Technology makes it possible for people to gain control over everything,
except over technology. – John Tudor
As a professional blogger and writer, I spend much of my day online. I also have a BlackBerry that keeps me connected to e-mail and my blog when I’m not at my computer. I love the world of e-mail, blogs, social media and other forms of online communication and the opportunities it presents. I especially love how it has changed how we meet people and form friendships in ways we never could have imagined even ten years ago.
Technology has allowed me to make contact with people I never could have met in real life. Whether it’s the author I’ve admired for decades, or the veterinarian whose articles I’ve only read in journals before, or the many fellow cat people who share my love for these incredibly fascinating and wonderful creatures – I treasure all of these relationships. Some of them have turned into real-life friendships.
But there is a downside to all this 24/7 connectedness. As with all good things, there can be too much of it. Researchers from the University of Glasgow found that half of the participants in a study reported checking their email once an hour, while some individuals check up to 30 to 40 times an hour. An AOL study revealed that 59 percent of PDA users check every single time an email arrives and 83 percent check email every day on vacation. (Source: WebMD.com)
Does this sound like the behavior of an addict to you? That’s because it is. All this technology creates compulsive behavior by tapping into the brain’s reward circuit and operant conditioning: the association of stimulus and reward. Every time you hit “check mail” on your e-mail or smartphone, you get a little dopamine hit. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that makes you feel good. Receiving that e-mail, text, or Facebook comment sends a message to your brain that says “Yay! Somebody loves me!” Your brain comes to associate this feeling with the “you’ve got mail” or text message sound on your device, and releases a squirt of dopamine each time it hears the signal.
As if this weren’t bad enough, after you check that e-mail or that Facebook comment, your dopamine levels dip below normal, so you need another hit just to get your levels back to normal. If you’ve ever sat at your computer and hit the “get new mail” button over and over and wondered why on earth you’re doing that, now you know.
The constant connection to technology can take a toll on our bodies and our mental state, and it probably behooves us to occasionally unplug, even if it’s only for a few hours. Here are some ways to break the technology addiction, at least temporarily:
- Unplug for for short periods of time if disconnecting for an entire day seems impossible. You life won’t implode. As with any addiction, there can be a period of anxiety when you first try it.
- Leave your cell phone at home one day a week. Weekends are good for this. For some people, this will have the same effect as a two-week vacation; the psychological benefits can be that dramatic. If you feel must have your cell phone with you because of safety concerns, keep it turned off.
- Set boundaries. Don’t check e-mail as soon as you get out of bed. Stop checking e-mail after a certain time in the evening. Set yourself a time limit when you go on social media sites.
- Don’t let technology interfere with real, face-to-face contact. There’s nothing more irritating to me than having lunch with someone who keeps a constant eye on her smartphone.
I’ll admit, I find it very difficult to unplug, and I know I need to work at doing it more frequently. Thankfully, Allegra and Ruby are good at reminding me to step away from the computer. Usually, their reminders involve a walk across the keyboard, or a chase around the monitor. I’m going to heed their advice today and try and unplug for a few hours.
How about you? Are you addicted to technology? Do your cats remind you to unplug?
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