Less than 30 years ago, when you were driving your car, the only people you could talk to were those already in the vehicle with you. Your biggest distractions from navigating traffic were the radio and the Big Mac in your hand. And then, somewhere in the mid-to late-90s, everything about the human landscape changed. You now hold in your very hands this portable “cellular” phone that uses an antenna to access a radio system so you can get a dial tone in a lot of places. Anywhere your phone can get a signal, you can call your friends to let them know you stopped for a snack and are running late for the movie — pretty amazing! This is great, everyone says. How did we even LIVE without cell phones for all those years?
Fast forward to 2019. You can have a conference call from your car now. You can Facetime your mom from the train. You can pay your bills from the gym. You can play the stock market as you shoot underground through a tunnel. You can play video games with other players around the globe. You can turn up the heat on your thermostat so your house is warmed up when you arrive. You can do your grocery shopping from your desk. You can be in a park doing yoga and get a call from your angry boss, or a persistent debt collector, or a doctor’s office who just got in your test results. Namaste no more — we have arrived in the era of the “always on” mentality. Always online, always reachable, always connected, all driven by a serious case of chronic FOMO.
But this mentality is dangerous, especially in a corporate setting. Many people have become so addicted to their phones that shower phone holders are now a thing. Meanwhile, research indicates that too much screen time can lead to increased anxiety and depression. And on a more anecdotal level, who hasn’t had a dinner with family or friends derailed due to an urgent phone call from work? Remember when work stayed at the office or you brought it home in a folder? Thanks to the always on mentality, many of us now take hours out of our weekends to hop on our computers or phones to catch up on tasks we couldn’t get to before “EOW.”
Understanding the full impact of this “constantly plugged in” attitude might be what we need to force us to reassess habits and approach work in a less stressful way. Here are four ways the always on mentality can impact your health.
1. Impaired sleep
From Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to television personality Martha Stewart, there’s a tendency for ultra-successful people to brag about how little sleep they get. And in a work environment where you’re expected to always be by a phone or in front of a screen, even after work hours, more and more people, are inadvertently following in the footsteps of these titans of business. But getting only 4-6 hours of sleep — and sleeping worse thanks to screen time right before bed — can raise your risk of developing a host of health problems.
2. Increased anxiety
Who hasn’t dealt with a looming deadline that you just know you can’t hit on time? It’s everybody’s worst nightmare — and you usually attempt to solve this problem by overworking. Unfortunately this instinct has been leading to more and more workplace anxiety. No wonder employee mental health costs are rising faster than any other medical expense.
3. Eye strain
While studies are still ongoing, more and more medical professionals believe there’s a link between vision problems and the 11 hours we spend in front of screens every day. The constant flickering of screens and the “blue light” these screens emit can cause eye pain and lead to impaired sleep.
4. Deterioration of interpersonal relationships
Turning down Friday night drinks because you have to stay in the office until 10pm. Barely listening to your kids tell you about their day because you’re on your phone. These are just a few examples of the alienating impact an always on mentality can have.
It doesn’t have to be like this. The always on mentality is a fairly new one, as smartphones have given us a unique ability to always have information and communication at our fingertips. Taking inventory of how you use these tools and the destructive habits they might lead to is the first step needed as you phase out the always on mentality and move toward a renewed sense of calm and presence IRL.