Technology: Destroyer of Dreams

I live alone and I am not self-motivated. Add high-speed Internet and a computer to that mix and hours of unproductive time in front of a screen easily ensue. I get up every morning and go out for a coffee. While in the car on the way to and from the coffee shop, my mind teems with ideas, but by the time I get back and plop down in my computer chair, the ideas all but vanish, along with the motivation that had seemed so promisingly potent just a few minutes before.

Today, I am noticing and observing my urge to surf the net, to repeatedly check email and Facebook, and to peruse flight deals on Kayak for trips I am NOT taking. I am in this moment plagued by that funk, that slightly sunken mood that renders me unproductive. I have notions about working on my book and brainstorming video scripts, but I don’t have that oomph that creative writing requires. I almost never have that oomph! This is the battle I struggle with every single day.

The ease of access of technology makes the battle harder to win, because the Internet soothes me by giving me something “satisfying” to do that I don’t have to work for, and that I can reliably do even when I am in the deepest of funks. When I click to refresh my inbox, there is a subtle and instantaneous anticipation that a new message could arrive. I feel that in my gut, a subtle sensation of expectation. If no new, non-spam messages arrive, I can check Facebook to see if there’s a new notification, friend request or interesting newsfeed piece. I might even espy an article that outrages me, and then I can get energized to respond. If these two sites provide no satisfaction, I go to LinkedIn, and check out stories about business and read articles on how to find a job, even though I am not looking for one.

Technology makes many aspects of my life easier, but it also messes with my mind. I have click-itis, that disease that warps the mind by giving instant satisfaction via a micro movement of the index finger. I can sit and click for hours upon hours, and I cannot, or do not, stop!

For me, technology quickly becomes addictive; it harms me by distracting me from what I really want to accomplish. I continue this behavior in spite of the negative consequences, which are nothing short of destroying, or at least delaying, my dreams. When I merrily click away, I am not writing; I am not doing the hard work of distilling my message; I am not in integrity with myself or the people who look to me for guidance. My relation to technology has an impulse-control aspect, because I often “play” online for hours, when I had simply gone on the computer to check and respond to email for fifteen minutes. Technology wastes my times, and lays waste to my dreams.

Here are some signs that you, like me, might have a problematic relationship to technology.

1. Time warp: inability to determine screen time.
2. Changes or disruptions in sleep.
3. Emotional disturbance when you are deprived of the screen.
4. Withdrawing from family and friends in favor of the screen.
5. Suffer from backache, carpal tunnel syndrome, stiff neck, nerve pain, eye strain, “texting thumb.”
6. Persistent inability to cut down.
7. Ever-increasing amounts of time spent in front of the screen
8. Prefer the screen over family and friends.
9. Household tasks and responsibilities are left undone because of too much screen time
10. You are afraid that without your phone or Internet access, you might “miss something.”
If you exhibit a few of these, I recommend a techfast, for which I will provide detailed information in next week’s blog. Technology sends my life out of balance. A techfast helps remedy that situation.

NOTE: This blog post started because I was pissed at myself for being in a funk. I simply decided to be honest about my internal process, and I also let the anger power me through. After having written this, I am 90% out of the funk, but beset with a strong urge to go back now and check email, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I can do that if I set a timer. Five minutes, no more!

Technology and School: The Power and the Peril

It is a new school year with new opportunities for your child to grow, but the cyber world could get in the way. Today’s electronic amusements captivate the minds of young people, leaving the comparatively mundane rhythms of school in the dust. Even the best teachers struggle to hold the attention of children who are entranced by the instant and multifaceted gratification offered by video games, cell phones, iPods and the Internet.  The brains of today’s children are tuned to a different channel.  Some of us have brains, on the other hand, that make us susceptible to tech addiction.

When I grew up in the seventies, the pace of life instilled patience. There was no television before 8am. I remember waking up with my brother on Saturday mornings to watch the colored bars on the TV, as we patiently, albeit with great anticipation, awaited the start of our weekly four-hour-cartoon marathon. There were so few TV offerings that when Charlie Brown television specials aired, everyone in school watched them and talked about them the next day. Children now have an endless array of electronic entertainment opportunities and waiting is not required.

Cyber adepts are often creative and highly intelligent people. The great danger is that they will lose themselves in cyber land and not develop their social and intellectual skills. They also risk a sedentary lifestyle. Interestingly, research suggests that high rates of physical activity in boys correlates with higher grades in school.   I give parents a 10-question quiz to help them determine if a problem exists.   Three or more of the following could indicate a problem:

  •       Time warp: inability to determine time spent in cyber activities.
  •      Changes or disruptions in sleep.
  •      Withdrawing from family and friends.
  •      Losing interest in other hobbies and recreational activities.
  •      Spending more than three hours a day.
  •      Physical pain: backache, carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve pain, eye strain.
  •      Emotional disturbance when access to the cyber world is taken away.
  •      Withdrawal symptoms like headache, malaise, light-headedness.
  •      Continued excess despite serious adverse consequences.
  •      Ever-increasing amounts of time in the cyber world.

When children make their way to me in my practice as an academic coach, three-fourths of the time their poor grades are accompanied by excessive cyber activities (i.e., three or more of the above symptoms). I often discover that children had been texting prolifically during the school day and not, as a result, been paying attention during class. Young people are remarkably clever at concealing their phones.  In many cases, I have had students come to me who seemingly had sleep issues, only to find that late night gaming and Internet use kept them from slumber. Some play fantasy games like World of Warcraft until the wee hours of the morning, while others stay in touch with friends on Facebook, Twitter, and texting.  Parents are usually shocked to learn of their children’s nocturnal activities as well as the full scope of what goes on during the school day.

For many kids, access to cyber privileges can be a potent motivational carrot. It is not easy to find such tools with children, so I encourage parents to take full advantage. If you are an involved-enough parent to realize your child spends too much time in cyber land, you will probably agree that other responsibilities at home and school get neglected.  The solution to this situation is simple:  link cyber privileges to successful completion of chores, fulfillment of responsibilities, and performance in school.

If you get involved when they are young, you will help ensure that the cyber world enhances your child’s potential for success instead of destroying it.