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Take a digital pause

20/1/17: This week we welcome Dr Preetpal Bachra, who reminds of the need to take a break from our digital devices. 

The iPhone recently celebrated its tenth birthday and in those ten years many of us have become dependent on our smartphones. They help us stay in touch, organise our day, capture and share memories, remember things, generally, manage our lives. But are we in danger of allowing technology to dictate our lives too?

I can see all the positives of digital technology; the increased ability to reach out to people, interact with family members and friends who are further away, learn something new and buy things quickly and conveniently. The downside to this is that organisations collect your data and can work out your preferences. They can sell you products or tempt you with things you never realised you needed. In short, it can seem that technology is using us, rather than the other way around.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t use technology, BUT it should be on our terms. We should all be able to do the things we want to do and that means we have to take responsibility for ourselves. How many times can pupils get distracted because someone has messaged them, or a notification has popped up? It seems like we are allowing other people to have an impact on our lives, that they are always calling our name through messages and notifications, and we are letting them. 

Why do we let digital communication take control of us, though? It’s reminiscent of something from my childhood – stickers. I grew up wanting stickers to ensure I completed my Panini 1984 Division 1 Football Sticker Album. It still applies with my FitBit and achieving badges. You may see others walking around constantly checking their wrists thinking, “How many more until I reach 10,000 steps?” For pupils, the equivalent might be getting likes on Facebook or maintaining streaks on Snapchat.

It is all about approval. What would you do for a sticker? Well, the result is increasing levels of anxiety, mental health issues and social tension not social cohesion. A sense of competitiveness can emerge to have the most likes, followers or shares, or even the most picture-perfect online presence. The pictures and messages posted on Snapchat, Instagram or any other social network don’t always tell the whole story – they tend to be the ‘best bits’ that have been edited and filtered to portray a particular image. Quite often we see what appear to be the perfect lives of others online and compare these to our own lives without the same positive filter. The result? A poor comparison in most cases. 

So, my advice to pupils, and indeed us all, is our phones or laptops should not adversely affect our learning or our lives, but enhance them. Leave it in the house, turn it off, but let go of it for a while. Write things out if you can, but if you use a laptop then use it just for that.

Read … slowly. 

Go for a walk … slowly. 

And take the time to interact face to face.