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Complementary Corner

Unplug Yourself

Renee Lehman

(4/2014) The Dalai Lama has said that "technology is good. It's when we let it control us that it becomes a bad thing. Technology does not produce compassion." I thoroughly agree with his comment. As with most things in life, technology can be healthy or harmful depending on how it is used.

Technology is becoming deeply woven into the very fabric of our lives at the speed of light. New programs/apps/etc. are introduced and become a part of our culture so quickly that there isn't time to step back and consider the implications that the new technology has on us. It is only in the rearview mirror that we can see whether a technological advancement has been helpful or harmful. We are now starting to see the effects that technology is having on us.

A national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2009 found that with technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth. Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7.5 hours to using entertainment media (i.e., TV, video games, movies, tablets, and smartphones) across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those 7.5 hours.

A study completed by San Francisco-based Common Sense Media showed that 38% of babies under 2 use tablets or smartphones, up from 10% in 2011. This high tech’s popularity with toddlers is outpacing what is known about the neurological and cognitive impact on the toddler’s brains, so child development experts say less — or no — exposure may be best in the first 24 months. "The bottom line is that it’s so new we don’t know if it’s good, bad or otherwise, but there is a lot of other research that shows the main learning and sustenance for young children — particularly under 2 — comes from their relationships, particularly with their parents and whomever takes care of them," said Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development.

Don’t get me wrong, technology absolutely brings wonderful advantages to our lives. It has given us the opportunity to connect with others who live at a distance. We have access to so much information at any time of the day, and it is so easy to share this information. It just also has some major disadvantages.

Another concern that I have about technology is that it doesn’t allow for us to "see" what is really happening around us, and to experience life. By constantly looking down at our smartphones and other high tech devices, we miss life that is happening all around us, and it is increasing our stress levels.

An example of how we are missing what is really going on around us can be found in the 2009 Western Washington University study. Specifically, 75% of college students who walked across a campus square while talking on their cell phones did not notice a clown riding a unicycle nearby. The researchers call this "inattentional blindness," saying that even though the cell-phone talkers were technically looking at their surroundings, none of it was actually registering in their brains.

An example of how our constant "connectedness" is stressing us out can be found in the University of California, Irvine study that measured the heart rate of employees with and without constant access to office e-mail. The researchers found that those who received a steady stream of messages stayed in a perpetual "high alert" mode with higher heart rates. Those without constant e-mail access were less stressed.

So, what would happen if one day, we chose to unplug for several brief moments during the day? Or, if we cut the cord to our technology for a day or two and looked up and out, what would happen, what would we experience?

  • What silence sounds like. Buzzing and chirping coming from the birds and insects, instead of your smartphone. These sounds can be very calming and soothing.
  • Being in the present moment with your own thoughts. An opportunity to be mindful, and really connect to yourself.
  • Conversation and interaction with friends at dinner. Food is meant to be enjoyed (not photographed and posted via social media), and eye contact can let you know that you are heard and understood.

And finally, my favorite:

  • The beauty of Nature! Each season has beauty. Can you see and appreciate all that nature has to offer? As Albert Einstein said, "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."

Sure, at first, you may feel some anxiety about not being "connected," about not being accessible… "What if someone tried to get in touch with you?" I’m sure that you will realize, just like my students at Gettysburg College reported after they completed this same assignment, "After 30 minutes, the anxiety of not having my smartphone eased, and I saw buildings, trees, and other things that I never noticed before." And my favorite response, "I started to look up and look into other people’s eyes. I felt a greater connection to others."

Unplug Yourself and Go Outside

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman