We’ve all seen it.  You’re in a restaurant, and at the next table is a family.  The adults and the kids all have cell phones.  Everyone is on their screen, and no one is engaged in conversation.  Besides the obvious lack of social interaction, is anyone paying attention to the other adverse affects that technology is having on us?  Actually, science is, but first let’s look at some numbers.

 

 

 

 

 

  • A Kaiser Foundation Study found that elementary age children averaged 7.5 hours a day using entertainment technology.
  • 75% of these children have televisions in their bedrooms
  • 50% of household have a TV on in their house all day
  • 68% of 2 year old regularly use tablets, 59% have a smartphone, and 44% have a video game console
  • In another study, close to 50% of parents surveyed said they use technology of some sort to keep children age 0-3 entertained.
  • 1.8 billion people in the world own smartphones and use them daily
  • In the UK, 70% of 11-12 year olds use cell phones, and that number increases to 90% by age 14.
  • 25% of children age 2-5 have a smartphone
  • The average smartphone user check their phone 150 times a day.

Digital Dementia is a term coined by German neuroscientist Dr. Manfred Spritzer in 2015 based on his research proving the breakdown of cognitive function related to the overuse of technology. Spritzer and other researchers have demonstrated the following adverse effects of technology overuse:

  • Sensory deficits from the the lack of movement associated with the sedentary nature of technology use.
  • Postural changes associated with technology use including forward head posture (tech neck) with slouched shoulders and back leading to headaches, neck pain and low back pain.
  • Increased rates of ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, developmental delay, anxiety, learning disorders, sleep disorders, and other behavioral disorders in children due to the overstimulation of auditory and vestibular pathways.
  • Significantly decreased physical activity levels contributing to childhood and adult obesity.  2-3 hours daily of active play has been shown to be critical for normal brain development in children.
  • Video games and violence on TV have been shown to significantly increase sympathetic activity (“fight/flight” response) in children and adults leading to anxiety and depression disorders.

Brain researchers have now identified what they are calling internet addiction disorder.  Research by Kimberly Young PhD and others have demonstrated that there can be significant negative brain changes associated with excessive time spent on the internet.  These changes are associated with excessive dopamine stimulation via the reward and pleasure centers in the brain.  These are the same pathways activated by certain drugs such as cocaine, opiates, and methamphetamines.

 

 

 

In addition to all the adverse neurological and physical effects associated with technology overuse, there are some other significant issues that should be considered.

All digital devices emit high levels of blue light.  Blue light is proven to increase cortisol levels.  Cortisol is the stress hormone.  Chronically elevated cortisol levels have been shown to cause shrinkage in some brain areas, most notably the hippocampus, which is associated with memory and recall, as well as containing high numbers of neural stem cells.  Elevated cortisol is also a major contributor to obesity and Type II Diabetes.  It also disrupts our normal circadian rhythm leading to sleep disorders.

Another concern is mounting evidence that long term exposure to the electromagnetic fields associated with modern digital devices can have negative health consequences. Over 25,000 articles have been published in scientific journals over the last 30 years about the effects of EMF’s (electromagnetic fields) on human health.

There are thing we can do to reduce the negative impacts of technology on our brains and health:

  • Limit the amount of time we spend on our devices to less than 3 hours a day.
  • Maintain normal posture while using devices.  Forward head posture from looking down at devices alters the resting state of the brain, leading to decreased levels of alertness.
  • Exercise improves brain health dramatically in both children and adults, and has been shown to improve memory and cognitive function.
  • Avoid blue light exposure from all screens and other artificial light sources at night. Install blue light filers such as flux or iris on all devices if possible.  Purchase blue light blocking glasses to wear if you watch TV at night.
  • Put your Wi-fi modem and router on a power strip and shut it down before you go to bed.

This is a serious issue for you and your children.  I implore you to not ignore the very real consequences of electronic technology. The rise of these technological advances has only happened in the last 20 year years, and is accelerating rapidly.  We are only just beginning to see the negative impacts of technology, and if the early data is any indication, it is likely to have a significant negative impact on the upcoming generations.  Given the rise in cognitive and neurological degenerative changes that we are already seeing in our population, it is critical that we protect our brains from the emerging challenges associated with increased technology use.

Thanks to the American Posture Institute (API) for the graphics and much of the content for this blog.