What's Your Relationship with Technology?
Is technology really addictive? What do you think? Honestly... I've been asked this question a number of times by our Mindfulness clients. My usual answer is, "You tell me..." Then I continue with a couple of questions. "When you're on a date in a restaurant, and your date leaves for the toilet, do you bring out your phone automatically... without thinking? Do you find yourself almost needing to text or call or check your email? Do you go to your social network mindlessly? Or probably a better question is, are you aware at all of what you do when your date leaves the table?"
Of course we can answer the question! Technology totally changed our lives for the good and the bad.
Tech is Addictive. Absolutely!
When asked by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper whether he thinks there is something in the brain that's really addicted to technology, Yale psychiatrist Dr. Judson Brewer says, "it's the same reward pathways as addiction, absolutely."
So what if technology is addictive?
The Rise of Boredom
I love my gadgets. I love how they make me very productive. The one thing that I'm concerned about is their ability to take me away from the present moment.
Phones, laptops, tablets--they all have the ability to virtually change our reality in an instant. They can lower our level of tolerance of "what's actually here, right now." Just observe how younger generations use the word "boring" more often than those of us who grew up in the era of cassette tapes and vinyl records. Not only is boredom a negative emotion that affects our levels of happiness. It's also a sign that there's a constant need to alter reality because we 'adapt.' By this, I mean that people will want faster things to become faster and bigger things to become bigger. What was fun before will need to change because it's not longer fun now. And it goes on and on and on. Virtual reality change translates to wanting to change reality itself. British psychologist Michael Eysenck coined this process of adaptation, "Hedonic Treadmill." Addiction to technology is at the forefront of retraining our brains to gradually lose the ability to get satisfied.
The Goldfish Now Has Better Attention Span Than Us
The notoriously ill-focused goldfish has an average attention span of 9.0 seconds. According to a recent study by Microsoft, the human attention span (year 2000 to 2015) dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds, now lower than the gold fish's. Canadian researchers surveyed 2,000 participants and subjected 112 others to brain analysis using electroencephalograms (EEGs) to study human attention. Their report said that “Heavy multi-screeners find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli — they’re more easily distracted by multiple streams of media.” This drop of attention span is attributed to the mobile phone revolution which began in 2000.
We Need to Urgently Address This
Mindfulness has become such a need to bring back the ability to attend to the here and now. Technology companies like Google, Facebook and Instagram, companies responsible for creating gadgets and software we're likely addicted to, sponsor and bring their employees to a regular conference on Mindfulness called Wisdom 2.0. They also provide Mindfulness training for their employees as a sign that something has to be done, NOW!
Think 10 years ahead--how much more will people be addicted to tech? How much more will be the decline of our own attention span? Tech development won't stop. The speed, functionality and even the very nature of the phones and computers we have now will be laughable in 2025. And how will all this affect us? The scarier question to answer is--what will be the effect on our children who grow up in a world of multiple screens and stimuli overload?
Simple Things Can Be Done
It's nonsense to say that we should get rid of technology altogether. Tech has done a tremendous amount of good to human society. We just need to take control over it and not use it mindlessly. Simple things can be done, but 'simple' doesn't always mean 'easy.'
Media Fast - You can fast from (social) media at certain times of the day so you can be 'present' to what's right in front of you, moment by moment. When on holiday, you can even set days when you won't use your phone or computer. There's no surprise if you discover that you can actually "function properly" without them.
Prioritising Human Interaction - You can set aside gadgets when you're with family, friends and people you really want to engage with. This is especially important for children because it positively impacts their psychological development.
Wait a Couple of Seconds Before Texting Back - You're not a slave to the sound of a text message. Even if you're working in sales or customer service, you can still wait 2 to 5 seconds before looking at your phone. The important thing here is that you don't operate on autopilot to mindlessly look at the screen. Be aware of your body as well. You'll probably find out that your breathing changes or your heart beats faster when a message comes in. Your body might be producing a stress response especially if you're used to getting a text message that contains an urgent request or something to do.
In the words of Steve Jobs--who's been described to have changed the world a few times--technology can be "insanely great" for humanity. I believe that. But to keep it that way, you and I should ensure that they're under our control, not the other way around.