Addicted to technology
A recent BBC article got me thinking about a new word combination I’ve not heard before: “ technology addiction treatment”. The stories in the article made me realise that the problem of technology dependency is real and causes a lot of pain to a surprisingly large amount of people.
As the CEO of a growing tech company, with over 60 staff producing more than 40 tech projects each month, I am truly surrounded by the world of the digital, virtual and technological. As you might guess, for me there was no gradual, unnoticed slide into technology addiction. I had a pretty good idea what I was getting myself into and found that indeed, it was something I needed to start addressing from very early on.
Observing the people around me, both in the working world of the professional IT sphere, and those I know personally, I’m confident that “losing one’s humanity in the virtual world” is a genuine risk which many are struggling with. The biggest threat is so called “social media” which in my opinion is actually making us more antisocial. It taps into our inborn craving to be part of a community and to share our lives with others. By giving us an incredibly easy way to interact with people virtually, at a distance, it makes us more introverted and socially scared. Building real and meaningful relationships is hard, painful and takes time. Facebook, twitter and the like help us cheat that system by offering an illusion of such relationship in no time, without pain or effort. As the person who “makes the koolaid” (approximately every second mobile app we make includes a social networking component) I would like to share with you how I personally keep social media from becoming a social problem.
Over the last 6 years I have been on a path of mastering my tech addiction. I would like to share with you some of the ideas and tips that helped me stay human in my life, despite the fact that it’s dominated by the digital. I believe it is possible to strike a healthy balance between usage of digital solutions and interaction with living, breathing human beings and physical work or exercise. I know that there are many more things you can do to fight tech invasion, these are the ones I started with.
Did you notice that most tech activities are not really active? They mostly involve sitting and staring into screens of various sizes. At most you exercise your thumbs via a joystick or your fingers via a keyboard. Lots of sitting is very harmful for your health and for your mind. Start moving. Even apple watch says you need to take at least 10,000 steps per day. Go on walks, cycle to work if possible, run with your dog, take your children to the park regularly, give sports training a try. Exercising is one of those occasions when you can really multitask: you walk, enjoy nature, think (don’t wear your earphones!), spend time with family, burn calories and fight tech addiction – so many things achieved at once!
Notice the change
After several years of sitting in front of the computer all the time I realised that I was 20lbs heavier than I should be. Simply by training for 2 hours a week, plus a little cycling and running I was able to lose that excess weight in no time, I found I had a clearer head too. It helped me to sleep and be less stressed. After a while your body starts craving exercise and it is a good craving to have! A healthier diet of low calorie food and a standing desk can help as well.
Start a group
Purposefully be in contact with real humans. Be involved in their lives, their pains and their joys. It is 100 times more rewarding to spend an hour with a friend in person then with a facebook friend in a virtual chat. 3 years ago I started a home group for geeks who like to play board games – no computer games! – a real physical game board with cards and dice and the whole thing. Every Thursday, religiously we meet at 7.30pm to play settlers of catan and share our lives and how our weeks have been. I don’t remember a time when we finished before 12am. This is totally necessary for those of us who spend a lot of time in the digital world. Real world personal interaction is something you can’t get too much of!
Think of things you like to do and people who would like to join you in them and start a group. Don’t wait for the perfect occasion – just do it.
Portioning your time
Discipline is my Everest. I had to teach myself the hard way that while I am at work, I am focused on work; no news, no facebook, no browsing youtube. The feeling of productivity and accomplishment at the end of such a day is incredible and you go home pleased that you have achieved something and created value. Another advantage is that when I get to the news and social media in the evening, I have a whole day of interesting news and social announcements to catch up with. As with food, it tastes better and is more pleasurable to consume when you allow yourself to go hungry for a bit first.
Distraction is my biggest enemy. Skype messages, facebook posts, email alerts and slack pings don’t allow us to stay focused on something for more than 5 to 10 minutes. Who was it that said that the average human attention span these days is lower than that of a goldfish? It’s not hard for me to believe. You need to be proactive in fighting distraction. Plan your day. Shut the door and turn off notifications when you are doing something. The world will not stop if you don’t see that notification the second it arrives.
Returning to work
I heard a good analogy about distraction in a TED talk about sleep: many of us know that the human brain goes through several stages of sleep before it reaches what is called “deep sleep” and if it’s interrupted along the way by some noise, it does not continue from the point where it was but starts from the beginning again and that’s why so often when we wake up after what seems like a good amount of sleep, we can still feel tired. The same thing is true with work. Did you notice that if you are interrupted it takes a lot of time to get back into the groove and carry on where you left off. Be purposefully focused and eliminate distractions when you want true productivity.
Returning to humanity
The same rule works for your non-tech time. When you are at home, you are off the clock. The emails stop, the alerts can wait. This is your “you time” if you are single or your “family time” if you are married. Many phones these days have a “do not disturb” function and it’s good practice to completely shut off your messenger and email apps. Schedule the time to mindfully be present with the ones you love and you will see how you become more and more like a human and less and less like a robot.
Enjoy being human!