his story originally appeared across the BBC World Service.
We all know that carrots and broccoli are good for our health, but would you spend your whole day eating them?
Anything in excess has its downsides, yet many of us seem happy to binge on technology.
On a typical day, internet users spend an average of six-and-a-half hours online, according to a survey conducted in 34 countries by the consumer data firm GlobalWebIndex.
Users in Thailand, the Philippines and Brazil report spending over nine hours connected, according to the survey.
And a third of time online is now spent on social media.
What does tech do to your brain?
The impact of technology on our physical and mental health is still the subject of scientific studies.
Shimi Kang is a Canadian psychiatrist who specialises in child and adolescent mental health, focusing on addiction.
She told the BBC: “Technology is increasingly being linked to anxiety, depression, body image disturbance, and internet addiction disorder has now become a medical diagnosis.”
But just as there are healthy foods, super foods and junk foods, there are several types of technology – and if we want a healthy relationship with them, we need to understand how they impact our brains.
How your brain reacts to tech
Kang says our brain “metabolises” technology by generally releasing six different types of neurochemicals into our bodies:
• Serotonin – Released when we are creative, connected, and contributing.
• Endorphins – The “painkiller” of the body. Released when we experience mindfulness, meditation, gratitude, and cardiovascular exercise.
• Oxytocin – Released when we have exchanges in a meaningful connection. It is generally healthy but online predators can tap into its effects to abuse their victim’s trust.
• Dopamine – A pleasure neurochemical linked with instant reward but also addiction. Technology is increasingly being designed to specifically trigger the release of dopamine.
• Adrenaline – Best known for regulating our responses in fight-or-flight situations, but also released by likes and pokes on social media.
• Cortisol – The hallmark of stressed-out, sleep-deprived, too-busy and distracted individuals.
So not all technology is the same, but more importantly, not all experience with technology is.
Healthy, toxic and junk tech
“Healthy technology is anything that would give us that metabolism of brain-boosting serotonin, endorphin and/or oxytocin,” Kang says.
Some examples are meditation apps, creative apps, as well as connection apps that allow us to bond with other people.
But add a good dose of habit-forming dopamine and you are entering a dangerous territory that can lead to addiction.
“Let’s say there is a creative app and your child really loves making movies with it. But now they’re just doing it too much, spending six, seven hours a day on it,” she says.
“It’s not junk tech, like Candy Crush, which is all dopamine – but you still have to be careful and set limits.”
On the other end of the spectrum there is junk technology, which she says we might use “when we’re just destructing ourselves.”
She compares it with emotional-eating junk food, which “we do when we’re stressed.”
“The really toxic stuff we worry about is when you are just getting that hit of reward. Let’s say, pornography, cyber-bulling, gambling, addictive video games designed like slot machines, or engaging with hate speech.”