“Hi, my name is Samantha, and I’m addicted to technology.”
Yup, that’s me. There’s no denying it. I’ve been more in-tune lately with just how much I feel the need to “connect” using technology every single day. Not only do I sit at a computer where I have access to work email all day long, but I can’t help but check my phone first thing in the morning (I tell myself that it’s just to check the weather, but then I end up checking email too), during lunch, as I’m leaving work, as soon as I get home from work and then throughout the evening. I look at it as a necessary evil: A love-hate relationship. I love being able to easily and quickly connect with friends or make a dinner reservation with the touch of a button, but I sometimes notice that I’m ignoring my husband because while watching TV I’m so busy Googling “Where have I seen that actor?” (I figure instead of torturing myself trying to come up with the answer, I might as well just look it up online! Sound familiar?).
This is not one of those articles though to tell you to completely step away from your smart phone, computer, tablet, whatever. I feel that it’s important to acknowledge just how great our technology is these days and how much good it can add to our lives: How much more we can get done with our time (say working from home or traveling by plane for business and being able to pull up info on our laptop). We can entertain our kids at the drop of a hat, track our exercise routines, watch a TV show that we may have forgotten to DVR the night before, or even Face Time with relatives that live across the country. And social connections even online have great health benefits. After all, even being connected virtually is better than being totally isolated.
Yet there are some downfalls to technology, too. We can sometimes forget that nothing on our phones or tablets will ever be as great as what is happening in real life. It is easy to become so disconnected that we forget to ask somebody how their day was because we’re so busy playing Candy Crush. The Wellness Council of America estimates that the average number of hours that Americans spend glued to their tablets and smart phones are about two and a half—per day. It’s not about choosing one over the other: We don’t have to completely disconnect, nor do we have to completely let it take over our lives, either. The point is, we’re all susceptible to stress, anxiety, and depression, and being more mindful of what helps you to slow down and feel healthy could make a huge shift in both your mental and physical health.
For those of us who are perhaps craving a little bit more face-to-face connection, whether it’s quality time with loved ones or perfecting your communication skills with co-workers, here are some ways to both enjoy technology and not let it overtake your life:
1) Set some boundaries. I’m probably never going to go a week without checking my email (unless I’m on vacation), but there are times when I feel like stepping away and taking a breather, especially from things like Facebook and Instagram, where you can be constantly bombarded with what seems like the perfection of other people’s lives. I personally like to give people in my life a heads up when I yearn for a little “off-the-grid” time. This way if people are using the phone or computer as a way of communicating, they know not to expect an answer back from me right away. This takes some of the pressure off of me to respond ASAP, which texting especially can elicit.
2) Carve out a “no-technology” zone in your house. Perhaps you decide that it’s not reasonable to have your phone out of reach in the kitchen because you like to call friends while you cook or watch a YouTube video on your iPad for help with a recipe that you’re trying to make. Maybe instead you could pick a place that feels Zen-like, such as your bedroom, and try not to allow your cell phone or any gadgets there and stick with it. If your cell phone is your only phone, think about turning on the “do not disturb” function and this way the only calls that can come through are urgent. Otherwise, you can rest assured—pun intended—that your sleep won’t be interrupted by your phone pinging. You’ll be able to relax more knowing that your time spent in those parts of your house is off-limits to texting, emailing, and Facebook, and a bright screen won’t be the last thing that you see when it’s time for bed, which has been said can possibly re-set your internal sleep clock. (See this CNN article here that explains why the bright lights before bedtime may be negatively impacting your sleep: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/05/13/sleep.gadgets.ipad/).
3) Talk to your family about how much technology gets used in your house, and think about what’s best for you. Let them know that you’d like to have a “no-phone-during-dinner” rule, or let’s say from 8:00pm-9:00pm every evening; everybody agrees to put away their phone or not check email for that one hour. Explain to them what you hope to gain by doing this. Maybe it’s more family time, maybe it’s greater creativity, or better sleep. Maybe it will end up being a benefit that you haven’t even thought of yet.
4) Talk—yes that’s right, talk—to your co-workers! The next time that you’re thinking about sending a quick email to a colleague, think about if it’s something that you could instead have a conversation about. Sometimes we need to have a paper trail of our thoughts or use email as a way to keep things organized, but surely there are other times when we can just as easily get up and have that conversation in person!
Remember, the goal doesn’t have to be going cold-turkey. But the benefits of turning your ringer off from time to time, setting boundaries at home with your family, and making more of an effort to be engaged in face-to-face contact with friends and co-workers may very well help you incorporate more balance into your day-to-day life, sleep more soundly, and gain a longer attention span as well. These are all things that will benefit you both at work and at home.