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Technology: Strike a Balance in Your Life

Believe it or not, there was a time when cellphones were used for the sole purpose of making calls on the go. But then Apple launched the iPhone in 2007 and things haven't been the same since. Today, over two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, a nearly 200 percent increase from five years ago. And it's not just smartphones that have taken over our lives. An estimated 45 percent of Americans own tablets, while 70 percent of Americans have broadband connections at home -- a drastic jump from 2000, when only 3 percent of households had broadband. Glued to the Screen Americans don't just own a lot of fancy gadgets -- we spend a hefty amount of time using tech devices. These days, U.S. teenagers spend an average of nine hours a day in front of a screen, according to Forbes Granted, some of that is for homework or educational purposes, but it begs the question: How much is too much? Technology Takes Our Money Our collective preoccupation with technology impacts the way we do just about everything, from learning to socializing to following current events. But keeping up with technology comes at a cost. The majority of U.S. households spend more per month on technology bills than on utilities. Furthermore, Americans allocate an estimated 5.5 percent of their total discretionary spending to technology yet save only an estimated 4 percent of their income on average each year. Talk about an interesting choice of priorities. Struggling to Keep Up Adding to the financial burden is the rapid speed at which technology seemingly becomes outdated. In a recent Gallup survey, 44 percent of participants said they upgrade their cellphones as soon as they're eligible through their mobile providers, generally every two years. But when we rush to replace useful gadgets, we're not only hurting our wallets sometimes, but we're also generating more waste for the planet. E-waste constitutes 2 percent of America's trash and equals 70 percent of overall toxic waste, and only 12.5 percent of e-waste is currently recycled. Striking a Balance It's fair to say that most of us can't function without a cellphone or an Internet connection, and in many ways, our lives are actually better for it. No longer do we have to worry about getting lost on the way to an appointment or panic when we've forgotten the address. And having a cellphone or smartphone offers an added measure of safety for the times we're working late or traveling solo. But technology abuse is a problem too. In a world where it's become acceptable to text the person sitting across the table rather than speak or interrupt an otherwise intimate dinner to read an email alert, we could all commit to scaling back. We can start by: Eliminating cellphones at meal times. Replacing social media with face-to-face interaction. Swapping one hour of TV per week with a screen-free activity. Technology can be a very good thing if we don't let it control our lives too much. But when we collectively reach the point where leaving our cellphones at home is as weighty an offense as forgetting our house keys, we've got a real problem.