There is a myriad of issues connected to excessive screen use. In part 1 [Why are we getting addicted to screens?] we talked about what kind of mechanisms behind these devices cause us to behave like addicts. Today I want to touch the findings, how the screen devices affect our lives and how we can claim back our freedom.
Science  identified 4 ways of how our lives are widely influenced by excessive screen use: psychological, physiological, social and financial. For each of the areas, I want to draw a bit of an outline, on how they affect our health and wellbeing.
The permanent use of our screens changes our view of reality and the expectation of reward. It becomes incredibly easy to be rewarded with dopamine and we want it more and more. Each time we get a message, an email or a Like, our brain receives a kick. Especially for young folks, this creates difficulties to work towards a goal, to put in a constant effort and to cope with failure in order to be rewarded with dopamine later. Because while using a screen device they can get the reward much faster, with the swipe on their phone. Even adults are less likely to put their rewards on hold if they can have them right away.
We become less tolerant to boredom, so we choose to check our phone even during the shortest, potentially boring period for instance in an elevator. Those time gaps usually have the biggest influence on our creativity and problem-solving abilities. They make us leave our usual paths of thought. Avoiding being alone with our thoughts eliminates the part of our potential which needs some off-time to blossom.
With the chance of escaping reality, the temptation is big to avoid dealing with the things around and inside of us. It seems so much easier to use a screen device than to worry about our relationship, the job or to deal with unpleasant emotions or boredom. There is a reason, why Adam Alter  calls screen devices “adult-pacifiers“. If we choose the virtual world over the real world too often, it creates problems. Small issues grow to big problems when we refuse to deal with them.
The consequences of screen-overuse for our physical health can’t be underestimated. The change in permanent behavior created a myriad of new medical issues which were not (or much less) present before.
One of the main issues is the lack of physical activity. The use of devices typically means that we are sitting. Physical activity is linked to a better physical and mental health and lower weight on average. Moving less and eating mindlessly during playing or social media use increases the risk of obesity, inactivity-related diseases, and mental problems.
More people than ever suffer from neck and back problems after screen use. Bending forward instead of sitting upright, creates a tremendous load on your spine and tendons. The weight of your head, usually about 5-6 kg when upright, increases to about 30 kg in the typical posture for screen use (60 degrees bent) . The results often are very tight muscles which cause a headache or even migraine. Over a longer period, it becomes our natural posture and creates even more headache and pain and causes muscles and ligaments adjust to the “new” requirements.
It was found out in Korea by coincidence  that 96.5% of the recruits for the army had serious myopia. Staring at a screen for hours each day makes our eyes adjust to the requirements. In combination with less time spent outside, we miss opportunities to watch and focus farther away while overemphasizing focus on the short distance. For kids, the situation is worse, because their brains and eyes have to develop. If they rarely experience situations where they watch far and change their focus from close to far, they will not develop the ability properly. This disability will limit them not only in sports but in other areas of their lives as well.
An extended use of screens during day and evening means less exposure to natural light and a lot of artificial white and blue ray light. Our sensory organs always try to figure out, what time it is. White and blue rays pretend daytime. This disturbs our inner clock and the sleep-wake cycle [here you can read more about sleep, 4]. We might still fall asleep because we are exhausted, but we don’t recover properly during sleeping.
Maybe we don’t recognize accidents as a risk of using smartphones, but they are. Just imagine all the traffic accidents, because of people texting while driving, people who fall down stairs or bump into each other. When we are permanently distracted, we forget to pay attention when it is necessary. Usually, we dramatically overestimate our abilities to drive a car safely while texting. Even arm and hand pain are consequences of screen devices. They are pretty new, and medicine had to find new names for these issues. Some people send more than a thousand messages per day and scroll permanently through the bottomless content of social media. It’s no surprise that this leads to overuse of wrists and finger joints.
Increased screen use affects our relationships. We might spend time together, but often it’s time at the screen because the screen-time in the last years is growing permanently, while our personal time (next to the job, sleep and things like eating, is pretty much constant). Which means quality time and face to face interaction get less space [5+6]. Conversations are interrupted or don’t even take place, because of the effortless entertainment alternative. We even tend not to realize how our partner feels or if there are issues to solve, the more time we spend on our screens and in our chosen virtual environments.
