Plugged-In Syndrome

Last week we experienced a power outage at our corporate headquarters. Storms in the early morning knocked out power all over Chicago. As a result we experienced a brown-out at our office, meaning we had partial power. Our server was down so the internet was out, everyone’s computer was running low on battery power, our phone system was down and we had no air. Needless to say it was an odd day. We pondered aloud and bemoaned our dependence on technology. We were able to rig up the system to get internet access eventually, but the whole experience made me ask the question “Can I really unplug?”

I’m not necessarily talking about at work, but outside of work. Do I really need to check my email as soon as I come home from work? I was just on it 40 minutes ago. Has anything happened that could be that important? Do I have to log into Facebook several times in the evening? Do I need to check my text and voicemail messages at the gym? And the big question, how does this constant connection affect my brain?

I am an avid reader and I realize that I am actually reading less and spending more time on email, Facebook and Netflix. When I do sit down to read, I find it harder to focus on my book and I have less patience if a new book doesn’t grab my attention right away. Besides the fact that I love to read, it is also one way that I recharge myself. So the realization that my reading time has been usurped by social media and video streaming is very disturbing to me.

Studies are showing that the dominance of online media is causing negative changes in the brain, (especially in young minds) primarily in the area of attention and focus. As a result, we are inhibiting our critical thinking and creative abilities. Both of these skills require time and some degree of focused thought, which are declining in proportion to the amount of time we fill with the internet.

Now, I am by no means saying that we should completely unplug. For work, the internet and email are completely necessary and Facebook is fun and a great way to stay in touch with friends and learning about cultural events. I do think that we have the ability to set boundaries and control the amount of time we spend on our computers. I definitely want to spend more time reading and also to be able to just be still. I need to remind myself being online is not my only solution for not having anything to do.

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