Computers have exploded onto the personal electronics market over the past few decades. As late as the 1980s, most households did not have a computer in the home
The advent of cheap personal computers in the 90s meant that soon enough, nearly every family could afford a computer. Advances in technology and miniaturization soon meant that laptops were universal, so that it was individuals who had computers, not just families.
More recently, the rise of smartphones, tablets, and other devices has given us even more potential screens. It has all happened so fast that few people have stopped to wonder what the consequences might be. We moved from nobody having any experience with computers to every man, woman, and child spending a considerable amount of time online. In this article, we will discuss this trend and explore whether there are any health effects of so much screen time.
The first thing to understand is just how powerful the rise of personal computing is
There are young adults today who have no significant memory of a time without the Internet. It is not just the fact that the Internet has become a great part of daily life, but how Internet-connected devices continue to evolve to fill new niches.
Nobody knew they needed a smartphone until the first iPhone took off, and now, they are more common than traditional cell phones in much of the world. New technology comes online every year- the wearable tech trend, the Internet of Things, smart homes, WiFi-equipped cars- there are now Internet communications devices in dozens of different form factors. And now VSAT Internet lets people connect from anywhere on the globe, even if they are at sea or in a remote part of the wilderness.
Part of the problem with studying how this might affect our health is that the Internet has become so widespread and so popular, and screen times have grown so much, that it is hard to find a control group for comparison. It’s very difficult to evaluate whether, for example, tablet use affects the health of children if virtually all children have some kind of Internet device. There’s no way to compare those who use them with those who do not. That greatly complicates the task of researching screen time. As a result, much of the evidence is mixed- there is no clear research showing that more screen time can be definitively linked to a certain health outcome, because each side can point to studies that support their conclusion.
One of the main areas of concern is the idea that socializing online is very different from doing it in person
On the one hand, texting, messaging, and voice chat all feel very different from in-person communication on an intuitive level. On the other hand, there’s no useful medical theory that might explain why or how digital socializing could have negative impacts on users.
There have been many studies about whether people who text more or use Facebook more are less healthy or less socially engaged, but the evidence is not strong either way. That has not stopped a strenuous debate from taking place in the public world. For example, this New York Times discussion features five researchers and journalists discussing the idea of Internet addiction in teenagers. So the question of the digital life specifically and screen time as a whole is still fairly open.
If there is one area of research that is fairly concrete, it’s sleep. The practice of looking at screens is associated with a reduced production of melatonin, which is necessary for falling asleep. So far, researchers have observed that people who use screens more sleep less. Narrowing down the cause and effect to one story has been harder- the most that is possible is generally to show that screen time leads to sleeping fewer hours, with some negative health consequences. Health insurance companies are still settling on whether it is melatonin or another mechanism causing the lack of sleep is hard to confirm.
It’s also clear that screens are detracting from our time spent outdoors. According to NPR, Since the late 1980s, the percentage of Americans taking part nature based activities has declined at slightly more than 1 percent a year. The total effect, Pergams says, is that participation is down 18 percent to 25 percent from peak levels. so whether its going on a hike or throwing on your yoga clothing and heading to a retreat, it comes highly recommended from health specialists
The problem is clear- society has a lot of questions about what screen time might do to people, but the research is just not good enough to provide useful answers yet. In the meantime, technology continues to proliferate. This might be a positive thing: early exposure to games and other content might inspire kids to be creative or learn about computer science. But right now, it is an open debate. Don’t expect any useful new information to come out in the near future, either. Everyone will need to decide for themselves how much screen time if best for them and their families.