Techno Balancing Act
Some days, I long for land lines and bunny ear antennas. I close my eyes and imagine the pre-smart phone and cable TV era - the days of three TV channels and one phone for the entire household. There was no instant “google it”; if you were interested in a topic, you checked out a book at the library. Dinner time was well, dinner time…folks gathered around the table, ate food, and talked and laughed together. I recently dined at a local restaurant and simply observed. Almost every table was in the techno zone, scanning newsfeeds, answering emails, liking Facebook posts, playing games. Some families literally never talked to one another throughout the course of the meal. This scene is representative of a hyper-connected society. We are connected 24/7 to family, friends, work, and the world. Unfortunately, we are also tied to its anxieties, worries, emails, to-do lists, breaking news, and trends. This technological frenzy zaps our productivity, steals sleep, increases stress, stunts creativity, makes driving dangerous, and can even ruin relationships. All that being said, technology is also an incredible tool. It connects people across the globe. It makes research easier than ever and it offers a platform for creative exchange of ideas.
So while some advocate getting off the grid or unplugging entirely, most agree that is not practical or possible. Technology is a tool so to speak. We just need to figure out how to make it best work for us. Just like we don’t carry around a hammer all day long just in case we need to nail something, we don’t need to carry around our smartphones constantly just in case we get an email. Soren Gordhamer, author of Wisdom 2.0; Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected, writes about how to live a modern, engaged, and connected life with awareness, balance, and effectiveness. On his website, he writes, “…one of the biggest challenges of today's age is to connect through technology, but do so in a way that supports a person's well-being, work effectiveness, and is ultimately useful to the world.”
So how do we achieve techno balance? The answer lies not in sending the lion away to a far-away jungle never to be seen again but in taming the lion. In her article, Digital Detox: 16 ways to Unplug from Technology, Every Day, Cathy Presland offers some great suggestions that anyone can incorporate into their daily living. Here are a few of her ideas for finding equilibrium:
1. Start your day right. Resist the urge to check your phone the minute you get out of bed. Instead, grab a healthy breakfast and spend some quiet time meditating, praying, or simply being still, looking out the window. Start the day relaxed and you will have a more productive day.
2. Go old school. Yep, they still make flip phones with just basic call and text functions. Without the ability to check emails or Facebook, you will have more time to enjoy the moment (whatever the moment is.)
3. Bring a book. Always carry a book or magazine with you. Instead of reaching for the phone and checking emails, the newsfeed, or Instagram one more time, open a book and get absorbed in its story. Reading a book requires focus and is relaxing. Filling your mind with thousands of images on the other hand can actually make you less focused.
4. Go on a digital diet. Sort of like going on a food diet, track your current digital intake (how much time or how many times you check it) and then set a goal for reducing that number.
5. Take a mini-break. Next time you go to dinner, leave your phone at home. Getting your haircut, leave your phone in the car. Going in the grocery store, turn your phone off. These mini-breaks can help alleviate the overload.
6. Streamline your connections. For example, if people can contact you via email, Facebook, texting, phoning, and skype, consider cutting out a few of those options so you are not checking as many places. Another option is to have messages re-directed to a general email address for one stop shopping.
7. Get Active. Move and do things that require you to be device free. Ride a bicycle, jog, swim, walk with a friend, or take an exercise class.
8. Leave work behind. When you leave work, really leave it. There are very few things that cannot wait until tomorrow. Set limits. Have separate work and personal numbers and don’t divert calls to your personal phone.
9. Lock up. If you really can’t trust yourself to not look at your phone, give it over to someone else to hold onto for an hour or two while you do something else.
10. Technology bedtime. Blue screens mess with our sleep patterns and increase the likelihood of insomnia. Put all tech away two hours before bedtime. Use the time to unwind, play a game, read, or enjoy a hobby.
Overall, authors such as Presland and Gordhamer, support mindfulness and perspective. Both suggest that we need to be aware of our current technology use and the toll it may be taking on relationships as well as our emotional and physical well-being. To help keep it in perspective, one good question to ask at the end of the day/month/year is: What makes me most happy? Or what am I most grateful for? Is it an empty inbox? The number of likes on a Facebook post? Those things will be there but value is often found in the people and activities we love. Be deciding how, when, and why we are connecting, we can find an appropriate balance with technology – one that allows us to be effective in our jobs but real and available to our family and friends.
Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville. If you have suggestions or ideas for future articles, you can contact Lorraine at email@example.com or 585-335-4327.