Personal digital devices are likely to impact our mental and physical health. It is the ICT industry that is pushing digital technology. Digital is neither green nor nature-friendly. It has a carbon footprint equivalent to that of the aviation industry. It also creates a huge waste management problem.

It is extraordinary that the EU Green Deal has been coupled with digital technology. It betrays a fundamental ignorance of the problem. Global warming is happening because of multinational industries’ overexploitation of nature. The amoral ICT industry is no exception.

Science is pointing to other more personal concerns.

Michael Rich, associate professor of paediatrics at Harvard Medical School, states: “The growing human brain is constantly building neural connections while pruning away less-used ones. Much of what happens on screen provides ‘impoverished’ stimulation for the developing brain compared to reality.” This means that young people’s brains are being literally rewired by the online content and not in a good way. Adults of all ages are also not immune to the effects of obsessive use of TV, smartphones and other digital devices and may suffer poorer concentration, weaker memory and impulse control as well as slower information processing.

Excessive screen time strains our eyes, causing dryness and may, in some cases, cause damage to the retinal cells and blurred vision. Constantly hunched over a smartphone affects posture that can cause stiffness and pain both in the neck and shoulders.

Sleep deprivation is another risk. The blue light emitted from digital screens interferes with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. That is why using digital devices into the night or just before sleeping makes it much harder to fall asleep and hinders memory retention.

Using digital devices is a solitary activity and results in impaired social skills at all ages. Children, in particular, lose out on important social skills normally learnt while interacting in person with their friends. Too much screen time also affects the ability to register and process emotions.

Desensitisation to violent content is one particularly worrying side effect of weakened emotional judgement.

The political class is presenting digital as the poster child of the green recovery. A Trojan horse if there ever was one- David Marinelli

Scientific research shows that exposure to violent media content may also increase aggression levels, especially in younger children and adolescents, sometimes resulting in loss of empathy. Educational programmes on digital media are not ideal for learning. Children learn better by exploring and by being engaged in the real world.

Spending too much time in the virtual world of digital media has a double negative impact on one’s self-esteem. There is the lost time that could have been spent forming relationships with other people. The other is time lost discovering and honing one’s passions and creating new experiences.

These latter deficiencies weaken the sense of self-identity and confidence. This problem is exacerbated when one’s virtual self-image starts to replace the real one.

Digital equipment usage is also addictive. The instant results from the digital media activate our brain’s reward centre and insidiously make us crave more. This is why many people find themselves trapped in a cycle of digital addiction. The problem with craving is that the body becomes desensitised to the same exposure and seeks experiences of a higher intensity. This is essentially how digital addiction is developed within individuals.

People have become inseparable from their smartphones, constantly in our hands, bags or pockets while we exercise, eat, work or play, even when with family and friends. Young children and babies are not immune from exposure as hapless and stressed parents plonk them in front of screens to keep them mesmerised. The problem is that addiction has consequences. Young people are being treated for media and internet disorders caused by excessive gaming, social media and other online activities that are affecting their health and daily lives at home and school.

The industry has worked its way into every aspect of our lives. All forms of consumer-focused digital technology is programmed to generate a reward. People press or touch buttons and the brain perceives the result to be a reward and is gratified. This is similar to the way people treat their pets or laboratories research animal behaviour.

The ICT industry has created a culture of instant gratification. Not sufficiently concerned about their clients’ well-being, the industry centred its marketing strategy around the idea that faster is better and proceeded to fulfil that promise with smartphones, tablets, WiFi and faster-performing wireless electromagnetic radiation, with no care or thought of consequences. Like animals in a laboratory, people continue to press those buttons.

Gratification releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is one of those ‘feel good’ chemicals we cannot get enough of. Such is the fascination with this technology that people are allowing themselves to be enslaved in the global machine network called the ‘Internet of Things’.

Addicts are always craving their next fix, in this case their digital fix. We are made to live more of our lives in a digital delusion rather than in the real human and natural world. We are fast moving towards a future where being plugged into this global machine network will not be a choice.

Never forget that we are a biological species entirely depending on the earth’s biological web of life. Machines are not where we will find solutions, meaning and hope.

The tragedy is that the political class is presenting digital as the poster child of the green recovery. A Trojan horse if there ever was one.

www.saveearth.world

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