Disconnecting – Not Just for Kids

Do people realise how much their smart phone and other technology has intruded into every part of how they live their lives? Are people acknowledging that for many this has become essentially an addiction, or at least a dependency. What’s more, there are very negative aspects to that dependence. For young people, especially teenagers, they can barely remember a time when technology didn’t have this intrusive, dominating role in their lives. Can they imagine how life would be without it?

This is a fascinating article about a group of students and teachers in a US school who deliberately chose to go ‘cold turkey’ for three days:

KQED Mindshift Article – Teens Disconnect for Three Days

The comments of the students (both those who stuck to the challenge for three days and those who didn’t) are very interesting. firstly, the challenge appeared far greater for some of them than they had anticipated. Some seemed almost surprised at the pleasures that came from engaging properly with the friends, relatives and the world around them instead of burying themselves in their self-absorbed online world.

Tal Ben Shahar (formerly of harvard University) in his books and courses on happiness reinforces repeatedly that the number one predictor of well-being is relationships. Regrettably, what is apparent is that youngsters are mistaking what’s going on online as a form of relationships. However, it’s built on artificiality and people presenting themselves in less than whole manner and engaging with each other in ways that are also not whole. These children who had disconnected found themselves giving more importance to their real, full blown relationships. To cultivate meaningful and successful relationships, we have to open up fully, to invest in them, to give time to them.

When we actually look at the amount of information we’re exposing ourselves to online, the data is shocking and phenomenal. Worse, if we’re really honest with ourselves how much of it was NEEDED? How much of it was really important or of value? How much does it really contribute to our quality of life? If we took that volume of data and put it in to the form of a book, wouldn’t most people immediately claim there’s no way they could find the time in a day to read it, absorb it, engage with it. Yet, millions do, every day.

Here’s another article that shares hard data and research. Firstly, it looks at quantifying those volumes of data. Then it moves on to fascinating studies of what all that exposure means to our brains and the effects of what we’re doing;

Attn – The Impact of Technology on Your Brain

When the article turns to the implications, the first thing made very clear is that there hasn’t yet been enough research – and that it’s needed urgently. However, what there has been is very worrying and we need to take note. Narcissism and reduced empathy have potentially devastating implications, both at the level of the individual but also for the wider society.

Reading the article, I was reminded of earlier things I’d read about Steve Jobs and other Silicon Valley company heads and the restrictions they placed on their children’s use of technology. These people work closely enough with the technology to know and understand its potential for harm and the need for balance.

Ultimately, the part of the ‘always on’ life that worries me the most is the way in which it has overridden everything that people already knew about living a healthy and rewarding life. This includes the need to compartmentalise certain parts of the day, to have structure and focused periods of time when we engage in certain activities. If we keep online activity within certain times, it doesn’t need to be half as damaging. It becomes vitally important that we help children to learn and implement these habits and become good role models ourselves.

There’s enough to worry any tech dependant person in these two articles, or those who have such a person they care about. However, I believe the good news is it’s never too late to take control, to do something about it and to prioritise those activities that lead to a productive and meaningful life. Effective organisation of time, the development of self-discipline and continual questioning of our technology use are the best ways to ensure that it becomes our tool and we don’t become enslaved by it.

With that – I’m logging off now for some scheduled tech-free time. back later!

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