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'At the start of the year, maybe it's an opportunity for us to rethink our own habits' - we all need time away from technology

PUBLISHED: 14:56 10 January 2017 | UPDATED: 15:03 10 January 2017

The Norwich Gaming Festival 2016. Gaming is fun, but it shouldn't rule your life, says Hannah Colby. Picture: Simon Finlay

The Norwich Gaming Festival 2016. Gaming is fun, but it shouldn't rule your life, says Hannah Colby. Picture: Simon Finlay

I recently saw a report printed in a national newspaper, detailing how a man of 20 had died after playing computer games for 12 hours straight.

I’ve never been a huge fan of anything that can be classed as ‘tech’.

I bought my little Notebook seven years ago, and live in constant terror that it might self-destruct in a cloud of smoke; and as a die-hard Nokia fan for years, I still live in hope that I’ll be able to play Snake again one day.

I don’t own a tablet, or an i-anything.

Instagram confuses me, and five years on, I still haven’t completed Super Mario Galaxy 3 on my Wii.

I’m not too proud to admit that I’m scared of technology: of its capabilities, of its limits, of its effects on us, of the fact that most of it baffles me and makes me feel like a complete dunce, especially when I have to ask a teenager to programme a television for me.

I’m 32, not 90. How did this happen?

There was a stage when I was quite au fait with it all.

Now, it’s not only caught up with me – I’ve been overtaken, and I’m eating its cyber-dust.

It’s not a comfortable feeling.

Computers, too, fall into the category of Objects Of Terror.

Twelve hours doing anything is a pretty impressive stint, but to spend that time in front of a tiny monitor, communicating with fellow gamers on the other side of the world through headphones and forgetting to eat or sleep seems like some type of futuristic method of warfare, not recreation.

I’ve seen it happen; my housemates at university were obsessed with World Of Warcraft.

They’d stay up until the wee hours, flying on the magical unicorns of Zog across the flatlands in search of gold coins and bounty and the elusive Level 52.

When the rest of us got bored of the howls of dismay as their life-force was diminished by Orc-fighting, we’d simply unplug the router.

It didn’t make us popular, but they usually forgot about it after a couple of pints in the pub.

So when, then, should parents and friends put their foot down, if at all?

At what stage should we unplug our children – physically or metaphorically – and force them to go outside and socialise, or exercise, or at the very least, just see daylight?

How long is too long in front of a screen of some type?

There is conflicting advice about the amount of time that should be spent on a computer, and the hours, too; don’t use technology before bedtime, don’t check your emails in the morning, don’t look at social media for more than a few minutes in case you see your ex-boyfriend with someone else or develop life-envy because someone has had a baby or got a new job or lost weight faster than you.

But at the end of the day, surely common sense has to prevail.

No matter the temptation to stay inside and play CandyCrush for hours on end, there has to be a balance – especially for children.

Half of the problem lies in the accessibility of technology.

We have our phones in our hands all day; we come home, place the phones on charge and pick up a tablet to play on while the television is on in the background.

I’m no angel; just because the tablet isn’t mine, doesn’t mean I don’t use it.

It’s all very well to drag our children off the Xbox and throw them out of the front door, but they still have their phones in their pockets; and even if they don’t, their friends do.

We have to look, too, at the examples we set.

Whether it’s for business or pleasure, we spend our time glued to our devices, and children see that.

It becomes acceptable.

I promised myself this column would steer clear from the hackneyed subject of New Year resolutions; but I’m going to break that promise, because at the start of the year, maybe it’s an opportunity for us to rethink our own habits, and those of our children, too.

I’m sure many children were given mobile phones, gaming consoles and other such technology for Christmas.

Now, in January, maybe it’s time to set some ground rules; and maybe we should be the ones to lead by example.

Maybe instead of playing Fifa, we should take a ball outside and run around for half an hour, or play tennis in the park, or even just go for a walk.

Maybe it’s time to unplug that router, and in doing so, cut the cord that binds us to the devices in our hands.

It’s not a case of giving up technology completely, or taking away something that children enjoy.

But there are healthier, simpler pleasures to be found, if we raise our eyes up from the screen.

It works both ways; I’m going to spend January trying to find that balance, and in the course of doing so, I’m going to try to be more open-minded to the fun of technology, too.

I can’t promise that 2017 will be the year that I defeat Bowser and rescue Princess Peach.

But I certainly won’t spend 12 hours trying to do so.

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