It may be a cliché, but technology has changed our lives. Dr Joe Kosterich talks about the effect of technology on our health and wellbeing, including computers, mobile phones and the internet, and ways to reduce the negative effects on our lifestyles.

Video: TechnologyCast your mind back 25 years; there was no internet and no mobile phones. Today, some form of technology touches almost every part of our lives. The lines between work and home have blurred because we can access our work from our laptops, our mobile phones, and other portable devices. Emails come in 24/7 versus the old snail mail that came five days a week into your letter box once a day. We can be rung at almost any time and if we are not at home, we can be rung wherever we are, even on holidays. Some of this is good; the capacity to keep in touch with friends and loved ones is good and even for work it can be helpful to catch up with things if we need to. But like all tools, whether they’re for good or bad is not a function of the tool itself. A bit like a knife: A knife is very helpful to cut your food, but it’s not helpful if someone stabs you, but the knife itself is an inanimate object. Technology is also inanimate, but what matters is how we use it. If we allow ourselves to be overcome by technology then our stress levels will go up and we will find that at midnight, or at four in the morning, we are still checking up on emails wondering what might be coming in on the next SMS.

Can we make technology our servant rather than our master? The short answer to that is yes, and the only person that can do that is you. There are some simple things you can do, for instance, set yourself some times during the day to check your emails (maybe one, two or four times a day). Reply to them at the time so if you read an email and it needs a reply or a specific folder, reply to them that day, so you don’t have things hanging over you. Have a day when you turn the computer off, or your phone. If you’re going for a run, just leave your phone at home. I’m often amazed to see people at the gym talking on their phones; that’s a point at which you can turn it off. Finding the off switch and the ‘silent’ switch is quite important.

Technology can also help with our health. These days, we can access medical assistance via the web, and that has advanced the capacity to give information to people in remote places on the web. Sites such as this one, that provides tremendous amounts of information, can be useful. There are other things you can get on the web, like downloaded meditations or guided relaxations. And of course there are an assortment of applications for mobile phones that can also help.

Technology in itself is neither good nor bad – look at the knife example – it depends on how we use it. You can use it to assist your health and get good information, keep in touch with loved ones. Equally, if you do let it overwhelm you then you will end up being stressed. Good news with that is that there are such things as ‘off’ buttons and ‘silent’ switches, only they need one working partner and that is your finger. It is about taking charge of your use of technology use and making sure that you have it as your servant and not your master.

More information

Technology and health For more information on technology and its impact on health, development and office injuries, as well as some useful videos, see Technology and Health.