Do you need a digital detox?

Chances are you're reading this post on your phone, laptop, desktop or tablet. And chances are this isn't the first or last thing you'll read online today. So it seems a bit odd that this post is all about the connected lifestyle and how it may be damaging our lives and our relationships.

Canadians, old and young, consume a huge amount of media every day — up to 8.2 hours — and all this connectivity adds up. The Canadian Paediatric Society has long been advising parents of the dangers of too much screen time based on numerous studies that show a correlation between screen time and school difficulties. In June 2017 they released a position statement on screen time for kids. They recommend that children under the age of 2 have no exposure to screens and children age 2-5 be limited to 1 hour per day. And it’s not just schoolwork that may improve by limiting screen time. A study from the University of California showed that children who had limited screen time, were better at reading human emotions compared to children who spent more time with technology.

But what about us adults? Does too much screen time negatively impact us the same way it impacts children? The experts say yes. A growing number of studies have shown that our 24/7 relationships with our devices can have a damaging effect on our real-life relationships.

Sherry Turkle, the renowned media scholar from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spent five years interviewing families, students, academics and employers about the ways we speak and don’t speak to each other. What became clear to Turkle was that our love affair with screen time was getting in the way of our relationships.

"Although we claim to connect more than ever before via text, chat, e-mail and social media, we don’t really listen intently any more amid the constant interruption." claims Turkle. We are easily bored and by engaging with our phones or tablets, we let others carry those conversations that don’t really interest us. And though we make excuses for our behavior, blaming work or family emergencies, nobody is really buying it...including ourselves. And that goes for our kids as well. As more and more adults have become plugged in, their relationship with their kids is suffering as well.

Boston clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner Adair interviewed kids who were allowed to play video games on their phones at dinner while their parents were on their own phones. The kids were not happy with that arrangement. Instead of getting the attention they wanted and deserved from their parents, they got a confusing emotional distance instead.

So how can we change the relationship we have with our devices? Maybe we don't have to break up. Maybe we just need to take break. Get some perspective and put some rules in place to make sure our online relationships don't become more important that our offline ones.