Technology is awesome. I use it every day, all day long, and I wouldn’t want to imagine my life without it. From connecting with friends near and far via email and social media to shopping (Amazon and I are BFF’s these days – is there anything you can’t buy from Amazon?), technology has become as much a part of my every day life as breathing and eating. But unfortunately, technology comes with a dark side. As with so many things in life, there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Are we developing an unhealthy attachment to technology?
Statistics of how people use all of this technology are becoming increasingly alarming. I’ll admit that I am guilty of quite a few of these:
- 84% of cell phone users claim they could not go a single day without their device. (guilty)
- 67% of cell phone owners check their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating. (guilty)
- Studies indicate some mobile device owners check their devices every 6.5 minutes. (Most definitely not guilty!)
- 88% of U.S. consumers use mobile devices as a second screen even while watching television. (occasionally guilty)
- Almost half of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls. (My phone is banned from my bedroom.)
- Some researchers have begun labeling “cell phone checking” as the new yawn because of its contagious nature.
Come on, fess up: how many of these are you guilty of?
Why is it so hard for us to unplug?
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. There’s always one more comment to moderate, one more email to answer, and one more thing to research. But there are more insidious reasons that make unplugging so difficult for so many of us.
“Fear of Missing Out” has been classified as an emerging psychological disorder. Have you ever skimmed your Facebook newsfeed and felt that your friends seem to lead far more exciting lives than you do? Do things you see scrolling by sometimes annoy the heck out of you? This mix of inadequacy, anxiety and irritation can make us feel left out and alone – and that’s the dark flip side of the wonderful sense of connection we can get from these same social media sites.
And then there’s that good feeling that you get from social media likes, shares and comments that makes you keep coming back for more. There’s actually a scientific explanation behind it: it creates compulsive behavior by tapping into the brain’s reward circuit and operand conditioning: the association of stimulus and reward. Every time you see a “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.
Why it is imperative that we unplug
We need to remember that all of that technology we love so much also has a power off button – and we need to remember to use it.
- Life doesn’t happen on your device. It happens right here, in this present moment, in front of you. If you’ve ever watched your cat doing something totally adorable, and your first thought was “I need to capture this so I can share it on Facebook,” you’ve got a problem. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share your life with others, but it becomes a problem when it happens at the expense of treasuring the real life experience.
- Solitude is becoming increasingly challenging to find in this connected world we live in, and yet, it is vital to our mental well being. Time spent in solitude replenishes our mental, emotional and spiritual well.
- Addiction only becomes apparent when you take the object of your obsession away. Try spending a day without your phone and see how that makes you feel. I’d venture to say that most of us would feel a little twitchy!
- Start and end your day unplugged. Don’t check email as soon as you get out of bed. Feed your cats first! Don’t end your day with another round of checking email and Facebook. Not only will it not put you in a mood conducive to sleeping, studies have shown that the light emitted by our device screens disturbs sleep cycles.
For me, unplugging more often is a work in progress. I no longer check email or social media after dinner. I don’t take my phone on my daily walks. 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 for anything else because it interferes with her playing Cat Fishing. Neither one of them is thrilled when the iPad or laptop occupy my lap. With their help, I’m hoping that I’ll make headway in not letting technology take over my life.
How about you? Do you find it difficult to unplug?