SCREEN TIME

Stay­ing con­nected to the of­fice and your clients can boost your ef­fi­ciency. But when tech­nol­ogy en­ables work to en­croach on your per­sonal life, it’s time to dis­con­nect

Investment Executive - - CONTENTS - BY WENDY CUTH­BERT

Your de­vices may be a boon to busi­ness, but the time you spend pe­rus­ing your screens could be tak­ing a toll on your health.

there is lit­tle de­bate these days that com­put­ers and mo­bile tech­nol­ogy have made many busi­nesses more ef­fi­cient. In­for­ma­tion is avail­able in­stantly, and you and your team can re­main in con­tact around the clock.

But speed and be­ing con­nected all the time aren’t al­ways a good thing when your health is con­cerned.

Ac­cord­ing to Judy Vil­lage, cer­ti­fied pro­fes­sional er­gonomist, ad­junct pro­fes­sor with the UBC School of Pop­u­la­tion and Pub­lic Health and pres­i­dent-elect of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Cana­dian Er­gonomists in Van­cou­ver, sev­eral phys­i­cal and emo­tional health risks — such as mus­cu­loskele­tal in­juries, vi­sion prob­lems, anx­i­ety and stress — are more preva­lent these days, thanks in no small part to our re­liance on com­put­ers and mo­bile tech­nol­ogy.

In the name of ef­fi­ciency, Vil­lage says, jobs that tra­di­tion­ally had more move­ment and va­ri­ety built into them now are more static and seden­tary. As more tasks are com­pleted at a desk, risks for con­di­tions such as ten­donitis, carpal tun­nel syn­drome and neck and back pain are in­creas­ing, along with vi­sion is­sues re­lated to look­ing at screens for much of the day.

Fol­low­ing the rules of er­gonomics is im­por­tant when de­sign­ing a work­place, in­clud­ing el­e­ments such as main­tain­ing a neu­tral pos­ture, re­laxed shoul­ders, straight wrists and a sup­ported back, Vil­lage says. How­ever, those ef­forts can only go so far. “Even the best setup won’t be help­ful if you’re sit­ting all day,” she says.

Fur­ther, Vil­lage says, this “ef­fi­ciency at all costs” at­ti­tude in­creases the like­li­hood of men­tal and emo­tional health prob­lems stem­ming from is­sues such as iso­la­tion and job de­mands.

Mo­bile de­vices carry their own set of trou­bling health risks, i nclud­ing pain, nerve dam­age and vi­sion is­sues stem­ming from overuse. In the past few years, for­mer ex­ec­u­tives for some of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s top tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies have sug­gested mo­bile de­vices and the ap­pli­ca­tions we run on them may be no less ad­dic­tive and de­struc­tive than gam­bling and drugs. For ex­am­ple, Sean Parker, for­mer pres­i­dent of Face­book Inc., ad­mit­ted late last year that the so­cial net­work was de­signed to hold users’ at­ten­tion for as long as pos­si­ble and give them oc­ca­sional hits of dopamine — the re­ward chem­i­cal in our brains. That ad­mis­sion sug­gests that dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy may carry a more ne­far­i­ous health risk than we thought.

Ac­cord­ing to Julie McCarthy, pro­fes­sor of or­ga­ni­za­tional be­hav­iour with the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment at the Univer­sity of Toronto, stress and anx­i­ety have in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly in Canada over the past decade. Al­though McCarthy doesn’t blame tech­nol­ogy en­tirely for that up­swing, she says aca­demic data from sev­eral sources sug­gest tech­nol­ogy prob­a­bly plays a role.

As mo­bile de­vices keep you con­nected, McCarthy says, al­ways be­ing “on” can cause prob­lems. Tech­nol­ogy’s con­nect­ed­ness has cre­ated a cul­ture in which we find get­ting off the grid dif­fi­cult, she says, and the line be­tween work and your per­sonal life be­comes blurred. “Those bound­aries,” she says, “are be­com­ing very fuzzy.”

That en­croach­ment of work into your per­sonal life is a health is­sue. Work re­cov­ery time — those off-duty pe­ri­ods when you de­tach from work psy­cho­log­i­cally, ex­er­cise and re­lax with your fam­ily — is crit­i­cal to main­tain­ing good health. Down­time helps nur­ture your re­silience, which pre­vents you from suf­fer­ing the acute ef­fects of stress and anx­i­ety.

You may be sac­ri­fic­ing pre­cious down­time in or­der to re­main con­nected to work. You would be hard-pressed to find a col­league who hasn’t logged into his or her work email dur­ing off hours.

Many peo­ple keep their smart­phones within reach from their beds. Re­search sug­gests that the light these de­vices emit af­fects pro­duc­tion of mela­tonin, a hor­mone that’s essen­tial to healthy sleep. (McCarthy says her fam­ily keeps their de­vices on an­other floor dur­ing sleep hours.)

The prob­lem, McCarthy points out, is that un­like drugs or gam­bling, our mo­bile de­vices have a pos­i­tive im­pact on our lives, too. For ex­am­ple, you might use your smart­phone or tablet to pur­sue leisure ac­tiv­i­ties such as read­ing an e-book, lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, learn­ing a new skill via YouTube or catch­ing up with friends. And the abil­ity to work off-site pro­vided by these de­vices can mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween tak­ing a much needed va­ca­tion or skip­ping it al­to­gether.

The key strate­gies when tak­ing a so­called “work­ca­tion,” McCarthy says, in­clude set­ting strict rules for when you will ac­cess your de­vice to work, then vow­ing to turn it off com­pletely at other times.

One so­lu­tion is to “live in the mo­ment” and be aware of your sur­round­ings — rather than what’s on your de­vice. And that means let­ting go of your “mul­ti­task­ing” habit. Re­search in­di­cates that turn­ing off your de­vices and em­brac­ing the present has pos­i­tive health ben­e­fits, such as stronger im­mu­nity, im­proved car­dio­vas­cu­lar health and re­duced de­pres­sion, McCarthy says.

“When we’re al­ways dis­tracted and able to of­fer only par­tial at­ten­tion to our tasks or our fam­i­lies,” McCarthy says, “that’s hard on our well-be­ing and detri­men­tal to our pro­duc­tiv­ity.”

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