Even language will change or does already due to the use of very simple and short sentences in text messages and the use of emoticons.
I wonder how kids will learn nuanced social skills with little opportunity to practice. It seems unpleasantly cumbersome to build a relationship, to discuss different points of view or even to worry, how to get to know someone attractive. Dating apps seem to take the insecurity of new beginnings away by swiping left or right (interested or not). But even having 1000 friends on Facebook doesn’t mean anything. Who is supporting you when you are sad or need to get back on your feet after a failure? Friendships need to be built over time to create trust, there is no quick fix to create a deeply connected group of people without putting in the effort first. (highly recommended video clip by Simon Sinek .
[tweetshare tweet=”Friendships need to be built over time to create trust, there is no quick fix without putting in the effort first. Our smart devices make it a challenge to build friendships for kids these days!” username=”DrSchauenberg”]
Excessive screen use can even cause financial problems. Many screen games can be downloaded for free, but only be used for a limited amount of playtime without additional purchase. The more time you spend playing, the lower the inhibition to purchase additional levels, lives or upgrade to continue playing. This can cause a great drain on finances.
Even the persistent distraction of screen messages and social media during working can cause less success in your job and might even mean, not to be promoted. Fewer career opportunities can have an immense financial influence. Which is especially terrifying when they are caused by less efficiency through screen addiction.
After all these consequences of excessive screen use, we should focus on solutions. Screens are an important part of our lives, demonizing or banning them can’t be the goal. But we will live a much happier life when we are in charge and can decide how to spend our time and when to stop watching screens. The following strategies will help you to get there.
How can we claim back our freedom?
Changing the use of social media and screens, in general, is not as difficult as it sounds. I want to suggest 3 simple steps. Feel free to try, what works for you and bring a bit of patience, you might need it.
Include stopping queues: Binge watching of videos, movies or social media content is made easy. If we include the missing stopping queues we can decide consciously how much time we want to be entertained. One opportunity is to set an alarm to the desired period and place the clock where we have to get up to switch the alarm off. This works for Netflix as well as Facebook or YouTube.
Avoid distraction: While working we could switch off the email program and Facebook as well as place our phone away from our desk. Out of sight, out of mind works great with temptations. Disabling screen notifications for most of the programs on the desktop as well as smartphone already eliminates a big junk of distraction.
Behavioral architecture: Our behavior is widely based on our environment. If we have the chance to be online all the time, we use it. If there is no signal, we might get nervous, but we will eventually stop using our devices. This is an example, which we can use consciously for our environment, it’s called behavioral architecture. Making certain behaviors easier (not using devices) and others more difficult (permanent screen use) can influence our lives positively. For instance: if our phone is not at our desk while we are working and not next to our bed at night, we make it more difficult to use the screen, because we would have to move to reach it.
What comes to my mind are for instance: Starting with a tech-free dinner, talk to your spouse and kids instead. Later include charging your phone in another room. Advanced, but very helpful for sleep quality and stress level is to switch off the phone (at least) 30 min before bed and on again after breakfast (flight mode). Of course, you need to find replacements. Socializing, spend time outside, an Audio-Book or reading a book or magazine are certainly good alternatives.
I wish, we all learn to be a bit more aware, what kind of changes we realize in us, our relationships and environment because of screen use. Deciding consciously, which of them we keep and which of them we would prefer to limit gives us back our freedom.
Here you find part 1 of this article: Why are we getting addicted to screens?
Sources & Recommendations to read and watch:
-  Adam Alter (2018): Irresistible. The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked. Penguin Books (Paperback & Audio Book)
-  How heavy is your head? http://lifestrengthpt.com/news/view/how-heavy-is-your-head/
-  Su-Kyung Jung; Jin Hae Lee; Hirohiko Kakizaki; Donghyun Jee (2012): Prevalence of Myopia and its Association with Body Stature and Educational Level in 19-Year-Old Male Conscripts in Seoul, South Korea: https://iovs.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2166142
-  Dr. Magdalena Schauenberg (2018): Why Sleep is more Important than Nutrition & Training combined.
-  Video: We spend four hours a day on our phones. Professor Adam Alter on Smartphone addiction.
-  Video: Why our screens make us less happy – Prof. Dr. Adam Alter
-  Video: Simon Sinek – Addiction to Technology is Ruining Lives. Inside Quest