Statistics show that Canadians are online more than any other country, spending “42 hours a month surfing, compared with 30 hours for Americans.” According to the book The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation, the average 18 to 32 year old American spends 34 hours per week on the computer – 17 for work and 17 for personal use. Since there are 168 hours in a week, they are spending one third of their waking lives staring at the screen. But this is just the average, some reported spending up to forty hours a week on personal use and one out of five use their computer for forty hours or more per week for work. The boundaries between work and personal lives are also increasingly blurred. For example a study done by Millennial Branding found that Facebook users (ages 18 to 29) used their profiles primarily for personal reasons yet they were friends with an average of 16 co-workers each.
The fluidity of technology throughout the different aspects of our lives and constant connectivity, however, comes at a price if we don’t know when or even how to turn it off. As the 2010 PBS FRONTLINE documentary Digital Nation: Life On The Virtual Frontier suggests, it’s too early to tell precisely how constant screentime may be affecting our health and well-being. But researchers believe that the distracting, fast paced nature of being constantly connected can lead to “fractured thinking” which “can cause issues in the parts of the brain that deal with deep thought, introspection, and reasoning.” The documentary also covers a test carried out at Stanford University on students who considered themselves effective multi-taskers. The tests showed quite the opposite, the students actually had difficulty concentrating and were slower when switching between tasks than when doing the same task consistently. Their memories also appeared disorganized and the researchers suggested that constantly switching between devices and tasks could be “creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.”
It also goes without saying that time spent in front of the screen means you’re not spending as much time in the “real world” – an interesting dilemma for the millennial technophile seeking work-life balance. Disconnecting gives your brain a rest from constant distraction but also allows you to connect in other meaningful ways with friends, family, community and nature. To achieve this balance we need to step back from the now ubiquitous digital din and set some boundaries. If we use technology more consciously we can benefit from the freedoms, flexibility and enjoyment it provides, while still keeping one foot firmly offline.