Technology is Awesome, but We Must Stay Mindful

When you think of the advanced technologies of today, does it amaze you to think just how far humankind has evolved with technology in just the past 5, 10, 50 years alone? The first appearance of humankind (homo sapiens) was recorded in Africa over 300,000 years ago. However, according to some historians’ timelines of the history of information technology in the world, it wasn’t until what is referred to as the “mechanical age” (in years 1450 to 1840) that the human race started to first witness connections between its then current technology and its ancestors.

A few examples of technologies invented during the mechanical age include the slide rule (an analog computer used for multiplying and dividing), invented around 1620-1630; the Pascaline calculator that was designed and built by the French mathematician-philosopher Blaise Pascal between 1642 and 1644; and the Difference Engine, an early calculating machine, verging on being the first computer that was designed and partially built during the 1820s and ’30s by Charles Babbage.

While information technology has been around since what is known as the pre mechanical age, defined as the time between 3000B.C. and 1450A.D., the latest age that we currently live in (electronic) and some of the electromechanical age (defined as the time between 1840 and 1940 and representing the beginnings of telecommunications) are what most affect our daily lives today.

As a human of today, exactly how do today’s emerging technologies affect our everyday lives, and is there something off putting or unusual about the pace and nature of technological changes today? Should we be concerned at all about the world we are creating?

Well, as with many things in life that bring us both pleasure and stress, moderation even with technology usage is key.

Michael Bess, a historian of science at Vanderbilt University and the author of “Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in a Bioengineered Society,” makes this important remark in this interview with Vox, “I worry that [humans] don’t have enough time to adjust. What is technology advancement doing to our habits, to our cultural sense of who we are? When these things happened slower in previous eras, we had more time to assess the impacts and adjust. That is simply not true anymore.”

While this blog can certainly take on many directions, let’s for now focus on what we can do, as humans, to keep a healthy pace adapting to and utilizing new technologies, starting with devices and Internet usage. Here are some tips I have pulled together from top experts:

Creating Sacred Spaces

  • Expert 1: Mike Brooks, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, a licensed specialist in school psychology, and the director of the Austin Psychology & Assessment Center (APACenter): In this hyper-connected world, it is essential to “unplug” in the effort to create sacred spaces and quiet the mind. A good time to unplug is in the evening, when our bodies are in need of rest. Just because we live in a digital world does not change our biological need to get around eight hours of sleep per night. Our need for sleep has not changed although our reasons to stay awake have increased markedly. We pay a steep price for not getting enough sleep in terms of physical and mental health.Aside from sleep, there is diet. The way we consume digital information and check our devices can contribute to the obesity epidemic in America. “While we don’t need to give our devices entirely (an impossibility these days!), we do need to use them mindfully and strategically in order to minimize some of the negative effects that come from overuse. Creating sacred times and spaces can help us do just that,” says Brooks.And after sleep and diet, comes human relationships. “To be productive in life and form deep, meaningful connections with others, we must be able to maintain focused attention. We have grown accustomed to jumping from one information bit to another: from tweet, to text, to Facebook, to news push notifications, to checking the weather, to listening to our favorite music or playing our favorite game and so on; this is known as ‘technoference.’ Creating sacred spaces and times allows us to practice our focused attention. This, in turn, allows us to deepen our relationships and be more productive.

Address Technology Addictions in Families

  • Expert 2: Dr. David Hill, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Communications and Media; and Play Therapist Eithne Ní Dhraighneáin: “Smartphone addiction” may seem like an overused phrase and “first-world problem,” but it can have detrimental effects. “Extreme use of digital devices and the internet can lead to behavioral disorders that are as debilitating or life-threatening as alcohol or drug abuse. And aside from those most severe cases, addictive technologies may be breeding an entire generation prone to depression and loneliness.” In fact, some studies indicate that problematic internet and device use affects roughly 5%-8% of U.S. teenagers. “If you look at the role that screen media is playing in our society — contributing perhaps to fearfulness and isolation — there are ways to say perhaps it’s a bigger crisis than opioids,” says Dr. Hill.Therapist Ní Dhraighneáin offers this advice to families in order to counteract unhealthy device habits among children and teens:
    • Wait until at least 6th grade to give child own phone
    • Consider what social media services your child can use, and teach them about responsible social media usage / behaviors
    • Ban devices from all family meals
    • Create an expectation that all devices are routinely turned off up to two hours before bedtime
    • Consider unplugging the wireless router at night
    • Charge all devices in one location, preferably downstairs
    • No devices in bedrooms including the parental bedroom (but to go back to a traditional alarm clock? This one unnerved me a bit.)
    • Read to your child
    • Provide play alternatives for children
    • Set a time limit on weekend screen time
    • When it comes to setting limits around the use of tech, practice what you preach

Undergo a Digital Detox

  • Expert 3: HITC, a fast growing source of news and information on the web for financial, tech and sports news: Technology has changed our social habits and our cognitive abilities. There was a time when information was not always at our fingertips, and we were actually able to retain it or even entertain ourselves with guessing it but now “our minds are more automated, used to continually filtering data rather than recalling it.”Above we talk about the link between mental health problems like anxiety and depression and overuse of smartphones and social media. Our culture is prone to being constantly stimulated, leaving us with little space to think and process emotion. Being too connected via technology leaves less room for connection to our communities and loved ones.For the business world, the always-on culture can lead to stress and lowered productivity. In response, some companies are adopting a “phones down” approach to meetings and pushing for more “face-to-face” interactions and “email-free” weekends.According to HITC, here are the steps to take in order to do a digital detox:
    • Make a list of gadgets; identify the things you can do without and the areas you can cut down.
    • If you’re a scrolling addict, limit the amount of time you spend on social media. Apps such as Social Fever, AppDetox, and MyAddictometer can help.
    • Get out of the habit of using devices when you’re meant to be spending time with your family and friends, remember to talk and (if you are finding this hard) consider banning phones from specific areas in your home.
    • Perhaps leave your device when you go out, so you are not always checking it. Your friends might even be more inclined to stick to arrangements and times if they know you are not as easy to contact
    • Make it a priority to engage and listen. Give colleagues and friends your full attention. Participate in the world around you, don’t forget to look up, and if you must look down, grab a good old-fashioned book!
    • And one more addition here: No texting, emailing or even calling and driving. Distracted driving accounts for approximately 25% of all motor vehicle crash fatalities.

In summary, as humankind continues to evolve in creating breakthrough technologies, and as we continue to adapt to this rapid pace of new technology adoption, it’s just important to stay mindful and present, and in tune to your own (human) physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual needs. When it comes to devices and gadgets for instance, remember that YOU are running them; they are not running you.