Many people in this world are great at keeping technology in balance. I am not one of them! Technology swallows me up to such an extent that it takes willpower to not text and drive. Don’t worry; I do not do that, but I do feel naked and alone without my phone. I intend, for example, to spend twenty minutes checking email at my computer and then get absorbed, on a regular basis, in mindless Internet surfing for four or five hours. I am a casualty of the Age of Technology, and I have struggled the last two decades to keep my addictive cyber tendencies in check. Yes, I wrote a book on this topic, but no, I am not cured. I am like a member of Overeaters Anonymous: I have to use technology to transact my business, but technology often ends up transacting me.
One powerful decision I have made is to do a techfast. Every so often, I spend three days without technology, which means phone, computer, Internet, and TV. So if you find me absent from Facebook, this might be the reason. Doing techfasts has helped me enormously in my book projects, and in getting this 40-blog series finished. Techfasts offer a restorative benefit that puts us more deeply in touch with others and ourselves. Here are some of the benefits.
- Reflection. Creativity and imagination are aptitudes born of and enhanced by time to reflect. Being plugged in, we lose this and thus deprive ourselves of the chance to come up with our best ideas. Reflection also allows us to become more mindful, which is a gateway for greater peace and balance to life.
- Brain health. Often, screens with video games, TV shows, or movies, and many websites have very fast moving images. The speed of the images does not mirror the pace that our human brains are wired to move or process. In the same way that pornography doesn’t mirror the natural pace of a relationship, a good deal of our time in front of the screen does not mirror the natural pace of engaging with the world or learning something deeply. The brain has an internal “gardener” that prunes away neuronal networks that are not used, and allows the ones that are more frequently used to flourish. Research is starting to suggest that the cerebral networks needed for real-time, face-to-face communication skills are suffering. Are we creating a nation of cyber drones?
- Avoidance. You might be running from something and not know it. In my work with people across the country, and lately the whole world, I have found that many screen-oriented people are escapists; their screen time keeps them occupied to the point that they are able to ignore anxiety, depression, and a variety of dissatisfactions with life, whether work-related, or deriving from unhappy relationships. The screen offers a cheap and easy means to stay “checked out” of discomfort. The result is that many people have screen lives that keep them from ever resolving their difficulties and thus from having a truly happy life.
- Laziness. Children and teenagers can become frustrated with the steps and time required to develop mastery. They will ask, “can’t I just go to another game?” In a video game you can always start over and often you are able to go to a level you are comfortable. There are even “cheat codes” that can be used to “fake” mastery. Obviously, the other issue is that as our screen time goes up, our physical activity often goes down.
- Balance. Taking a tech cleanse allows you to more effectively understand why you spend so much time in front of a screen. And, since part of the tech cleanse involves doing other activities, you may find that there are many pursuits that you find much more rewarding. As well, you will be giving yourself a chance at a more optimal and contented existence, one filled with a variety of interests, and people.
Ten Steps to Balance Technology
- Build up to a week. I recommend a week-long tech cleanse. If you struggle getting to that point straight away, consider starting by having a tech-free Saturday or even a tech-free weekend. Weekends are especially good times to start because you do not need your phone or computer for work (or least most people do not!).
- Brainstorm. Before you begin a tech cleanse, you have to understand that you rely significantly for screens for a great deal of information, entertainment, and distraction. You will not be successful at the tech cleanse unless you brainstorm a multitude of other activities you will do in place of your screen time. Come up with a big list.
- Challenge. It can be highly beneficial if you make some of your tech-free activities be challenging. Stretch yourself and see the week as an opportunity to become a more adventurous, daring, and accomplished person. Always wanted to go skydiving? Have you wanted to start writing a book? Is there a project you have been putting off for a long time?
- Support. Let your friends and family know what you’re doing. I recommend having someone with whom you check in at least once a day to let him or her know how you are doing. Do not try to do this alone. When we are excessively plugged into screen time, our connections with others often suffer. Let this be a week where you reach out to other people, especially those with whom you have not been spending time.
- Mindset. I have found that most people during the tech cleanse will find themselves bored. There can also be a great deal of anxiety and negativity. It is important to have a positive mindset, one grounded in the intention that the tech cleanse is being done to improve oneself and the quality of life. It can be helpful to keep coming back to that intention during the week, because there will be temptations to “sneak” some screen time.
- Tech-free zone. In the modern world we need a cell phone and most jobs require computers. To the extent possible, use those devices only when necessary for work. When you get into the car from work, stop using your cell phone. Do not use a computer at home. While I recommend strict adherence to this principle during the cleanse, consider having at least one tech-free day per week.
- Schedule. Armed with your list of activities, projects, and adventures, come up with a schedule for each day so that you know every day is filled. I have had many people use this schedule as a checklist that they check off every day. This has proven to be most helpful at sticking on the plan.
- Journal. Because you are unplugging from the ubiquitous distractions of the cyber world, you will find that ideas, sensations, emotions, and perhaps even underlying issues will emerge. Keep a small notebook with you at all time (not a digital recorder!) and write something several times a day. This is a very fertile time. Write down what happens and you will preserve many golden nuggets of awareness. Remember: reflection is the mother of imagination!
- Exercise. Consciously break the sedentary trend and make sure you exercise every day during this tech cleanse. This will help your brain function optimally, especially when you eat in a healthy and balanced way as well.
- Transcend. Whatever your spiritual path is, use this week to go deeper. I have had many people start their tech cleanse with a meditation retreat, yoga workshop, or religious intensive. There are deeper levels of consciousness and connection to the transcendent, however you define it. Use this week to deepen your spiritual journey. Incidentally, deepening your spiritual journey open you up to reflection and mindfulness. These qualities always lead to a happier and more peaceful life.
Kevin’s Top Five Family Technology Tips
- Have at least some tech-free time as a family. Don’t allow smart phones at the dinner table, for example.
2. In addition to tech-free time, have tech-free zones. Many families I work with choose to use the family room for this purpose. Cell phones, video game consoles, laptops, iPads, and computers are not allowed in there.
3. Set a maximum time allowed on video games and the computer. I recommend no more than two hours a day.
4. For each minute spent on the computer or video game, require a corresponding minute of exercise. This will allow you to combat the tendency for technology to createsedentary and obese children.
5. No TV’s, computers, or video game consoles in the bedroom.