Did you spot the news story about the man sitting on his sailing boat off the coast of California, who was so glued to his smartphone that he missed a female humpback whale and her calf swimming past just a few feet away? The man was snapped by professional wildlife photographer Eric Smith while spending the day taking shots of the whales.
Screen addiction is fast-becoming the ultimate modern phenomenon. After all, when were you last on public transport where the majority of your fellow passengers weren't glued to their smartphone screens?
Indeed, a recent survey confirms many adults are becoming addicted to their smartphones. According to the Deloitte mobile consumer report, a third of smartphone owners check their phone within five minutes of waking up. One in six also checks their mobiles more than 50 times a day (younger users use their smartphones more often, with 13 percent of 18-24-year olds checking their devices more than 100 times a day).
Children are spending more time in front of screens too, with teenagers clocking up to six hours a day. Adults may not be setting the best example, with a study last year suggesting 70 percent of children believe their parents spend too much time staring at their smartphones.
Screen addiction also has health experts worried. Some studies claim there may be links between prolonged screen time and serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, simply because when you're stuck behind a screen, you're inactive (and the more inactive you are, the greater your risk for a wide range of potential health problems).
Other experts believe prolonged screen time is also linked with changes in the brain that involve emotional processing, decision making, attention and cognitive control. Then there are the problems it could be storing up for your eyesight and posture(for instance, a modern postural problem known as text neck - where your head is tilted downwards and shoulders rounded forwards - is thought to put up to 60lb of extra pressure on your spine).
Do you have a problem?
There are many signs you may be digitally addicted, including the following:
- Spending more time on your device than you thought
- Putting work and other activities aside to spend more time on your device
- Becoming annoyed if you're interrupted by someone when you're trying to check your device or do something online
- Spending more time on social media websites or through messaging than socialising with people face to face
- Making checking messages or emails a priority, even when there's something else you should be doing
- Becoming defensive about your behaviour, or hiding what you do on your device
If you or someone you know has a screen addiction that's starting to affect your or their day-to-day life and possibly health, there are ways to get a better life-tech balance. Here are some tips you can try today:
Draw up usage guidelines
Establish when and how often you and your family can use your devices. For instance, you could put a time limit per day on using your screens, and once the limit has been reached you must all agree to switch off (or, if available, use the parental controls on your children's devices to limit the amount of time they can be used daily. Similarly, you could create a timetable of activities, and include not just screen time but active and family time too.
If your children complain they're bored without their tablet or games console, organise plenty of activities to keep them occupied, such as sports and other outdoor games. If the weather is keeping you indoors, try getting the whole family involved in board games, take them to a museum, tell stories, or nurture their creative side by organising art or craft based activities.
Try to keep yourself busy around the house or in the garden, as it could help you to resist the lure of your smartphone or laptop.
Impose tech-free times
Try to get into the habit of having set periods of time away from your screens on a regular basis. Perhaps you could make it a rule that mealtimes are smartphone-free periods, or why not have a tech-free day every week (Sundays would be ideal)? Even better, think about having a tech-free week .
No screens before bedtime
Studies suggest the longer you spend on a smartphone or other digital device before going to bed, the more likely you'll take a long time falling asleep and get less sleep than you need. That's because the bright light of your screen is thought to trigger chemicals in your brain that keep you awake. So think about setting a sensible time to switch off, at least an hour or two before bedtime.
Go on a tech-free holiday
Digital detox camps - where you hand over all your personal digital devices when you check in - are gaining in popularity in the US. There are no phones, no computers and no tablets, the idea being to forget about the busy life you left behind so that you can relax completely.
Why not organise your own digital detox camp? Or simply take a break and leave your devices behind. Your mind and your body may thank you for it.