I'm old enough to remember when mobile phones were first released. I was in youth work, and most of my peers were raving about "how convenient" these devices were. Then came internet: fancy being able to access information at any time! Facebook: now we can keep in touch at every moment! Amazing!
Every new technological development comes sold to us with the inherent promise that it's going to improve our lives. In some ways it's true. But our smart devices also sap substantial time and energy (as well as money!) from us. They re-direct our attention away from other things. We've swallowed the hype that we're moving forwards without considering if the sell is true.
There is fallout from our wholesale obsession with technology. Several of my friends tell me they're addicted to Facebook. One in four adults breaks their sleep at least weekly to check their phone or email. And according to app developer Safely, two thirds of teens are texting or messaging in the wee hours of the night. Adelaide Uni released a study last year, claiming:
"..more than 70% of adolescents are not receiving optimal sleep during weekdays, with use of electronic media delaying the time they go to bed, interrupting them during the night, and leading to longer times to achieve a deep sleep."
There's the texting whilst driving issue, people expecting attention all hours of the day and night, privacy challenges and people focusing on their devices when they're s'posed to be with you. Stephen Spielberg put it like this:
"Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we're too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the 'phone"
This isn't meant to be a whinge. It's part of a series foucising on small changes we can consider making to improve our lives with minimal effort. So here are some good living principles and associated e-mazing tweaks to ponder as we think about technology in our lives:
Love the one you're with!
Although I borrowed this line from an old song that re-surfaced in my brain, I don't back the rest of what it was telling you to do! But here's a healthy principle to operate by: live in the present. Or, put bluntly: love your people, not your phone! Why? Because the only moment you can actually live is the one you're having right now. And if you ignore the people right with you and stare into your device then what you are doing is living vicariously and not in real time! (Vicariously means living someone else's life not your own.) Additionally, you're telling whoever you're with that they aren't as important to you, because what you focus on is your priority. Do you want your friends/partner/kids to think they don't rate while you text/talk/search somewhere else? Do you want them to tell that to you?
There's some argument that if you're doing technology together it's different, but be careful! I've been watching in cafes and on the streets this past week. In about 70% of instances, at least one person looked bored/cut off/uncomfortable where twosomes and groups were with technology. Much engaging this way is a solo experience, with the other/s looking on from the outside.
What e-mazing tweaks could we try to improve this? How about next time you have coffee with someone, leave your phone in your pocket? Turn it to silent in meetings this week. Put your devices elsewhere whilst you eat one evening. Choose to re-engage or really engage with the people you're physically with. Find what's interesting about them and their world. It'll save you checking their tweet later anyway!
Stop being available 24/7
I love the convenience of being able to go out for a meal at night or shop when it suits me. But for every convenience I gain, someone else is put out. I can only eat at restaurants because someone else cooks and another person serves me. The upscale of technology has spread this convenience/inconvenience very wide. Not only can I access information when the library's shut, I'm also expected to provide it! Things we used to get paid overtime for at work (in recognition of the 'put out' it was) are now expected as standard. No matter that I just worked a full day, now I can finish my task at home in the wee hours of the morn. I can take emergency calls, answer your emails and keep up with everyone's goings on all day and all night!
The difficulty with that is, I'm not made for living around the clock. There's this thing called sleep which I need. If I ignore it, I get tired and then I make mistakes and lose good judgement and say stupid things and hurt relationships. I also need space in my awake time when I'm not being bombarded by noise and demands. Quiet is part of a healthy lifestyle, at least some of the time. Boundaries are also a necessary part of a good life. A fence, or a boundary is what you put in place to define an area that's yours, where you can say "this far and no further unless it's on my terms" and feel safe about it. We need to put them up around our relationships, other people's demands and 'everyone's' expectations, as well as our houses.
Those of you who're at least a part introvert, rejoice! And push back. Make some choices about when technology can rule your life and when it can't. If you're already in one work encounter, don't take the call immediately. Leave your work at the office at least once a week (preferably more!), and if you work from home shut the door and your computer on the weekends. At night, remove your smart devices from your sleep area. You don't need to know if your girlfriend had a hot date til morning! You don't need to know or think anything, you need to rest. Run hard all day, then sleep soft all night. Then you might just be awake enough to enjoy tomorrow!
Model health to others, especially your kids
Quite possibly you're thinking that all this is silly, that technology can't be pushed back on, that everyone's doing it all the time so what's the use of trying? So here's an interesting question: do you like people telling you what to do? Cos that's what you're letting happen when you claim that! And even though an awful lot of people are swept up in this technological craze, it's your life. So make your own choices. Do you really want to spend as much time as you do on all that technology, and are you prepared to let other options go by to do so?
Whilst you're pondering that, let me tell you that plenty of successful and fulfulled people are doing just that. They're making choices about when and where they use their smart devices. And some of them may surprise you. Heck, even Steve Jobs limited his kids use of technology!!! So, you can set controls for your kids or yourself and know you're in good company!
What can you tweak here? Well, maybe you can institute a media fast once a week, and perhaps distract yourself or your tribe by going out to do something different instead. You could try turning off all electronic gear an hour before bed for a week and see what happens to your sleep. (Apparently those white lights inhibit our 'go to sleep' hormone.) Choose to charge all devices in a public space and check at bedtime that they're still there and not in your kids or partner's reach! A couple of my friends have removed themselves from social media, either permanently or for a defined period of time and in fact, one of them has just given me her password to change for a week as her way of attempting to break a hold she feels is too tight.
Talking about your choices can also help others. I've heard more than one parent say that it's easier to stand firm knowing that they can say with confidence, "Actually, not all kids are doing …" And even us grown ups are inspired to reconsider our choices when we hear that someone else is choosing a different path. So, if you decide to try any of these tweaks (and I hope you do if you need to!), tell others about it too. It's good for us all! And if you've tried any alternative adjustments yourself, I'd love to hear them below! Here's to reclaiming some of your life for a better purpose!