From university work to social media, laptops, tablets and phones are the essence of modern life. The Gryphon discusses the repercussions of inactivity and spending too much time in front of computer screens.
In an age where everything is centred around technology, we might consider it impossible to take time during the day to leave our screens. Whilst these forms of technology are undoubtedly extremely useful for almost everything imaginable, they are not doing wonders for our health, neither physical nor mental. If we think about it, human bodies were built to move. Consider our ancestors, running wild in forests hunting for their own food. Now think about the way in which we sit statically for hours on end, sometimes whole days before realising we haven’t even moved to eat, drink, or give ourselves a quick break! Surely this complete change in our bodily dynamics cannot be healthy?
Studies have proven that people who sit down all day compared to those who incorporate a small amount of exercise are twice as likely to suffer from heart problems in later life. James Levine, a doctor of endocrinology at the Mayo Clinic, told the New York Times in 2011 that “excessive sitting is a lethal activity.” Illnesses like diabetes and strokes are strongly linked to inactivity. Furthermore, degenerative mental illnesses such as dementia have recently been related to unhealthy lifestyle.
You may be thinking that everything under the sun causes health scares: additives in certain foods, overexposure to the sun, various chemicals in the air… but the potential effects of such things are too far in the future for you to worry about, right? That view seems justifiable. There are plenty of other things to be concerned about, like getting tomorrow’s assignment done, or not drifting so far into your overdraft that you risk never getting back out of it. However, perhaps the more immediate issues caused by excess screen time are something to bear in mind. In a recent study by American Psychological Society, conducted among teenagers, it was shown that people who spent more time in front of screens, as opposed to social interactions and exercise, were more likely to develop conditions such as social anxiety which is often followed by depression.
The annual National Sleep Survey (2011) showed that 95 per cent of Americans use screens just before they go to sleep, which is leading to an increased number of sleeping disorders such as insomnia due to the interactive and stimulating nature of technology. As students, you’re probably thinking that it is normal to suffer from a lack of sleep or social deprivation. It’s a given that you’ll be sitting in your room writing essays (or procrastinating on YouTube) into the early hours of the morning. But these issues can become so serious that people begin to completely avoid social situations or sleep so little that they end up missing the majority of their lectures and seminars.
So, given technology’s prominence in our lives, what are we supposed to do? Evidently, going to the gym before or after a long day of sitting is helpful; it’ll improve focus, or help you wind down in the evening. However, the real problem is long periods of sitting without a break. One of my professors has a brilliant method to tackle this problem in lectures. After 22 minutes (apparently the length of the average concentration span), he gives us a few minutes to chat to our course mates and have a stretch. Once, he even brought in juggling balls and tried (unsuccessfully) to get a volunteer to give a demonstration, which in the end, he performed himself. I assume this method was tried to refresh our minds, relieve us of any boredom, and of course, had anyone volunteered, to get us moving. Whether it was his general charismatic approach to teaching or the refreshing nature of this brief pause which was so engaging, I’m not sure. Either way, for the remainder of the lecture it felt surprisingly unlikely that I would drift off.
Perhaps this proven period of concentration time is why I have a similar technique when it comes to exam revision. If you also struggle to concentrate for long periods of time, I encourage you to try out this slightly unorthodox idea. So, this is how it goes: I get my laptop out, set up my word document and internet resources to carry out the given piece of work. Then, I set a twenty-minute timer on my phone and research and type away, with a slightly pressurising but also oddly comforting awareness of the time constraint. As soon as the alarm goes off, I stop, mid-sentence if necessary, and then I put on a catchy tune, maybe some Abba or Kate Bush (I strongly recommend), and dance around the room for its duration. Yep – I actually do this. Once the song has finished, I sit down again, set another twenty-minute timer and repeat the whole process.
Think of it as High Intensity Interval Training, but for your mind. This can be sustained for about four or five twenty-minute sessions before I take an hour’s break for lunch. You might not consider an hour and a half of work to be much, but in my experience, the resultant quality and quantity of the work is so much better than if I had sat for hours and hours, half working, half scrolling through Instagram.
So, I would challenge you to try this method, although perhaps not in the library. In this case, agree times with your friends when you’ll both take a ten-minute break to close your laptops and a converse for a bit, rather than disturbing each other every two seconds to laugh at the relatability of various memes. It’s all about having proper periods of concentration and then allowing yourself proper breaks to chat, get up, walk about and get a coffee; it’s far more rewarding that way. Remember that we are not robots (yet). Essentially, keep yourself active and don’t ask too much of your mind. Let your body tell you when you need a break to move, breathe and look up at the world around you.