Gadgets and social media creating a virtual world

Clinical psychologist and managing director of The Lighthouse (Center for Wellbeing), Dr. Saliha Afridi cautions against this excessive (miss)use of digital devices in a candid interview with Shilpa Jasani and Yoga & Wellness.

The omnipresent presence of digital devices into our homes, our offices, our kitchen and children’s nurseries, in schools and parks, in restaurants and bedrooms is so pervasive that psychologists and experts are repeatedly calling for limiting its use or face irrevocable consequences. Children and adults alike are becoming inseparable from device driven lifestyles which is causing health problems due to poor posture, lack of exercise and increasingly reduced human interaction. Studies have revealed withdrawal symptoms (similar to other addictions), increased stress levels due to comparison with the projected lifestyle of other people on social media, headaches and poor sleep patterns.

“The advent and popularity of social media is creating tremendous pressure on children, youth and adults alike. People are not able to compartmentalize their lives – they are connected to their work at all times – in office, at home, at traffic signals, in the bathroom. This creates a huge overwhelm and clutters the mind.  Unable to live in the present moment, people are unable to feel and re-live moments or emotions since they are too busy capturing their vacation or dinner or picnic in pictures and planning how they would put them on Instagram or Facebook. The best memories we have are of the emotions that we have experienced, and this is precisely what is lacking. Everyone is so busy projecting their virtual image, to make themselves appear interesting that they disconnect from the moment.”

Some months ago, Sean Parker, the 38-year-old founding president of Facebook, admitted that the social network was founded not to unite us, but to distract us. “The thought process was: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’” he said at an event in Philadelphia. To achieve this goal, Facebook’s architects exploited a “vulnerability in human psychology”, explained Parker, who resigned from the company in 2005. Whenever someone likes or comments on a post or photograph, he said, “we… give you a little dopamine hit”.  Parker described how in the early days of Facebook people would tell him they weren’t on social media because they valued their real-life interactions.

“The use of mobile technology and social media has been proven to release dopamine – which is the "feel good" chemical - in our brains,” explains Dr. Saliha. “We receive a text; we get a hit of dopamine. We get a Like on Facebook, we get a hit of dopamine. We receive a comment on our Instagram post, we get a hit of dopamine. Author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant Simon Sinek - identifies social media as having heavily addictive consequences; particularly on the Millennial generation.  This is a neurological, neurochemical addiction and to anyone denying it – I would say keep your phone away for a whole day and observe how you feel.  People reported to feeling disoriented and suffer from anxiety – all clinical symptoms of withdrawal and depression. The blue light is detrimental to sleep, and lack of sleep has been linked to every possible ailment- including obesity, heart disease, mental illnesses, cardiac issues.  One of the sleep researchers from U C Berkeley says that we are in a catastrophic sleep loss epidemic. And that is the result of all this blue light, which delays the release of melatonin.  It takes the brain about 2 hours after your eyes close, to receive the message that ‘its dark now, release the melatonin’.  This happens because we are looking at the blue light of the phone right until we sleep.  After leaving the Huffington Post, the first book that Arianna Huffington wrote was on sleep and I was at the World Economic Forum in Davos 2 years ago, where Arianna Huffington was conducting a session on to sleep better. These days, people are over-worked, under-rested and disconnected.”

Since 2014 WHO (World Health Organization) has conducted activities relating to the public health implications of excessive use of the Internet, computers, smartphones and similar electronic devices in response to concerns expressed by professional groups, WHO collaborating centers, academics and clinicians about associated health consequences.

The third WHO meeting – organized in September 2016 in collaboration with the Department of Health of Hong Kong SAR, China – focused on health promotion, prevention and treatment policies and programmes aimed at reducing the public health problems associated with excessive use of the Internet, computers, smartphones and other communication and gaming platforms.

“The rate of depression has spiked in the last decade and is the leading cause of disability,” says Dr. Saliha. “Everyone is talking about mental health –from the WHO to the UN and World Economic Forum. Everything is more orchestrated or documented but not experienced.  Young or old, everyone is busy presenting themselves rather than connecting. We are unable to handle our relationship with technology and now alarmingly, the rates of depression are the highest they have ever been and everyone is talking about mental health. Young children and adolescents are lonely. More than technology, the toxicity in popular culture is a real cause of concern. Everything is hyper-sexualized, cyber bullying is reaching scary proportions, people say vicious things about others, increased suicide attempts – all these are reaching epic proportions.”

The WHO website says:

Use of the Internet, computers, smartphones and other electronic devices has dramatically increased over recent decades, and this increase is associated not only with clear and tremendous benefits to the users, but also with documented cases of excessive use which often has negative health consequences. In an increasing number of countries, the problem has reached the magnitude of a significant public health concern.

Tips for living in a gadget-infested world:
  • Limit the amount of time spent with technology. Balance your relationship with social media
  • Compartmentalize your life – When at work, work. When at home, be there. Have sacred spaces and places. People will come to respect your boundaries
  • Invest in relationships. Harvard Grand Study found that happiness is love and close relationships with people around you. Spend quality time with children and spouses
  • For parents – set an example by restricting their own use of gadgets
  • Spirituality in the form of values of kindness, compassion and forgiveness is an important quality to inculcate

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