Disconnect – Are we addicted to tech?

Judging by the amount of willpower it’s taken for me not to check my phone whilst writing this, it’s now safe to say that the answer to the question posed at the Disconnect event on Saturday is yes, we are addicted to tech.

Hosted at the atmospheric Salem Church, neuroscientist, author and TV presenter Dr Jack Lewis opened the talk on Saturday afternoon as the audience hastily put all phones out of sight.

Photography by Ben Bentley

Beginning with a crash course in neuroscience – there are more connections in our brain than there are stars in the Milky Way, so I was happy to come away with at least one scientific fact stuck in my head – the talk moved on to focus on neuroplasticity. This refers to the way that our brains can change throughout our lives, and adapt to their environment, from learning new skills via repetition and practice to our environment directly changing our brains; the message being throughout that yes, we can become addicted to tech but actually, the power to control this is within each of us.

For example, we can condition others to expect responses from us at certain times and take back some of the power that social media exerts upon us by taking breaks from it – studies have shown that this can improve your wellbeing significantly. Pretty believable if you think about the negative emotions that even a quick scroll through Facebook or Instagram can often trigger, from envy and anger to sadness and frustration (I’m currently being bombarded with random cat videos whenever I use Facebook. I don’t even like cats.)

Dr Jack Lewis’ talk ended with a quick discussion of virtual reality, and the potential terrifying but very interesting impact that immersive VR can have on our brains as this tech gets more advanced and life-like, making it harder to distinguish between reality and games.

Moving from this scientific approach to a more office-based conversation, Dr Nicola Millard, who heads up Futures and R&D at BT, was the second and final speaker of the session. Focusing on tech in the workplace, Dr Millard is a psychologist who made connections between the office through the ages and our behaviour today, all in the context of digital developments.

The big question: how can we disconnect without affecting our relationships at work with our managers or our customers, when everyone lives online and there are fewer boundaries between work and home life? Phrases like collaboration overload, task switching and ‘techno stress’ reflect the genuine struggle around the world for workers to balance productivity with interruptions. Dr Millard gave a 5-point plan to go on a digital diet and try to improve focus, centred on setting rules for yourself, being present in meetings, becoming aware when you’re overdosing on scrolling and even considering Elon Musk’s epically confident move of walking out of meetings when you no longer add value, to avoid wasting time. Mantras that I’ll definitely be taking through to this working week. Except walking out of meetings, I don’t think I’m there yet…..

Emma moved to Leeds from her native Birmingham to study at the University 16 years ago. Emma worked in digital, now logistics, and can often be found scrolling through social media, both inside and outside the office, enjoying Leeds’ bar and restaurant scene and then working it all off at the gym. Emma’s diverse interests enable her to write on a range of topics, from tech to food to health.

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