"Digital technology has redefined both work and entertainment."LibreShot/Martin Vorel

Throughout the course of human history, we have never been more connected than today. The ever-growing skies of the digital world have shrouded us in one all-encompassing global network, giving us the tools and freedom to do whatever we please.

Digital technology has redefined both work and entertainment, something that has become all the more apparent in the wake of Covid-19. Businesses have shifted towards remote employment, with 46.6% of those employed working at least partially from home in April. Gaming distributor Steam also reached a high of 23.5 million daily users and Netflix accounts increased by 16 million in the first quarter of 2020.

There is no doubt that the rapid growth and development of digital technology has improved our lives in myriad ways. With this have arrived waves of people trying to convince us of impending danger and imploring us to give up technology for the sake of our safety and health. But how possible is it really to detox from our devices?

Many of us are no stranger to snide comments from our elders:

“You’re addicted to your screens.”

“Your [insert mental or physical health issue here] is because you’re always on your phone.”

“You have more time for your friends online than for your family.”

This last one can be particularly irksome, especially when one is watching a documentary, or writing a work-related email. These examples seem to have a clear distinction from simply messaging a friend – they are activities that can be justified with an educational or productive purpose. On the other hand, the sheer variety of things that can be done on a phone, a fact that young people often fervently defend, may actually be part of the problem.

“Anyone can be an ‘expert’ if they watch enough YouTube videos and complete enough online courses about it.”

For years, the news has been filled with tales of poor eyesight and even poorer sleep patterns that arise from prolonged screen time. Many have suggested that spending too much time idling in front of a screen can cause headaches, worsened vision, aches, back pain, obesity, and poor mental health. It is worth noting that screen time amongst toddlers and the elderly is increasing steadily, proving that not just adolescents fall victim to screen addiction, despite bearing the brunt of the disdain.

Contrary to this belief, research from the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health suggests that claims of significant adverse health impacts are often overstated. Indeed, there is increasing evidence that moderate daily screen time is not a major issue. Instead, it is what we are doing during that time that is the problem. Many studies, including an evidence review from the London School of Economics, choose to focus on the alarming lack of internet safeguards that should be in place for children, and frankly many adults as well. This is clearly a serious issue and one we should devote our time and interest to.

However, the high multifunctionality of devices may be one of the reasons we are so addicted to our screens in the first place. Considering the environment in which we now live, and in which many of us grew up, it is hardly our fault that we cannot give them up.

Digital technology is extremely important in employment, with 93% of European workplaces using desktop computers, but 88% not offering any way for employees to learn the digital skills required of them. This serves to alienate those who cannot afford digital devices or are unable to learn how to use them. Thus, people are made to prioritise owning and learning to use a device over pretty much any other skill.

“Digital technology has been woven into the very fabric of society.”

Not only that but we are increasingly reliant on technology to keep ourselves entertained, especially with activities that historically did not require a digital device: books, music and shopping among others. Whilst this has ample benefits, not least the breadth of information we now have access to and the long-term reduction in paper consumption, it does leave us susceptible to never escaping the internet’s grasp.

The availability of information from a wide range of sources lends one the ability to make far more informed decisions on both small and grand scales. However, this comes at two key costs. The more obvious of these is the spread of fake news, which refers to the rise in false articles and information being spread en masse across the Internet. In some cases, this has led to very serious real-world consequences – some argue that key political decisions such as the 2016 US presidential election were heavily influenced by the spread of fake news. Indeed, one only has to read about the Pizzagate scandal to realise that fake news can cost lives. We have a tendency, as young people, to believe that we are immune to believing fake news (spoiler alert: we’re not).

The less obvious is that the value of information is falling. It is no longer impressive to be relatively knowledgeable about a certain topic because anyone can access that knowledge at a tap of their fingers. This has a profound effect on the concept of expertise – these days, anyone can be an “expert” if they watch enough YouTube videos and complete enough online courses about it.


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However, there often isn’t a reliable way to confirm the validity of the information given. As we try to corroborate and enhance what we learn, we become more liberal with our use of digital technology, becoming more susceptible to scams and false information. This causes a cycle of using devices more often to further our expertise or ensure we aren’t being tricked, thereby exposing ourselves to more trickery. Then, when we’ve had our fill of internet education for the day, we turn to digital entertainment, cementing our addiction.

In 2016, access to the internet was declared by the UN to be a human right, to enable online freedom of expression. This marked the point at which it no longer became possible to live without our screens. A so-called “digital detox” is an exercise in futility. Digital technology has been woven into the very fabric of society, its presence upheld by our inherent need to know and do more. It is therefore of little consequence to debate the positive impacts of reducing our device usage because there is not much that can be done in practice, not without changing our nature. Rather than denying this reality, we should instead focus all our efforts on analysing and improving the way in which we develop and use digital technology in the future.

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