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When Technology Serves Health and When It Harms

What technology do you use to keep yourself healthy?

Last week I blogged about letting go of happiness apps, web sites and self-help advice. Despite my suggestion to “turn off electronic devices,” let me assure you that I am not anti-technology. In fact, I am a huge fan of technology, just not too much of it.

What bothers me most about modern technology are the interruptions.  As I age, interruptions throw me off track. I read that when interrupted, it takes us an average of 23 minutes to refocus. I couldn’t find the source for this often-quoted information, so I don’t know if it is true or if it applies to people of a certain age. What I do know is that the quality of my writing is better when I am in an uninterrupted flow.

If it were just one interruption, then I’d likely be able to get back to my work, but interruptions seemed near constant, especially if I leave my phone on. While evaluating work habits, expert Gloria Mark (Associate Professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine) found that the average amount of time that people spent on any single event before being interrupted or before switching was three minutes and five seconds, on average. Yikes.

If I didn’t turn off my electronic devices, I’d be constantly interrupted. However, I do use my devices to help me. Here’s how.

  • My Fitbit. This handy luxury is set to tell me to get up and walk every hour. A timer will also work. There are also apps that will send reminders. I like the Fitbit because it signals me with a gentle vibration on my wrist that is hard not to ignore but doesn’t trigger a startle reflex. It also sends me a reminder that it is bedtime. Sometimes I want to argue with it, but then I tell myself that these are my goals, not Fitbit’s.
  • I use two meditation apps: Calm and Headspace. I like both for different reasons, but currently Calm is getting more use. However, Headspace is excellent. Note that both have free trials, but be sure to know the length of the trial should you decide not to purchase the app or a monthly subscription.

Although I’m smitten with technology, I confine my use to daytime hours. Most evenings, I am off the computer and phone. By most Americans’ standards, my TV watching is minimal and I stop an hour before bedtime. Sleep is an important part of my self-care, and I get too stirred up by the content and light coming from electronic devices. I prefer to read or listen to music.

If I sound like a Luddite, let me assure you that I’ve watched my fair share of TV over the years. But too many sleepless nights occurred when I stayed up late. Sleep-deprivation helped me recognize the link. I’d love to binge watch Game of Thrones or The Wire, but I like sleep even more. So, I just skip those shows and have sweet dreams instead.

If you use technology to keep you healthy, what do you use?

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