The neuroscientific power of clicks

April 2019

 As we approach the second decade of the 21st Century, we are so deeply immersed in our tech-driven world that we get immediately and lastingly, anxious and desperate if we lose our connection to the internet or our devices stop working.  A smartphone is not mere a tool in our hands supposedly making life easier, but also an object triggering biochemical reactions in our brains; feeding obsessions and addictions, and potentially making our quality of life significantly poorer.  By now there’s a large body of scientific research illuminating the dark, downside of the technology that we don’t want to live without.

Finding the balance between the hard-core tech abstinence that would relegate us to fringes of modern society and soulless immersion in our devices is a passion of Technology Addiction Expert, Dr Marlena Kruger.  She is the founder of the TechnoLife Wise Foundation and will be giving a CPD-accredited talk about the “Neuroscientific power of clicks” at the upcoming SACAP Festival of Learning. With a 25-year career playing a variety of roles in tertiary education under her belt, Dr Marlena has studied the impact of the internet and social media on our brains and bodies – from toddlers to adults.  She developed the innovative, holistic Technolife Smart programmes, based on her trademarked Integrated Techno-life Balance System™.

According to Dr Marlena, we slide down the slippery slope into the overuse of tech and social media when we are not critical and conscious enough of why we are spending our present time online or in front of a screen.  “This happens when we are not monitoring our time in the virtual world which is happening at the expense of us being in the real world,” says Dr Marlena.  “When a click has the power to give us a real-life dopamine reward, we need to continuously ask the critical questions of whether I really need to check my phone or be online now.  Is this really adding quality and value to my real-life’s purpose, relationships, health and wellness? Is it helping me to live a balanced, healthy and happy life in the real world as a human being?  We have the choice to cut down on our tech time and change our tech habits if they don’t serve us as a whole person. If we are not making wise choices and managing our time effectively, it is all too easy to become enslaved by tech and this will have a negative effect on health and well-being.  Stress levels will rise and our relationships, productivity and physical health will decline.” 

So what are the signs of technology over-use and addiction?

  • You prefer screen time to real-life socialising
  • You prefer screen time to physical activity
  • You prefer screen time to taking care of your responsibilities
  • You think, and tell others, that your screen time is the best way for you to relax
  • You won’t disappoint your online friends by quitting playing; but you live with disappointing those closest to you because of your screen distractions
  • You’re on your phone before you turn the lights out at night and first thing when you awake
  • Social media loves and likes are more thrilling than real-life approvals
  • Social media slights and insults are more devastating than real-life disapprovals
  • You avoid conflict and authentic conversations
  • You are restless, depressed, anxious, moody or irritable when you are not online
  • You experience your virtual world as bigger and more valuable than your real life

Sound familiar, but you’re not sure?  Do the TechnoLife Wise self-test.

It is well-worth having insights into our personal tech behaviour. Dr Marlena is very clear about the impacts she has closely studied: “When we become too dependent on our online and global connectedness, our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health is compromised.  We don’t exercise as regularly as we should to live a long and healthy life. Our best friend and constant companion is a device. We are connected to strangers all over the globe, but our relationships with the real people around us suffer. We spend more time reacting to social media postings than creating in the real world.  Our children don’t optimally develop their social, emotional, intellectual and physical capabilities; and therefore more easily become unhealthy, unbalanced people who are strangers to us in the real world.  It’s just about unthinkable to tear ourselves away from our screens long enough to do ‘nothing’ and just be. We have no space or time, nor the will for self-reflection.”

There are numerous neuroscientific studies that have chartered the decline of our critical thinking skills in the current tech age.  It’s no co-incidence that as we lose abilities to apply logic, reason and discernment, fake news is steeply on the rise.  “We have become slaves,” says Dr Marlena. “We let others and the internet or social media think for us, and we follow obediently.  We are losing critical and creative thinking skills that have empowered us for millennia to solve real world challenges.”

 As we allow Amazon, Apple and Netflix to predict what we would most like to read, hear or view next; as we allow Facebook and Google to suggest what we should buy next to be ‘happy’, we are losing something our forebears have always treasured – humanity.  “We are in danger of losing our human touch,” says Dr Marlena.  “We’re losing human fundamentals such as having empathy; making eye contact with other people; expressing human values like having respect, love and honour for each other; integrity, trust and spiritual well-being. These skills and values are differentiating and guiding us from becoming dumb and numb like zombies and robots, although they may have great artificial intelligence.”

The burning question is are we going to follow the ways to take some time-out from our addictive devices, or are we haplessly going to merge with the machine?  Explore this with Dr Marlena Kruger at the upcoming SACAP 2019 Festival of Learning.

The 2019 Festival of Learning hosted by SACAP:

Cape Town, 23-24 May

Venue: SACAP Campus, Claremont

Times: 23 May from 17h30 to 20h30 and 24 May from 09h00 to 17h00

Human Library: 24 May from 11h00 to 15h00

Johannesburg, 30-31 May

Venue: SACAP Campus, Rosebank

Times: 30 May from 17h30 to 20h30 and 31 May from 09h00 to 17h00

Human Library: 30 May from 11h00 to 15h00

Tickets for the 2019 Festival of Learning are available through Webtickets. Tickets are R250-00 for the full-day programme, and R200-00 for the short-talk evening programme. There is a special offer for students and alumni at R80-00 per ticket.

For further information please visit:

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