Technology makes it possible for people to gain control over everything,
except over technology. – John Tudor
I spend much of my day online, whether it’s researching for an article, moderating comments on this site, interacting with friends and fans on our various social media sites, or responding to the never-ending flow of email. I also have an iPhone and iPad to keep me connected to this site, social media and email when I’m not at my computer. And I know I’m not alone. Technology has become a part of our everyday lives, for better or for worse.
I love technology, but…
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 all this connection comes with challenges. This massive influx of messages, notifications, and never-ending flow of information can crush your spirit if you let it. It can take over your world, and not in a good way. Coping with this much information can easily become overwhelming, and it’s insidious, because you may not even notice how it can increase your stress levels, one email and one notification at a time.
The seduction of technology
I can’t imagine a life without technology, nor would I want to. But I, like so many others, need to find better ways to manage the role technology plays in my life. There is a seductive quality to all this connectedness. It feels good to have others validate what you share, even if it’s only with the click of a “like” button.
There’s actually science behind that good feeling that you get from that “like:” it creates compulsive behavior by tapping into the brain’s reward circuit and operant conditioning: the association of stimulus and reward. Every time you get that “like,” 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!” In time, your brain comes to associate this feeling with the notification alert 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.
I find all of this a bit scary, and I’ve been spending quite a bit of time lately thinking about how to manage the role technology plays in my life better. I find it very difficult to unplug completely. As a self-employed freelance writer and blogger, being online can easily become a 24/7 proposition. But I’m also finding that I can’t let it take over my life. I started to think about what I can do to tame the technology beast in my life. Here’s what I came up with:
I don’t check email as soon as I get up. I feed Allegra and Ruby first! I set a time limit for myself for the amount of time I spend on social media sites. I shut down my computer after dinner. I tried unplugging completely, but found myself checking email on either my phone or iPad a few more times throughout the evening, and then I’d beat myself up over doing that. So now I’m “allowed” to check email up until 8pm, but that’s absolutely my cut off. Interestingly, I found that on nights when I violate my self-imposed curfew and use the iPad too close to bedtime, I don’t sleep well.
Unplug for short periods of time
While I would love to be able to unplug for entire day, I just haven’t been able to do it. I’m working up to it, though. In the meantime, I don’t take my phone with me on my daily walks. That one hour each day is sacred. No phone, just me, and my thoughts, and the nature around me.
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.
No one is going to die if you unplug
Let’s face it: unless you’re a doctor or a veterinarian on call, you do not need to be available 24/7. No one is going to die if you don’t respond to an email, text or message until your regular business hours.
In a lot of ways, taming technology is like taming a feral cat – it takes a great deal of commitment, dedication, and patience.
Thankfully, Allegra and Ruby have made it their mission to remind Mom that there’s more to life than technology. Their reminders may involve a walk across the keyboard, or a chase around the monitor. Ruby thinks the iPad is her toy and does not take kindly to me using it because it interferes with her playing Cat Fishing. Neither one of them is thrilled when the iPad occupies my lap. With their help, I’m hoping that I’ll make headway in not letting technology take over my life.
How about you? How do you tame the technology beast?