Digital communication is a seductress that invites us to disconnect from ourselves, our present moment, and the people around us more completely than anything else. Several reports suggest that Americans spend on average 10+ hours each day looking at screens. That’s more time than most people spend on any other single activity, including work, interacting with others, or even sleep.
When you fill every spare second looking at your phone or screen instead of looking inside (or outside as it may be), you slip farther and farther away from your true self and the joy of living a conscious life. Even a small amount of self-observation makes it easy to see the price you pay for engaging in unintentional, unregulated low-quality screen engagement: disconnection from yourself and others. Do these symptoms sound familiar?
- Lack of awareness of your needs (such as noticing hunger or tiredness)
- A slightly anxious or unpleasant quality to your mood
- Feeling spacey – as though you’re under a hypnotic spell or trance
- Long periods of time seem to disappear
- You reach for a device anytime there is a sliver of downtime
- You find you never have time to daydream or mentally process
Digital Connection vs. Conscious Living
Most of us are not in the driver’s seat when it comes to our relationship with technology. Low-quality interactions with our devices can inadvertently rob us of some of the most precious aspects of living a conscious life. “Just checking your email” is a slippery slope habit with staggering effects when you add up how many times a day you are mindlessly or unconsciously checking your devices.
The irony of technology is that we are often the most disconnected from time, our true priorities, other people, our environment and a conscious life when we are digitally “connected.” A mother in one of my parenting groups observed that as much as she patted herself on the back for managing to make it home in time from work to be with her children after school each day, she was frittering away that time by constantly checking her devices and/or responding to emails – causing her to be just as unavailable and disconnected from her kids as if she were still gone from the house.
Cultivating a Conscious Life With Wise Technology Use
Screen addiction and the deleterious side effects of too much technology are getting a lot of press coverage these days. While these issues are important to bring to public consciousness, this kind of coverage doesn’t tell us how to cultivate a healthy relationship with technology. Technology is here to stay, and barring some kind of apocalyptic destruction of the world, it’s going to be a permanent part of our lives. So, we have got to figure out how to live with it without losing ourselves.
Five Ways To Improve Your Relationship With Technology
The first and most important tool is to become more intentional and aware of how you use technology. Learn to tell the difference between high-quality digital interactions, and low-quality ones. Cultivate a mindful awareness of your mood and physical state while you’re engaging with your devices. Bring a curious attention, and do a body scan to help identify the subtle feeling states that accompany different types of screen engagement. You’ll quickly start to recognize the difference.
Ask yourself whether your compulsion to respond to everything immediately might not be fueled by a compulsive relationship with your technology, rather than actual urgency. Consider whethr you might be using technology to avoid certain emotional states or real-life interactions.
Gather data! Make the effort to actually calculate hour by hour how much time you spend interacting with technology in a given week. Include time engaging with technology both at work and outside of it, and be sure to include time spent in passive ways (such as binge-watching television, or skimming social network feeds).
Set boundaries with yourself. Limit email checking, internet surfing, text responding, or even channel switching on the TV to the times you’ve established in advance.
Next time you feel that powerful urge to check and reply, take a deep breath instead and ask yourself: “Is this really what I want to devote my attention to right now, or am I better served by sticking with my current train of thought?” Resisting the urge in this way helps build mental muscle, and helps you realize what a powerful force that “urge” really is.
Reconnect To A Conscious Life
Our complicated relationship to technology is one of the largest areas of opportunity for people to reconnect with their intentions, and reclaim a domain that’s rife with disconnection. Having a positive connection with technology is simply about being clear about the why, how, and when of engagement, and correcting yourself when you get off track. For the average person in modern society, technology is a steadily rising tide that can flood the environment at any moment, without mindful awareness and intentional use. Its addictive quality requires us to frequently check in, reappraise, and course correct where needed in order to tame the beast. Remember that the purpose of technology is to improve your life…not to own it.