What Research Says
Portable electronic gadgets like laptops and smart phones can allow us to be productive on the go. They can also provide entertainment for those inevitable periods of waiting the day presents. But some researchers suggest that over use of these devices, in combination with home and office screen habits, can cause fatigue that diminishes our ability to learn and remember information.
In one study, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, studied rats going through new experiences (such as exploring unfamiliar terrain). New brain pathways were formed by the animals, but only when rats took a break after new experiences were solid memories of them formed.
Another study taking place at the University of Michigan showed that people performed better on learning tests after taking a walk in a natural landscape rather than a stimuli-filled urban environment. Researchers involved with the study believe these results suggest that constant stimulation can leave human beings fatigued and not up to their intellectual best.
Constant stimulation is a way of life for many Americans. In addition to those devices we carry with us, most professionals sit in front of computers for eight or more hours a day. Screens are also prevalent in the home. The average household has about three televisions, more than one computer and a host of other electronic appliances designed to entertain us.
Many people associate watching television, surfing the Internet and connecting with others online with relaxation. To be sure, our tech habits can bring a lot of pleasure and help us to unwind. But just as social networking sites don't replace the need for real-life friends, entertainment provided by electronic devices do not fulfill our need for authentic relaxation.
Time to Unplug?
So is it time to ditch our screens and smart phones? Clearly not. These devices allow us to be more productive than ever. They also allow us to connect with others in meaningful ways that bring genuine happiness. That's not to mention the fact that being separated from our gadgets can create feelings of anxiety. Being disconnected from other people and information updates cause many people distress.
But if you really want to function at your best, taking occasional breaks from technology is a good idea. You might go for that jog sans iPod, complete a yoga session accompanied only by your thoughts or relax in some other (unplugged) way. While it may not seem like there's space in your calendar, the downtime can improve how efficiently you're able to perform important tasks. That can earn you more freedom to do those things you really enjoy.