The West

Graphic: Rochelle Smith/The West Australian

Shut down, turn off the laptop, tablet and smartphone to give your brain a break, and to reconnect with real life, most experts agree.

It's a call recently issued to staff at Notre Dame University campuses, who will trial a voluntary 2 1/2-hour email blackout every Wednesday in lieu of telephone and face-to-face communication.

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Vice-chancellor Celia Hammond proposed the ban to fight digital stress such as information overload, multi-tasking and misinterpretation that could occur in digital communication.

Such efforts to unplug and consciously disengage from the information flow are important, US neuroscientist Jay Giedd says, to ensure that individual creativity and human interaction and relationships - and physical fitness - do not take second place to sources of easy online engagement.

Practising techniques such as yoga and meditation are important to control the easy addiction to online interaction, says Dr Giedd, from the US National Institute of Mental Health, who was recently in Sydney at the University of NSW Brain Sciences Symposium.

"These days, even standing in line at a movie theatre, people are checking their iPhone - we are constantly entertained," he says.

"This means the brain's reward systems - and the chemical dopamine - are on a constant trickle. These devices can constantly make our reward systems happy but then without them, real life pales."

Problems can arise when digital action is more fun and interesting than real life, such as homework or in some cases, relationships.

"Regular life is having trouble competing," he says.

And with digital games and devices potentially setting our threshold for new, exciting interaction at ever-higher levels there is a real danger that we could become intolerant or easily bored, Dr Giedd says.

But in fact, boredom is an important springboard for creative endeavour, he maintains.

"We need to realise it does not have to be 'fun' all the time," he says.

"A lot of human achievement is not 'fun' and involves sacrifice and sticking through tough times."

For all those concerns, Dr Giedd, like others, says there is no evidence that this generation of young people is less creative, productive or social.

But he suggests there may be implications from having less face-to-face contact and missing out on the smell, touch and nuances of personal interaction.

On the other hand, he says, online interaction has been shown to have benefits for people who are socially isolated.

The West Australian

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