Tethered to Technology

 

Earlier this summer, I had the chance to go with my family on a weekend trip.  Everything started normally enough: I carried bags into the place we were staying, checked out the space, and found instructions for connecting to Wi-Fi.   When my first three attempts to connect failed, fear began to creep in.  Normally this wouldn’t be too big of a deal and would simply result in a slight increase to my data usage for my phone.  However, our current location was far enough in the mountains that we also didn’t have cell service.  This meant total abstinence from connectivity to the outside world.  What follows is the story of my heroic survival.

Hours 0-2: I think this was the denial stage of the grieving process.  I checked my phone multiple times to see if a new cell tower had been completed in the last few minutes to provide service.  Phantom vibrations shook my right leg, fooling me into believing my tether to the outside world had been connected.

Hours 2-8: I began to feel the effect of information withdraw.  Normal discussions turned to longing for the internet when trying to research restaurants or activities for the next day.  Friendly debates lasted longer without the option to look up the correct answer on important topics such as the boiling point of water in degrees Fahrenheit (212 at sea level) and whether or not Sputnik is still in orbit (nope, fell out of orbit on January 4, 1958).  Strangely, I started to notice slight increases in the quality of interactions with those around me.

Hours 8-24: Withdraw symptoms begin to decrease.  During a strange 2 hour period during the middle of the second day, I wasn’t even sure where my phone was.  There might have been a few phantom vibrations early in the day, but I don’t really remember.  I thought once or twice about calls I would need to make after returning to the technology world.

Hours: 24-48: I had some good conversations with people around me.  Noticed that the stars were really bright and even saw several shooting stars.  Slept like a champ.  Returned to cell service en route home and discovered not much had changed.

To be clear: This is not a technology is terrible, let’s return to the middle ages or at least the 1950s type of rant.  I’m currently writing this on my laptop while listening to music played through my smart phone.  My last article was about potential mental health benefits of Pokémon Go.  However, it’s quite clear that now, more than ever, we live in a society that is increasingly dependent on our preferred illuminated rectangles.  A 2013 Nielson survey found that the average consumer spends just over 6 days worth of time watching TV per month.  In 2015, we checked our smart phones 46 times per day.  Although technology can help us do amazing things, a balance is needed.  Here are 3 strategies that I’ve found helpful in promoting balance with technology, for both myself and my clients.

  1. Avoid using anything with a backlit screen prior to sleep.

The use of any light-emitting device signals our bodies that it’s time to be awake and alert.  Prolonged exposure to backlit screens has been shown to reduce our ability to produce melatonin, the natural chemical that helps us to sleep.  Reserving at least 30 minutes at the end of the day for something other than a screen can help promote better quantity and quality of sleep.

  1. Create Screen-free zones in your house

It’s difficult to foster important relationships with family and friends when attention is divided.  Creating tech-free areas allow us a better opportunity to focus on one thing at a time. People, projects, and problems can all benefit from some undivided attention.

  1. Try a tech fast

Whether it’s a day, a week, or a month, taking an extended break from technology can be a helpful reset.  My fast of choice is camping for a day or two in an area with no cell service.  Choosing to only use technology for phone or email purposes for a day or weekend can also be a helpful reset.

It can be uncomfortable, awkward, and even a little scary at times to free ourselves from our technological leashes.  However, doing so can help us to better experience the real world that is all around us.

Feel free to discuss your experience with your relationship with technology in the comments.