Our days are lived somewhere between digital and physical worlds. For many of us, they begin and end with tech: we reach for our phone in the morning, scrolling through emails while still in bed, and ease into a nighttime ritual of social and news feed check-ins, before finally putting our phones down and trying to sleep.
But do we use our devices too much? Do they distract us more than they enable us? What do we want technology to do for us? And how exactly can we be sure our relationship with tech stays healthy?
Digital technology is a wonderful thing. To say that it hasn’t helped human kind enormously would be disingenuous – if not downright ludicrous! But that’s not to say it’s always built with our wellbeing in mind.
The pure powerful potential of technology has not gone unnoticed by the world’s biggest companies. A psychologically-informed user interface can make it easy to spend hours in apps and platforms. Dopamine-inducing notifications and interactions, and auto-playing videos all work to trap our focus and keep us locked into using our tech.
And it’s not just limited to entertainment. The technology we use for work is just as guilty. Part of the reason why we are so easily distracted by Slack messages is down to the way the tool is built; it’s ridiculously easy to use and every interaction feels immediate. Similarly, forever-updating inboxes and invasive banner alerts lead us to spend a ton of time checking email every day – constantly breaking our productive focus in the process.
So unconsciously, technology often impresses itself into our behaviors, causing us to routinely check in on different apps even though doing so is neither useful nor intentional. We use tech as a crutch to fill empty spaces in our schedules, plugging the gaps with more senseless searches, more purposeless scrolling. And there’s a disconnect, a feeling of hollowness that comes with it; from using tech passively rather than actively.
Our culture of instant availability and passive interaction has consequences for both our health and productivity. By glancing from phone to computer screen, shooting off replies to emails the minute they arrive, responding to messages while in bed, we think we’re being more productive – but in fact the opposite is true. We’ve lost the ability to focus and be present. The ability to do ‘deep work’, to lose ourselves in our flow, seems harder than ever.
And it has some pretty deflating social implications too. Our inadvertent use of tech has meant we’ve lost the art of being content in our own company. We’d rather browse through social feeds than accept boredom and find a creative solution to it. But the problem isn’t tech itself; we simply aren’t using it in the way we want. We aren’t using it with purpose, and our relationship with it isn’t deliberate. More and more of us feel like we’re using our devices too much, or that we’re just not getting anything meaningful from them. So how do we remedy this?
A recent study showed that to successfully break out from constant connectivity we need to gain greater self-awareness. Only then can we reduce the habits and behaviors we don’t like. So, to assess the health of your relationship with tech, you first need to figure out why you want to use your devices less. Some of the main motivations and strategies for building a more healthy relationship with tech include:
Many people want to limit their use of tech so they can spend more time with their family, and stop people close to them feeling resentful. One of the best ways to achieve this is by tracking the time you spend on your devices to develop greater self-awareness around your tech habits. Automatic time trackers can do this for you – down to the time you spend in different apps, websites, calls, emails and locations. You get an illuminating picture of where your time is really going, and use those insights to target change.
If you want to implement a personal philosophy about how you use tech, research shows that introducing strict rules has the best effect. By limiting your use of tech (e.g. only checking emails at certain times, or setting a limit for the time you spend on a device) you’re the one who has control; your use of tech is always intentional. Communicational tech has tons of creative examples of this!
If you want to reduce the time you spend perusing your devices to be more present at home or work, research suggests that keeping your phone or laptop out of sight is most effective. When you can’t see your device, it’s easier to be more in tune with your surroundings and to pay those around you more attention.
If you want to limit the awkwardness of having your phone interrupt conversations, disabling or customizing your push notifications can be very effective; you are directly controlling what you want your devices to tell you. Also consider introducing consequences for using your devices during social situations (e.g. buying people a drink, putting a dollar in a jar, etc.) – many enjoy this light-hearted way of taking back control!