Facebook. Twitter. Email. Instagram. Pinterest. Facebook Page. Email. Snapchat. Viber. Whatsapp. Zoom…. Our choice of being virtually connected are miles from what we could have imagined 15 years ago. Remember the large heavy brick of one of the first mobile phones? Or the chunky word processor? Those were the days when you simply arranged to meet a friend and you trusted that they would be there. You went to bed with an alarm clock. You spoke to your colleague two yards from you. You picked up a paper book. Children got dirty playing together in the garden. Technology has certainly made our lives easier and it delivers many benefits, yet this sudden advancement has come at a price. Has technology surreptitiously taken over our lives? Who is really in charge? You or technology?
There’s a lot of research now about the impact technology is having on our lives. Take this for example. Microsoft Research Canada measured the attention span of smart phone users in the year 2000 (in the advent of smart phones) and again in 2013. Our average attention span has declined from 12 seconds to now 8 seconds. You might think this is ok until you hear that the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.
So if smart phones make us more distracted, how else is technology detrimentally impacting our lives? Have a Facebook account? You may be surprised to learn that in a study by Opinium, one in five people (20%) said they felt depressed by seeing their friends online. It’s easy to see why as we believe Facebook to be reality where other people lives can appear more exciting or interesting than our own. But as we all know, Facebook never paints a true picture. If Facebook was created to connect us with others, it’s doing a poor job. Instead, Facebook can make us feel more isolated and disconnected than ever.
There’s no doubt that we’ve become massive consumers of information, but it’s our addiction to the use of technology to access this information that is worrying. Just think about your rising panic if you’ve gone out and left your mobile phone behind or you can’t get the Internet on your phone. Or indeed the rush of dopamine you get when you hear the ping of your mobile phone and you have to immediately stop what you’re doing and check it.
In the age of “the selfie” one could ask whether technology is feeding certain behaviours like narcissism or self-obsession. I was in a well-known art gallery the other day and was amused to see two young women taking photos of themselves in front of nearly every painting. Were they more interested in themselves or the art? Or perhaps interested in sharing their picture with their Facebook or Instagram followers?
As an Executive Coach, a number of my clients discuss how technology has brought disharmony to their work/life balance – some working 90 hours a week – because technology enables them to do so. It’s becoming so hard to switch off when technology is on 24/7, and it requires huge amounts of discipline to turn off your computer at the end of a working day, or to stop checking emails in the evening.
Our brains need time to regenerate and with this age of digitisation, that isn’t happening. We wake up with technology. We use our phones for an alarm clock – and then can’t help but check our email, text messages, the newspaper or social media. Work has begun before we’ve even crawled out of bed.
We work all day with technology. Then we go to bed with technology. We set our alarm on our phone then find ourselves caught up in something else. And if that something else creates worry or angst, then there’s a pretty good chance you won’t have a peaceful, restful sleep. We use an electronic screen before sleep, which affects our melatonin production, throwing off circadian rhythms, preventing deep, restorative sleep.
Thankfully there are some people waking up to this manic overuse of technology and are slowly taking back control. An article a few months ago stated that tech entrepreneurs were having regular digital detoxes by refraining from using all technology for a week at a time so they can have a decent period of creative brainstorming, without any distractions.
Friends of mine have one technology free day in the weekend. No phones. No computers. Nothing digital. Others are deleting social media apps from their smart phones. Ed Sheeran announced he would step away from mobile phones, email and twitter – for an entire year. And companies are setting up digital detox holidays where you can totally switch off and rekindle things like the art of good old conversation – eye-to-eye, face-to-face.
Martin Talks from Digital Detox, believes that in years to come we will look back at this time and think we were mad to spend so much of our time staring at a screen. And if you’re wondering how often that is, then you will be horrified to find out that we look at our phone on average 150 times a day. Scary stuff.
So is it time to take back control and have mastery over technology, rather than technology controlling you? My advice is to start small by first noticing how technology is impacting your life. Notice your body’s response or your natural impulse when you hear your phone ping. Notice the habits you’ve created around your use of technology, like the need to play with your phone rather than sitting still for a few minutes. Become aware how many times you check your phone during the day. Pay attention to how you feel if your phone’s battery has gone flat and you’re unable to charge it, or if you leave your phone behind.
There are many simple steps you can action right now to take back control and become the master, not the servant of technology:
- Buy an old fashioned alarm clock and keep your phone out of the bedroom.
- Switch your phone to silent and notice if you become less distracted and more productive.
- Talk to your colleagues rather than sending them an email.
- At a restaurant, put all your phones in a corner. The first one to check their phone pays the bill.
- Have a phone free afternoon or a day in the weekend. Switch it off completely.
- Buy a paperback book.
- Allocate certain times throughout your day when you check your email.
- If you have to work late at night, investigate a programme that enables you to send emails in one go at a certain time in the morning.
- Engage the ‘push’ button on the phone, which downloads emails all at once.
- Take the email functionality off your phone if you go away on holiday.
- Take off apps on your phone.
If we lived perfectly happily in world with limited digitisation, there’s a pretty good chance we can do so again. While technology is here to stay, it’s up to you to make your relationship with technology a positive one. It’s really about how you use technology to enhance your life, and not giving technology the chance to rule your life. So take action. Put your phone down. Take a beautiful deep breath. Go for a walk. Start to re-engage with a bit of the non-technical world. If Steve Jobs, one of the world’s leaders in the advancement of technology, restricted the amount of technology his children were exposed to, you can too.