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Unplugged: Should We Log Off to Tune In?

Unplugged: Should We Log Off to Tune In?

Edward P. Crotty, CFA, Chief Investment Officer and Portfolio Manager, Davidson Investment Advisors

How much screen time have you had today? American adults now spend over 11 hours per day1 watching, reading, listening and/or interacting with media, according to market-research group Nielsen. That is up from nine and a half hours just four years ago. One reaction? Some people are taking dramatic measures by refraining from the use of technology for blocks of hours, days or even weeks. This digital break is one way to reduce stress, ease eye strain and refocus on relationships, nature and the physical world — without frequent interruptions.

In 2018, we saw increased pressure on companies such as Apple to build tools for users to monitor the amount of time they are on their products. Apple now includes screen time monitoring tools, giving users a detailed account of how much and in what ways they are using their iPhone. Research indicates that smartphones are addictive — when people hear the ding from a text, email or Instagram post, cells in our brains are likely to release dopamine, providing pleasure. This dopamine response may be part of the reason why the average American checks their phone 47 times a day (86 times for those between ages 18-24), according to a 2017 Deloitte study.2

Now that we have been using cell phones, iPads and similar devices for enough years so that the effects can be studied, a plethora of new information is available about the ways that regular device usage may impact us. A 2018 study indicates that teenagers’ memory suffers from frequent cell phone use.3 Another study4 shows that a full 89 percent of college students sampled had experienced “phantom,” or imaginary, phone vibrations when their phones hadn’t actually buzzed. Besides the studies, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the frequent social media use has reduced our capacity for concentration, contemplation and even the ability to interact well.

Because of these effects, signs are emerging that at least portions of the world’s population believe the pendulum has swung too far when it comes to frequent screen time. Devices are frowned upon during business meetings. Most classrooms and some restaurants ban them. And — except for those who use their smartphones to track their resolutions — the digital break is becoming an increasingly common New Year’s resolution.

Although unplugging from the digital world may sound ideal to many people, it remains unclear how many people will actually reduce their digital engagement. It could be that, as with the dangers that come with driving cars, we simply adapt to the negative effects of our digital devices because technology is so entrenched in our lives.

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Deloitte: Americans Look at Their Smartphones More Than 12 Billion Times Daily, Even as Usage Habits Mature and Device Growth Plateaus. Deloitte. Nov. 2017.
A Prospective Cohort Study of Adolescents’ Memory Performance and Individual Brain Dose of Microwave Radiation from Wireless Communication. Environmental Health Perspectives. July 2018.
Phantom vibrations among undergraduates: Prevalence and associated psychological characteristics. ScienceDirect. July 2012.

Information contained herein has been obtained by sources we consider reliable, but is not guaranteed, and we are not soliciting any action based upon it. Any opinions expressed are those of the author and based on interpretation of data available at the time of original publication of this article. These opinions are subject to change at any time without notice. Investors should consult their financial and/or tax advisor before implementing any investment plan.


Investment Management, Lifestyle