrophy of certain aspects of our memory. On some level, integrating too much digital media into our everyday lives as the potential to impact our ability to learn, our ability to focus on the big picture, and our memory. I can't tell you from my research that this is convincingly conclusive, but there appears to be enough evidence to call into question how much, when, and how often we employ digital devices in our daily lives.
Normally, when considering digital devices and being "plugged in," we think in terms of what effect it may be having on our brain. Did you ever consider how it may be impacting your body and overall health? The American Heart Association concludes: "When it comes to childhood obesity, sedentary behavior may be the most influential and controllable factor that parents can change, especially through managing screen time, according to a new American Heart Association Science Advisory." And the American Heart Association knows that OBESITY = HEART DISEASE! Another study in the Journal of Public Health looks at the role of screen time and metabolic syndrome (high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, increased waist circumference, and low good cholesterol) in children. What they found was a dose-dependent relationship bewteen metabolic syndrome and screen time: the more time you spent on a screen, the greater your odds for developing and progressing metabolic syndrome. While these two studies are relative to children, how could this same principle not apply to adults?
I have to admit, I have a pretty clear picture of how I think technology affects our brains (cognition) and our bodies. But I am more fuzzy on the relationships aspect. I have two sons: Josh in Denver and Caleb in Atlanta. My dad and brothers live in Denver; Dr. Sue's family is in Arizona and Illinois. While I don't text and I don't have a Facebook page, I really like being able to call family on the way home from work. Staying connected, especially since we live so far away, would be pretty tough without a cell phone. The flip side of that? Sue and I still have love letters we wrote to each other when were apart prior to getting married (don't look for those to be published on the blog anytime soon) - absence really did make the heart grow fonder! I also remember when I was first in practice, I treated a couple where the husband was a WW2 vet. They got married and he was shipped out for 18 months. I don't think they were ever able to call... and mail came every six weeks! But somehow, they made it work and stayed married for the next 50 years. I came across a really good article that details how the adverse use of our phones can impact our relationships with others and even ourselves, coining the word phubbing. Phubbing is snubbing others in favor of our mobile phones. The article describes the process as a vicious cycle: we're in a situation where someone is paying more attention to their phone than us, so we go to our phone and perpetuate the whole thing. Phubbing leads to less fulfilling relationships and loneliness, and loss of intimacy. The author points out that you can't connect well with someone you aren't able to read physical cues from (smiles, tone of voice, frowns, etc.) and you can't read physical cues if you aren't looking at them. You could extrapolate this same process to watching TV while trying to hold a conversation, or surfing the web while talking to your mom on the phone. In any case, it gives us a good reason to pause and consider how much attention we are really giving others in our direct vicinity, in lieu of someone or something (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) that exists in a cyber world.
I Get It...
Pandora is out of the box (if you are a millennial, this is a different Pandora than the one you listen to on your computer!). We aren't going back to the days of old... and that is OKAY. In moving forward, both as individuals and families, it is imperative that we consider the impact technology has on what it fundamentally means to be human. Intentionally considering how, why, and how often to engage with technology will allow us to best thrive in the framework in which we were created! Next week, we will take on the antithesis of unplugging: Connecting with Others! Yours in Health, Care Chiropractic Lafayette, Indiana