“Today be thankful and think how rich you are. Your family is priceless. Your health is wealth. Your time is gold.” ~Unknown
The other day I read a science fiction story called “The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury. It’s about Leopard Mead, a citizen of TV-centered society, who enjoys walking at night.
The routine eventually lands him a cell in a psychiatric center because nobody understands why he does that. In the television-dominated city, people don’t walk. They’re too busy sticking their eyeballs to their screens.
I wonder if there will be a day when technology takes over us all, when we become so dependent on it that non-digital activities are considered abnormal. A sane act is considered insane.
Maybe the TV-centered society is not fiction but already here. Many of us today can’t live without our phone, laptop, or iPad. Their presence is so crucial in our routine that their absence brings discomfort.
We don’t just use digital devices for information consumption. We let them direct our life. We reach for the phone first thing in the morning to check emails, read news, reply to text messages. We use our laptop for work, more than eight hours per day. At night, we do more surfing with our phone, and won’t stop until past midnight.
Our whole life is digital-based. We can’t afford to lose our gadgets. Technology is more than just a means of communication. It’s a tool for living. We need it for work, relaxation, and entertainment.
The cost is alarming.
How Does Technology Affect Us?
1. It wreaks havoc on our well-being.
Hours of working before screens puts a strain on our eyesight. Overexposure to blue light causes lack of sleep and body exhaustion. Not to mention the pressure our back and neck have to endure when sitting in one position for too long.
Surfing the net constantly also makes us more prone to bad moods and negative thinking. It’s not hard to know why. The media is ridden with bad news.
And while we may think watching TV or YouTube videos can lift our mood, it only helps us escape negative feelings temporarily. The moment we stop watching, we’re back to the black mood. We’ll feel even more bored, irritated, and depressed.
2. It ruins our relationships.
More time spent online also means less time for those we care about most. Instead of playing with our kids, talking to them, or taking them out for an ice cream, we devote our attention to phones or laptops. Most of the time it’s just mindless browsing on the net, reading junky news, surfing Facebook, texting.
3. It kills time.
Time may seem abundant, but it’s not limitless. At least our time is not limitless. It flies at lightning speed. One day, we’ll look back and wonder where it went.
All this precious time we could use to create, to observe the beauty of the world, to contribute, we squander it all for mindlessly scrolling.
4. It loads us with information.
If you think time spent online consuming information makes you happier and more knowledgeable, think again.
Information abundance is a curse, not a blessing. More content is written now than ever. But it doesn’t help us achieve our goals faster. On the contrary, it slows down our progress. We get overwhelmed and confused in the sea of content. Instead of choosing to follow one resource, we might end up using too many and get lost as a result.
Taking blogging, for example. There are hundreds of resources to teach us how to blog. If we’re not satisfied with one, we can always switch to another. Trying out too many strategies at a time can result in failures.
5. It makes us too lazy to think.
Information is so available, why bother thinking when the answer we need is only one click away? And not just one answer, millions of answers showing up as we hit the search button.
How to Reduce Technology’s Impact on Our Life?
I used to be an Internet addict. I like writing and spent most of my time scribbling on my phone or iPad. I could get lost in online articles, blogs, and e-books for hours on end. When I got tired from writing or reading, I often roamed the Internet mindlessly—reading junk news, binge-watching YouTube videos, etc. There was a time when I liked to stay indoors. I had no idea why. I just didn’t feel like hanging out with friends. I liked to work and hang out by myself.
It took me a while to realize I was missing out on a big part of life. The Internet, while nice, couldn’t replace the real world. If I stopped browsing for a second, I would see that there was a whole world to explore, new hobbies to learn, interesting places to travel, and wonderful friends to share my happiness with.
So I decided to give up a large portion of my time online. It was hard at first, but when I succeeded, I wondered why it had taken me so long. I started to hang out with friends more often, attend yoga classes, walk in the afternoon, and cook meals for my family. Suddenly, I felt profound happiness in my offline hours.
I have to admit, during quarantine I’ve begun to use my digital devices a lot again, mostly for work and connection. But I have more control over my Internet use. I’m using it more mindfully now.
You can do it too. However heavy you think your technology addiction is, you can cut it if you want to.
The key lies in awareness. Do you use your digital devices on purpose, or just roam mindlessly?
In my experience, besides work and purposeful communication, the majority of our digital time falls into the latter category. Digital devices are our scapegoats for negative emotions. We surf Facebook when we feel bored. We watch TV when we’re depressed. And when we’re stressed, we browse the net to forget our current struggle.
Do they improve our mood? Sure, but only momentarily. After consuming them, we actually feel worse. Boredom, depression, and stress are now coupled with guilt and shame.
So, be aware of your emotions and take good care of them.
Stop tuning into TV or phone when you feel down.
Instead, engage in an activity that cultivates awareness. Take a few deep breaths, walk, see nature. You may like to practice meditation. A great meditation app I discovered recently is The Plum Village. It’s 100 percent free and packed with helpful practices which allows you to be in touch with your body again.
How about when we’re using technology for work and relaxation? How can we use our digital devices without being controlled by them?
Again, the key is mindfulness.
Here are a few tips for working mindfully:
Do one thing at a time.
Here’s a great habit I learned from the awesome eBook Focus (completely free) by Leo Babauta, founder of Zen Habits: Start your day by writing down three most important tasks. Get them done one by one. Take as much time as necessary for each task but avoid multitasking (e.g. you can’t write and check your email inbox every fifteen minutes).If you work on the laptop, make a rule to open only one to two tabs while working. This will help you to stay focused and finish your work faster.
Set a time for consuming.
Consuming means checking emails, replying to text messages, making phone calls, reading books, etc. Here’s the fact: You can’t work while consuming. You’ll get distracted and end up using more time than needed to get a task done.
Separate the two processes: consuming and working. While working, concentrate on your tasks. Don’t switch to Facebook or emails. Even reading blog posts is not allowed. Instead, set a specific time for these activities. For example, you can check emails at 11 a.m. and surf Facebook from 4pm- 5pm when you’ve done working.
Turn off notifications.
Switch your laptop to silent mode. Also, keep your phone out of sight. This will prevent distractions (phone calls, text messages, etc.) from reaching you.
Use Pomodoro Techniques.
Concentrate on the task for twenty-five minutes. Then take a five-minute break. Repeat until you finish your tasks.
A few more ideas to limit your digital time:
- If there’s any email you haven’t read for days, unsubscribe from it. Keep only the essentials.
- Watch less TV. Watch meaningful movies instead. Or spend the extra time for a family or reading a good book.
- Limit or stop reading news on your phone.
- Do something you’re passionate about. If you don’t have any hobbies besides work, cultivate one. Language learning, playing an instrument, cooking, walking. There’s plenty to choose from. Just pick one and get started.
- Hang out with friends.
- Enjoy a walk in nature.
- Read physical books.
- Practice meditation.
Technology doesn’t have to take charge of your life. You can still use technology without being consumed by it. The key is to be mindful about it. It won’t be easy. But be persistent. Take one step at a time.