• Elaine Burger-Pienaar

The dark side of technology

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

Running a successful law firm requires not only professional expertise in the practice of law, but also a good command of soft skills. These include managerial and people skills, time management, client care, human resources and wellness. It is also useful for business to know about trending information regarding technology, marketing and financial management. The Lexinfo Practice Management Alert (https://www.lexinfo.co.za/lexinfo-practice-management-alert) is a monthly newsletter featuring a wide range of informative resources around these themes. We expand on some of these topics with articles on our blog, written in-house, to provide further information for today’s attorney. Knowledge is our business, and we pride ourselves on delivering relevant, accurate information to save our clients time and money.

Living in the Digital-age has given us the opportunity to freely and quickly transfer information. [https://www.yourdictionary.com/digital-age]

We are in a privileged position to be able to contact people all over the world, so conveniently from our mobile phones. Business is being done on social media, via text and chat platforms and their own apps, to get things done more efficiently and ‘contactless’ - important now during a global pandemic. But are we paying the price with aspects of our health to afford these conveniences and constant state of being ‘connected’?

Peter Fisk [https://www.thegeniusworks.com/2019/04/is-our-world-changing-faster-than-ever-before-its-changing-but-not-as-fast-as-people-think/] says ‘we are constantly urged to work faster – faster time to answer calls, faster time of new products to market, faster – but they tend to be aspects of efficiency or competitiveness, rather than progress’.

We have all heard that our screens emit blue (high energy, short-wavelength) light, contribute to eye strain and can interfere with our sleep. How careful do we need to be when it comes to our devices and technology, especially now that many are working from home more?

‘There are many scientific studies demonstrating the detrimental effects of WiFi on the human body. It causes increased oxidative stress by increasing the production of free radicals which damage proteins, lipids and DNA, and the reproductive systems. Excessive WiFi exposure is known to be associated with disrupted learning and memory, sleep deprivation, and fatigue related to reduced melatonin secretion (the hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle) and increased norepinephrine (stress hormone) secretion at night. The use of any screen time is associated with these changes. Despite early studies of exposure, it is too early to draw conclusions about possible health risks, and the signal intensities used in most of the studies is significantly higher than the actual environmental levels ’ [https://www.news-medical.net/amp/health/Does-WiFi-Affect-the-Brain.aspx]. It is therefore prudent to cultivate habits to limit our screen time to keep our bodies and minds functioning optimally.

According to Business Insider [https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.businessinsider.com/dscout-research-people-touch-cell-phones-2617-times-a-day-2016-7%3famp] ‘the typical cellphone user touches his or her phone 2617 times a day, according to a study by research firm Dscout. Extreme users (top 10%) touched their phones more than 5400 times daily’.

The article ‘Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A battle for your time’ [http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time/], states that ‘studies are beginning to show links between smartphone usage and increased levels of anxiety and depression, poor sleep quality, and increased risk of car injury or death. Many of us wish we spent less time on our phones but find it difficult to disconnect. Why are our smartphones so hard to ignore?’

Smartphone apps are designed to be addictive. Every time you receive a notification, (and these days we have so many ‘inboxes’ such as Twitter, Facebook, email, chat apps etc, even the news) – your body responds with a surge of dopamine, the feel-good hormone and neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) secreted in the brain. Healthline’s article ‘How does Dopamine affect the body?’ [https://www.healthline.com/health/dopamine-effects] says that it ‘is strongly associated with pleasure and reward, is involved in both neurological and physiological functioning, and is a contributing factor in motor function, mood and even decision making’. Very high levels of dopamine ‘make you feel like you’re on top of the world, at least for a while. It can also put you into serious overdrive. In excess, it may cause mania, hallucinations and delusions, as well as obesity, addiction and schizophrenia’.

Signs that your dopamine levels are low, include:

· concentration problems

· feeling demotivated

· reduced alertness

· difficulty with movement or coordination.

If your sleep is not of good quality, this will also reduce dopamine. More serious conditions such depression and Parkinson’s disease are associated with low levels of our natural ‘happy hormone’. This can explain why we often feel ‘tired but wired’.

Dopamine is released when we have successful social interactions. ‘In an evolutionary context, it rewards us for beneficial behaviours and motivates us to repeat them’ [http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time/]. No wonder then, that we keep clicking and scrolling in the distraction-rich, ‘hyper-social’ environments that our phones provide.

How should we counteract and control all this? ‘There are a variety of strategies to achieve success. Doing things like disabling notifications for social media apps and keeping your display in black and white will reduce your phone’s ability to grab and hold your attention. Above all, mindful use of the technology is the best tool you have. So the next time you pick up your phone to check Facebook, you might ask yourself ‘is this really worth my time?’ ’ [http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time/].

Harvard Business Review offer 5 Tips to Reduce Screen Time when WFH (Working from Home)[https://www.google.com/amp/s/hbr.org/amp/2020/05/5-tips-to-reduce-screen-time-while-youre-wfh]: ‘Don’t default to Zoom when a phone call will suffice; limit your meeting time so that you can temper how much virtual communication you have each day, and so that you have enough time blocks to do deep work; choose physical over digital anytime you can reasonably do it (eg: taking notes or brainstorm with pen and paper, use a white board for project planning, read a real paper book, go for a run outside); move as much as possible during the day and take tech-free breaks – eat lunch away from the computer, looking out of a window, or talking to family members.’

Spending as much time as possible in nature is a great way to reset. It engages all 5 the senses, increases feelings of calm, the sun regulates our body’s circadian rhythm (good blue light), is a natural mood-lifter, and also improves memory and cognitive function.

Let us be the masters of technology, and not let technology master us.

Images: Pixabay


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