Unplug and reconnect (change your relationship with technology)

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(This is the fourth post in the series of 6 posts that I writing on self care. You can read the earlier ones here, here and here)

Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master

~Christian Lous Lange

If you have gone through the earlier posts, you would know that we have been discussing topics like purpose and meaning, knowing what is truly important in our lives and what matters to us. But all of this would be made redundant if you could not apply what you have learned about yourself to carve out the life that you want. We have a lot to be grateful for in our lives towards modern technology including but not limited to comfort and convenience but we are certainly paying a price for it.

When I planned out the series of posts on self care, I knew that one of these posts would be to highlight the issues that are connected to the way that modern technology is impacting our lives. It has been clear to me for a while now that the very fabric of our society, our attention span and our health are all being affected by the very same technology that has been designed to revolutionise our lives (which it has). But it is even more disconcerting that many of us are blissfully unaware of the ways it affects each and every aspect of our lives. And even when we are aware of this, what makes it so difficult to do something about it is the way that it is designed. The many ways that technology has been designed to be fun and easy to use are the very same things that keep us hooked on to it.

One of my personal struggles today in terms of getting creative and meaningful work done is in connection with my own phone usage. Technology is something that is constantly being reinvented and keeps changing and has always fascinated me. I have always embraced it happily and learned how to apply it constructively in both my personal and professional life. But the flip side is that my smart phone usage is certainly more addictive for me than anyone else in my family. The good thing is however, I have known this for a while now and this awareness has helped me to take steps to deal with this issue.

Modern technology has enriched our lives and helped us make significant progress however, smartphones are really quite different from the other technologies that preceded it like telephones, telegraphs, movies, radios, video games etc. These were also game-changers in their own right but are still quite different from smartphones in terms of impact. The main reason for this is that smartphones, in particular, have been specifically designed to grab our attention and get us to spend an inordinate amount of time on them. 

The result is that the smartphone has permeated our lives and become ubiquitous like nothing that we have ever seen before. Whether is our social, personal or our work life, no one is immune to the addictive nature of our gadgets and social media adds another layer to this addiction. And I do not use the word addictive lightly at all. Our phones have been specifically designed to make us spend more time on them based on the way our brain works.

As Tristan Harris (a former Design Ethicist at Google and co founder of Centre for Humane Technology) said “Our generation relies on our phones for our moment-to-moment choices about who we’re hanging out with, what we should be thinking about, who we owe a response to, and what’s important in our lives. And if that’s the thing that you’ll outsource your thoughts to, forget the brain implant. That is the brain implant. You refer to it all the time."

(If you would like to know more on this topic and how it affects us, read his article Tech Companies Design Your Life, Here’s Why You Should Care_)

These are just two of the many books on this topic of how smartphones are affecting our health (and especially that of our children)- iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us by Jean M Twenge and How to Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life: The 3 -Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price. 

However, this post is not so much about technology as it is about the impact of modern technology and specifically the smartphone on our health. You may already be aware of some of the ways in which your digital technology use (including social media) is affecting your life and your relationships, your work and attention span.

However, to gauge the true extent of this issue, do take out some and answer the questions below-

Can you imagine life without a cellphone? What kinds of feeling comes up for you when you visualise such a scenario?

Have you ever noticed yourself using it not so safely? For e.g. talking or texting or watching while crossing the road or even while driving?

Have you noticed yourself feeling anxious and uncomfortable or even bored in a social situation and reaching for your phone to soothe yourself?

Have you ever noticed yourself losing hours at a time reading or watching social media posts and articles by simply losing track of time?

If you are cringing now after answering these questions, be rest assured that you are not alone. My own personal struggle with regards to my phone usage has reached a place where I am constantly trying to ensure that my phone works for me and not the other way around. The price that we pay may seem innocuous at times but make no mistake; we (and our children) are paying a hefty price by being constantly distracted due to the way the smartphone is designed to engage us.

Each of us has a relationship with our phone which in most of the cases is not in our favour and infact puts us at a major disadvantage. Unfortunately, this relationship often takes precedence over our real life relationships. It is time that we paused to think about what kind of relationship we really want with our phones. 

