Overload of screen time more dangerous than we thought

As I’ve felt for quite some time, the more time someone spends staring at a screen, the worse they are likely to feel. This was shown by initial results of a psychological experiment of teens who, starting in 2010, began having increased risk of depression and suicide.

Specifically, the study focuses on social media and smartphone use, but I don’t think it’d be any stretch to say that if someone spends all their free time binging television shows or playing video games, they’ll feel worse than if they some work they’re proud of, hung out with friends and family, or spent time outside (and disconnected).

And this article, which is how I found out about the research study, does a nice job of explaining different factors that may contribute to the rise in depression and suicide rates instead of excess screen time while dismissing them through logic.

But these articles and studies are only the starting point. I’d argue that behind cases like this there is a buried problem that needs to be addressed.

After all, if there wasn’t a problem further in, why would the depression and suicide rates continuously rise over a 5 year period? Wouldn’t it just be brief swing in time, something to say that teens are just filled with angst and their hormones are doing what they do and we should just move on?

There are two things–both connected to this topic– that I’d like to discuss: sleep and face-to-face interaction.

First off, with much less to talk about, the importance of sleep. I’d wager that any marginally educated person knows that sleep is crucial for the body to recharge, to allocate its resources to healing problems that someone may have. This is why people tend to be exhausted when they’re sick: the body needs that state to effectively use all it has to fight whatever illness they may have.

And when someone doesn’t get enough sleep, what happens (usually)? They can become either woefully distraught or easily irritated.

I’ll be honest–I’m the latter. When I don’t get enough sleep, I’m absolutely miserable to be around; not that I mean to be, but that’s just how it turns out.

But these two sides are imbalances in logic, stemming from a lack of recharging. Depression and anxiety (correlating in respect to the two resulting extremes mentioned above) are chemical imbalances. Some people just need adequate sleep to fix that. Others need more.

Specifically with depression though, as sleep is lost, logic is abandoned also. And staying up all night using a smartphone (or other blue-light emitting screen device) is just asking for a morning case of depression. Keep that train going many nights in a row and you have a serious problem.

Now for face-to-face interaction. There’s a little more to this one, and I’ll try to do it some justice.

Humans, as social creatures, need social interaction. The amount varies for each person–I, as a deep introvert, can go for several days at a time without seeing or hearing anyone and be fine. But there lies the difference between being alone and being lonely. After some time, I start to crave a connection. Someone to talk to or someone to simply be around. A hug and a genuine smile can do wonders.

Others, like some of my most recent ex-coworkers, may not be able to go a full day without interaction lest they start going crazy. This is all up to how the individual works best.

But the common point is that everyone needs it at some point. And this is something that screen-time just can’t satisfy. When you are online, it’s easy to disconnect the person you talk to from the human they are.

As they say: on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

That’s relevant, right?

In all seriousness, you can talk to someone for hours on Facebook, or Twitter, or Reddit, or whatever other social media sites people get chatty on, and you may still have zero sense of their humanity. They can provoke your frustrations, they may bring up perspectives you’ve never thought of. But you don’t see their laugh, you don’t feel their presence, you don’t have that physical connection.

If you can’t touch their face, they might as well be a robot. Or a distant, unpettable dog (arguably worse than being a robot).

So, when loneliness hits after significant portions of time of no face-to-face, enjoyable interactions, and emotions are erratic from lack of sleep, all logic is unwillingly being burned down.

Suicide may ensue, unfortunately. And we shouldn’t ask for that to happen to anyone.

In an increasingly digital world, maintaining humanity and taking care of your body is becoming much more important. So if you’re feeling lousy, a starting place may be to turn off the devices and go spend time with a friend… in person.

It just might save your life.

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