The COVID pandemic has locked down much of society and driven many of our activities online – working, shopping, entertaining, and catching up with friends and family.

The COVID pandemic has locked down much of society and driven many of our activities online – working, shopping, entertaining, and catching up with friends and family.

And because technology has allowed us to carry on with as much of life as is possible, our dependency on it has only deepened. It’s become a common pattern – glued to our screens for work all day, and then connecting with close ones through video conferencing in the evenings. Rinse, repeat.

But what effect is all this technology having on us? In an RBC Disruptors conversation from June 2019, Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, a physician and brain scientist at Duke University, said that the human “brain is continuously adapting to new things we do in our lives and rewiring itself.”

In the age of Zoom meetings, the lessons and insights he shared are as relevant as ever.

Read on / listen to learn how technology is changing the brain and mind – and what advice Dr. Doraiswamy has to share about keeping our brains balanced between our natural world and our digital one.


Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or Simplecast


Technology is doing more than changing our world – it’s actually changing ourselves, too. How is all that time we spend on screens changing our brains?

Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, a physician and brain scientist at Duke University, says there’s cause for concern: an estimated 8%-10% of people in North America show signs of a serious addiction to the Internet and gaming.

Nevertheless, he’s a techno-optimist. Thanks to its neuroplasticity, the human brain can rewire itself – it matches the tech that serves us. Going forward, we may become super good at typing, or mastering voice tech devices.

The key is to balance our screen time and our time in the real world. Dr. Doraiswamy shared five things we can do today to keep our brains in prime operating condition.

1. Get Up From Your Desk

It’s a challenge in an era when everything seems urgent – but don’t sit in front of your computer for more than an hour at a time. It’s not good for your productivity. “We are so over-scheduled, we are constantly in a task-oriented mode,” Dr. Doraiswamy said. Get up and walk somewhere, go to a coffee shop. That break from emails and meetings will help to shift your brain from a task-orientated way of doing things to a more creative and productive mode.

2. Go for a Walk in Nature

Hands down, the best place to reset your brain is in nature. When you take a walk in nature, you’re combining the trance-like state that walking puts you in, with the sense of tranquility nature provides. This contemplative time activates the brain’s default mode network. This is the part of the brain that allows you to unlock solutions to deep problems, and inspires a sense of collective well-being in people. You just need to give it free time to do its job.

3. Meditate

Everyone should be meditating for a minimum of 20 minutes a day, preferably outdoors. Start with an app, if that helps. Like walking, meditating activates the brain’s default mode network. It’s good for your brain in the long-run, too – studies show novice meditators and expert meditators have different brains. The later have less age-relate shrinkage in their brains, and the parts of the brain involved in judgement and morality are more stimulated.

4. Have a Good Conversation Every Day

The number one predictor of how long you’ll live isn’t your blood pressure; it’s your social connections. Every day, have a deep, meaningful conversation with a friend – not over Skype, but in person. These deep personal connections are vital for physical and psychological well-being. “Don’t mistake social media for what brings true meaning into your life,” Dr. Doraiswamy says.

5. Stop Checking Your Phone Before Bed

An hour before you go to bed, stop checking your phone. If you look at your phone just before going to sleep, your brain is still processing those last few emails for at least another 15-20 minutes. Early research also suggests that the blue light emitted by devices may interfere at night with our sleep cycles, meaning you’ll sleep better if those last few minutes of your day are spent with a book instead.
 

As Senior Vice-President, Office of the CEO, John advises the executive leadership on emerging trends in Canada’s economy, providing insights grounded in his travels across the country and around the world. His work focuses on technological change and innovation, examining how to successfully navigate the new economy so more people can thrive in the age of disruption. Prior to joining RBC, John spent nearly 25 years at the Globe and Mail, where he served as editor-in-chief, editor of Report on Business, and a foreign correspondent in New Delhi, India. He is the author of three books and has a fourth underway.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.