To have more clarity on how your phone usage may be your relationships, think about your answers to the questions below.

Is there...

a particular relationship that is suffering more than others as a result of your being constantly distracted? 

any way that a relationship will get more fractured in the long run due to your distracted ways if you do not take some steps to curb them?

some part of your life that you are missing out on now that you will regret not being present for later on?

some anxiety or worry that you have of letting go of these distractions?

(Take some time out to reflect on these questions and write down your answers to these questions in your journal as you have done for my earlier posts)

It is up to us to become aware of these pitfalls first and foremost at an individual level and then ultimately at a larger societal and community level. It is only with this kind of awareness that we will be able to modify our behaviours and make conscious choices in the way we use technology. This will help to make it work for us and NOT the other way around.Too often we lose sight of the fact that it is only when we squelch the constant chatter of our outer world that we can truly start to hear what our inner world is trying to tell us or warn us about.

Real self care starts the moment we start listening to ourselves and start taking steps to give ourselves what we truly need.   

And as we work towards becoming more present and less distracted, we can truly show up for our own life in a way...

that is truly aligned with our purpose and our goals

in which we are present for ALL the moments that make up our life and NOT just the special occasions

that is conducive for healing and taking care of ourselves

that helps us share our unique gifts with the world

that enables us to take risks, grow and show up as our authentic selves

that allows us to enjoy and live each and every moment of our lives without putting off "living" 

 

In the section below, I have highlighted some changes that you can make TODAY with regards to your phone/technology use to help you to reclaim some level of control

(I will be writing in more details on this topic in my series of posts on increasing self awareness and creating meaningful connections).

You do NOT need to be available every second of the day

You can answer your texts, emails and calls at select times during the day by blocking out time for it. Schedule switching off or at the very least taking some time off from your phone /technology each day and giving yourself a break (unless your profession demands you to be on call). This can be done by either taking 10-15 min phone breaks several times each day to either take some time off OR to focus on the work that needs to get done. I routinely put my phone on silent for at least a few hours each day to work on something that is important without being distracted all the time.

Your phone is NOT a substitute for human companionship or connection

Even when we are with people who really matter to us, we may not really be present. Instead of spending the limited but precious amount of time with our children, parents and friends who are in front of us, we may actually be spending time with our phones. I am guilty of this myself and I make a conscious effort to be really present in the presence of others especially my family.

Here are some distraction and phone free time zones that you can incorporate into your daily routine-

  • first thing in the morning
  • before your children leave for school (wherever applicable)
  • right before bed time
  • meal times
  • family time in the evening and on weekends

Take control of your phone

There are many ways that you can take back control of your phone and I have highlighted some of the most effective ones below.

(courtesy: https://humanetech.com/resources/take-control/)

  • Turn off ALL notifications apart from the ones you receive from people (calls and text messages)
  •  Go GRAYSCALE- this particular strategy is one I have recently implemented and has been really effective in reducing the time spent on my phone
  • Try keeping your apps on the home screen only
  • Launch other apps by typing so that it gives you just enough time to pause and reflect if that is truly the action that you want to take
  • Remove social media apps from your phone as it is the easiest way to cut back on the usage. They can be used when truly needed either from the browser or a desktop/laptop
  • Check out apps like Freedom (I personally love this one), Thrive Away, Offtime to track, monitor and control your phone usage

Isn't it ironic that a technology that was designed to foster communication and enrich our lives is, in fact, the very thing that is hindering interpersonal connectedness?

Ultimately, we need to remember that as human beings we have a primal need to be connected to others. But true connection usually happens in the micro moments in our life and that makes it very easy to miss out on those moments if we are constantly distracted. We can end up paying a heavy price by looking for this kind of connection elsewhere and becoming addicted to social media, shopping, alcohol, drugs, "busyness" etc.

So the next time you are with another person, look up from your phone and put it away. Take the time to be really present, to look into their eyes and to truly listen to what they are trying to tell you. Let us all reclaim our precious connections one conversation at a time!

As the author, Johann Hari has said so well

"The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but human connection"

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