Historian Christian Lous Lange once said, “Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.” Lange died in 1938, and the technologies he saw during his sixty-nine years on earth included the vacuum cleaner, radio broadcasting, the telephone, and the rollercoaster. But he never lived to see the invention of colour tv, computers and quite possibly, the most important invention of the modern era -the internet.
And, he died WAY before iPhones, tablets, smartwatches, 5g, apps, social media, Photoshop, online streaming and all the rest of that jazz. To him, Amazon was just a river in South America, and not the multi-billion pound all-you-can-buy juggernaut it is today.
So did Lange know something we didn’t? Did he secretly time travel to the 21st century and witness us chained to our devices? Or, was his own intellectual foresight enough to empower him to conclude that while technology can indeed help us, it can also hinder us if we allow it to?
Despite the monumental conveniences created by technology, it is a pretty fair assumption to say that we’ve probably become too dependent on it. Think about it, our everyday life activities are managed through our technological gadgets and applications. Things we don’t even think about, like having the alarm on our phone wake us up, getting directions from Google, or taking a picture of all the things we find interesting – and that’s even before all the constant communication we have via our phones throughout the day.
This is when, as Lange suggested, technology can be a dangerous master. Ask yourself, who’s controlling who? Does your phone command your attention all the time? Do you instinctively reach for your device the moment it goes off? Does the thought of your phone battery dying bring you out in a sweat? Are you in a quandary of endless distraction, finding yourself on social media without knowing why and inadvertently swiping from Gmail to Amazon to the news – stopping you from completing your tasks in the real world?
Well, if you answered yes to any of the questions above then you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, 46 per cent of people in the UK said they had increased their smartphone use throughout 2020. Whilst technology was a lifeline for most of us during the pandemic, it has meant that as our in-person interactions grinded to a halt, the time we spent on our devices reached an all time high.
We communicate, work, shop, stream, track and stay up to date with the world around us via our screens, and while technology is undeniably valuable, some researchers question the impact of technology on our mental health. A growing body of evidence suggests possible links between the amount of time we spend online and a negative impact on our wellbeing.
Researchers list the following side effects:
- Increased stress
- Increase in clinical disorders and syndromes such as anxiety, depression and personality disorders
- Decreased self-esteem and self-image
- Decreased emotional connections and reduced empathy
- Increased difficulty setting boundaries with other people
- Increased need for immediate gratification
- Decreased attention and increased attentional difficulties
So how can you avoid the negative side effects of technology? For most people, cutting off completely from technology is just not possible (it’s everywhere!) and nor is it advised. During a time when the world is more unpredictable and tricky to navigate, technology helps many of us to express our emotions. Despite technology posing a risk for stress, it can also be a much needed source of comfort, enjoyment and togetherness.
By all means, what you encounter is pretty much down to your own habits with technology. This is why you have to be mindful of the choices you make when it comes to your experiences with technology. If you do this, you can take back some control, alleviate the risks, as well as create better and healthier habits.
This simple guide aims to help you find a balance and avoid a tech overload.
Aside from the possible side effects listed above, why else is it important to be mindful of technology? Well being non-mindful of technology can cause a lack of progress, procrastination and can even result in an internet addiction. Sure, the internet is a great source of entertainment, but if it becomes your go-to every time you’re feeling bored, in need of a distraction or just because you can, then it’s likely your relationship with technology is not all that great and your wellbeing might be at risk of suffering.
What are your intentions
Before you log on, tune in or swipe for your favourite app, set your intentions and ask yourself why. Are you going online to connect with friends and make plans? Watch your favourite series on Netflix? Maybe a bit of retail therapy? Whatever it might be (and there are no right or wrong answers), establishing your intentions before you go online will give you a sense of direction and stop you from mindlessly scrolling.
Reduce your screen time
This is the part where you might have to parent yourself a little bit and put your phone away. Excessive screen time can result in headaches, eye strain, trouble sleeping and even text neck (an actual thing by the way). In the last couple years, even big tech companies have begun to acknowledge the danger of smartphone addiction and have created a number of tools to help you manage your screen time such as ‘sleep’ and ‘do not disturb’ mode.
To reduce your screen time you can also:
- Set aside some dedicated time for technology use and stop compulsively checking your phone throughout the day. Did you know most people check their phones 58 times a day (and that was before Covid), and 30 of those times are during work hours. So rather than check your phone numerous times every hour, dedicate your commute home or an hour at the end of the working day instead.
- Turn off notifications so you’re not easily distracted. It’s very rare that any messages we receive are both important and urgent at the same time. You don’t have to react to your notifications right away. Take back some control and check your notifications hours later, when YOU choose to (not when your phone does).
- Disconnect before bed. It’ll come as no surprise that technology hasn’t exactly done any wonders for our sleep these days. The National Sleep Foundation recommends no technology at least 30 minutes before bed and advises to keep devices out of the bedroom to avoid any potential distraction if you wake up during the night. Introduce a no tech after 9pm rule so you can cut off before you turn in.
Technology has created a world where we are constantly accessible, making it that little bit more difficult to disconnect. You can be messaged, emailed or called at any time, meaning work colleagues for example, might contact you after hours. You might be more likely to take work home (if it already isn’t at home) with you, or work longer hours, thereby feeling compelled to respond to messages immediately- but you don’t have to. Let your colleagues and boss know when they can expect you to be online, as well as when you won’t be. Turning off your email and work notifications is a simple, but sure way to take control, avoid burnout and improve your wellbeing.
Have non-tech interests
Make sure to set some time aside that doesn’t involve technology as not only will this be a welcome break from staring at a screen all day long, but also a great opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family without the distractions of technology. Research found that the mere presence of your phone can be distracting, even when it isn’t in your line of sight. So get out in the garden, go for a walk or meet up with loved ones- foot loose and phone free!
Be mindful of social media
This one is a biggy. As you probably know, social media is contributing to a new era of social stress. Being honest about how social media makes you feel can help you to discover how to use it more mindfully. Being aware of your emotions around social media, allows you to make better and more mindful decisions about when and how often you go online. Keep your focus where it belongs, keep a balanced perspective and have a digital declutter of those who aren’t adding value to your life.
Get the best out of technology
Now technology ain’t all bad. In fact, it can be great and it can do great things! Sometimes we all need a little extra help, and the same goes when it comes to practising mindfulness and building disciplines, especially when there are so many distractions around us 24/7. Sure, technology can be a big distraction most of the time, but it can also be a great tool to help you look after your wellbeing, stay productive and on task.
The Bottom Line…
When it comes to technology and how it affects your wellbeing, the key thing to remember is that technology is what YOU make of it. You can allow the technology you use to impact your life in either a positive or negative way. Technology does not control us, but rather we have a lack of control when it comes to our experience with it. So remember, you’re in the driving seat, it’s up to you to make wise and mindful choices about the role it plays in YOUR life.