Screens Seen as Potentially Dangerous, Addictive
by: Mitch Stewart
That screen? The one you’re watching now. Or that other one, on your phone? Or the one you’ll watch later? It turns out mom was right, all these screens in modern life may really be rotting your brain.
Researchers at University College London have proposed that excessive screen time can be a contributor to dementia in people over the age of 50. “Research suggests that television is a bit of unusual activity for the brain because you’ve got lots of bright and fast-moving images so your brain is very alert,” explained Dr. Fancourt from the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care. “But at the same time, it is quite a passive activity to engage in and this has been shown to lead to a less-focused brain.”
Screens are clearly a big part of our lives. A poll from Alcon Canada showed that the average Canadian spends 11 hours per day looking at a screen. This means we spend only 4-5 hours away from them when awake. The question is, why do we feel so compelled to mindlessly scroll through social media and other web pages?
“The social media giants have made what they produce addictive,” Said Dr. James Wittebols, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Windsor. “Even Chris Hughes who is one of the founders of Facebook has come out and said that.” A Harvard University study proposes that self-disclosure on social networking sites stimulates the same part of the brain that ignites when taking an addictive substance.
Through our screen addiction, we also create a valuable commodity that we freely give to the tech titans: views. Wittebols teaches a curriculum that covers the political economy in the mass media, and how our data is used behind the screen. “Everywhere we go [online] we leave behind the fact that we were there and what we looked at,” Wittebols explained. “In many ways, data is the new oil, because they use it as sort of raw material to sell our lives back to us.”
Aside from the physiological dangers of the screen, Wittebols focuses on how the screen changes our lifestyles and the way we think. In the COVID era, everyone has been restricted to communicating and learning through computers, which can have a serious negative impact on people’s mental health. A study from The American Journal of Preventative Medicine in 2017 reported that young adults with higher social media use were three times more likely to feel socially isolated from their peers.
For the last decade or so it has never been more common to have a screen at your fingertips, and COVID has kept it much closer than it has to be. Since the screens and social media became a major part of our lifestyle, it has shown some of the damage it can do.
As we discover more and more about how these screens are impacting the world, we can also learn how to be careful of how they are used. As Wittebols put it: “I think that we need to teach people to avoid the more addictive elements and become more critical of our online consumption.”