My sister-in-law originally posted this great piece on her own blog – Nicole Lynskey Technology: Making it a Tool and not a Distraction! – and I thought it worthy to share while I ponder my own first post of the year. I agree with her that technology is a boon and a potential impediment to the rest of our life.
Technology can be a wonderful tool. How much easier it is to find your way around a new city with GPS. How cool is it that you can see the face of a loved one while you talk to them from a 1000 miles away. But technology – Facebook, TV, smart phones, email, texting – can also be distracting or even addicting.
What is the technology that you find distracting? I have friends that have killed off their Facebook accounts because they found that it eats up too much of their time. And I have Facebook friends who post so often it makes me wonder how they ever get anything done.
Mine is not Facebook. I don’t do farm animals games. If you post more than once a day, I will most likely just read the first entry. For me Facebook is an awesome tool; it is a place where I’m connected to my community. I hear about deaths and births and dog birthdays and news headlines I would otherwise miss. I’m Facebook friends with cousins I have only met twice and relatives in Norway.
That is the thing about technology, whether it is Facebook, the T.V., your smart phone, an iPod, Twitter, or email. It has the potential to be a tool. And it has the potential to be a distraction or even an addiction. In one study, they found that some knowledge workers were checking their email up to 30 times an hour. In another, some college students reported that they were on their smart phones up to 10 hours a day.
My technology addiction of choice has always been T.V. At 9PM, when my day ends, I love to turn on re-runs of shows like Star Trek. This is brain dead zone for me. I learn nothing about the world. I simply escape. And when I watch, it is as if I have been sucked directly into the T.V. When Major Kira of Deep Space Nine cries, I cry. When Commander Sisko laughs, I laugh. Luckily, I have limited free time and so this addiction remains somewhat small. The average American (shockingly) watches something like 35 hours of TV a week, or 5 hours a day. But while my TV time is minimal, I do find it gets in the way.
Now, many have decried the evils of T.V. But it can also be a great tool. I have friends who watch T.V., and use it to learn and discover. They watch NOVA and documentaries. They seem to have no problem turning it off and doing something else.
So why can technology be so addicting? There are a couple of places I would point to:
The Distractibility Factor.
The first is that technology has a high degree of distractibility. Think about those knowledge workers checking their email every two minutes. Email can be fun. It can feel a little like a popularity contest: Oh! I wonder who has responded to me! It can be obsessive: Did he answer my question yet? Did he answer my question yet?
Or think about Facebook. How many times have I gone into Facebook to check information on an event and then suddenly I’m off reading posts. Then, 10 minutes later, I “come to” and think “what was I trying to do?”
The second thing I’ll point to is a certain darkness inside of us that can be hiding out. In the last few weeks I’ve been instituting no-TV-Tuesdays. The first thing I came up against was the question of who am I, what do I like to do to relax, if I am not watching my nightly show. There is a bit of a dark spot over my soul, that, in watching TV, I can escape. In the absence of the TV, there is quiet. In the quiet of my heart, what is it that I don’t want to hear? (Like, for me, the devastating things that happen on this planet. Or the question of what it means to be closer to 50 than to 40. )
So, in turning away from our technology addictions, there is also an opportunity to look more deeply into our own psyche and ask if there is something we are avoiding.
What can we do to curb our addictions?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Get clear on the purpose of the technology for you. Is it a tool for learning? Is it for connection? In what ways is it a tool for you and in what ways a distraction? For example: when I use Facebook I am super clear that I am there to connect with people. That’s it. I don’t do anything else. And that helps me use it well.
- Take a look at that question: Is there something I’m avoiding or hiding out from?
- Create a little holiday from your addicting technology. By just opening this little window of no-TV-Tuesday, I have come to see other possibilities. There are books I want to read. I could listen to Public Radio. (How could I have forgotten!?) When I do watch TV, which is still to often for my taste, it is often with more of a sense of choice. I could watch TV. Or I could take a bath or I could turn on the radio.
- Use a timer. I find this to be a really effective tool for me. I set a timer for how long I want to focus on a difficult task. During that time, I ban myself from email & Facebook. And I also set a timer for how long I plan to be in a distracted state. For example: maybe I give myself 15 minutes to check email, look at Facebook and generally browse the internet.
What about you? What are your addictions and what are your solutions? Let me know!