Plugged In: The impact of constant stimulation in our modern lives

I live and work in a hostel, and environment full of young and active individuals. In many ways hostels are a fantastic location to witness people from all backgrounds socializing and mingling. However, it is also a common occurrence to see the exact opposite. Large groups of people all hunched over their computers and phones silently focused in their own personal bubble. Because of my work as a writer I am frequently a member of this quiet and anti-social crowd. There are always exception and sometimes people just need to get their head down and work. However, in our day and age this introverted group is worryingly common. I see a frightening amount of people prioritizing their attention towards their phone the moment it buzzes. In our modern society, we have eliminated any possibility of boredom assuming we have our phone (which we usually do) and a good internet connection.


This constant access to mental stimulation can have a damaging side. For generations before us, their only option of entertainment while waiting for the bus may be a book or making conversation with others. Now we have the option to put our headphones in, load up YouTube or Spotify and disconnect completely from boredom and the world around us. Research indicates that our brain craves stimulation to feed our need for dopamine, which explains why some people resort to addictive activities such as drug abuse to kill boredom and to satisfy these urges. Even though Youtube may not be as dangerous as a syringe full of heroin, this behavior can have its downsides.According to Dr Dimitri Christakis, a professor of Paediatrics at The University of Washington, in 2011 the average age at which a child starts watching television was at four months. In the 1970’s the average age was four years old. Since 2011 we have also seen a dramatic rise in Apps and electronic devices increasing a child’s level of engagement and stimulation with technology. 


Over the past few decades we have also seen a dramatic rise in anxiety among teens. There is also strong evidence to suggest that our constant stream of electronic stimulation may be contributing to this increase. Checking emails, Facebook and other social media sites can be considered a neural addiction. Psychologist Dr Andrew Campbell at the University of Sydney believes this generation’s inability to switch off is likely to lead to increased levels of anxiety, stress and depression along with relationship problems. Even the simplistic of tasks while multitasking such as watching television while texting or playing a game on your phone can lead to higher levels of stress. 

While constantly being plugged in may have a damaging effect on our youth’s psyche, it may be having quite the opposite effect on our elderly population. Many studies have shown that certain applications can help to prevent Alzheimer’s. High levels of intellectual activity such as learning a new language or puzzles on our phones have shown to decrease the chances of Alzheimer’s like symptoms. 


Overall, modern technology can be a wonderful tool to conquer boredom while in a dentist’s waiting room or on the bus. However, it is important to recognize the difference between filling time and over filling time. If you feel that you are spending too much time on your laptop or phone, take a moment to switch off your Wifi connection and observe your surrounds. There are many great books which focus on helping you to disconnect from constant stimulation and encourage you to become more present. My personal favorite is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Just remember that unplugging yourself may seem difficult at first, but if you give it time it is honestly as simple as doing absolutely nothing. 


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