Technology is undeniably cool. Every day insane amounts of software, devices and apps are developed and spread with pathogenic intensity all over the world. We essentially gain superpowers to communicate, connect and collaborate at ridiculous scale.
But tech can also be our greatest source of distraction, time wasting and social anxiety. As we integrate it into our lives, we develop new habits and behaviours – not all of which are positive. So, how do you get the balance right?
Towards a healthy relationship with tech
You need to review your relationship with tech to ensure it’s still working in your favour. Constantly ask yourself whether your digital tools empower or distract you: How much time do you spend in your favourite apps? What value do they provide? Are you dependent on them?
To help you out, here are a few things our team realized about our tech:
We immediately turn to our phones when we’re bored
With an app for practically everything, smartphones are the one-device-to-rule-them-all and can even empower even the most powerless in society. But we use them so badly. When we encounter an existential hole, we plug it with our phones. Even when we're not drawn by a notification dopamine rush (ping!), we actively go looking for distraction instead of solving boredom creatively.
Developing this sort of attachment to our phones goes well beyond the boundaries of their productive value. You know you’re too dependent if you feel physically panicked when you accidentally leave your phone at home.
We spend way more time on low-value websites than we realize
What do you use the majority of your internet browsing activity actually doing? Do you know how much time you spend on research, reading news, seeking entertainment, visiting social sites, and shopping? Even when you’re working, how often do you turn to your browser and distract yourself?
You can find the answer to all of these by using an automatic digital time tracking app. It's super eye-opening – we found that some of us have established autopilot browsing behaviours where we routinely check a circuit of websites. Weirdly, we’ve come to see this activity as a ‘reward’ between periods of work, when it’s actually just mind-numbingly pointless and we hate ourselves for it.
Chat apps prey on our natural compulsion to be immediately available
Slack, Skype, Hangouts, WhatsApp – whatever you’re using, the expectation is to be constantly available and ready to respond. And psychologically we want to be; knowing you have an email waiting and not answering it requires immense willpower. We don’t want to let anybody down, and involvement gives us a great sense of usefulness and meaning. Regrettably, presence is also used to indicate productivity (if you answer a message immediately, you must be working).
We need to move beyond this, because we can’t focus on deep productive work when constantly managing interruptions. It’s ok to become unavailable – tell people when you can be contacted, snooze your notifications or completely disengage from chat for certain periods.
We’re still spending too much time on email
Email is still a black hole for productivity. A recent Canadian study suggested that we spend 33% of time reading and answering emails in the office, which is bonkers. So be ruthless: do you need notification emails for everything? Can you cut down on how often you check it? What can you unsubscribe from? We believe email should not be an activity in itself, and it’s definitely not the place for long, complex discussions.
Our team decided to adopt a blackout approach: we set each others’ expectations for when we'll respond, and strive to seek more effective channels for small questions. Often these questions can wait until weekly meetings, where other people can benefit from hearing them.
Social media can screw with our mental health
Social media can help you connect, plan events, share photos and send videos to people you love. But its ‘network’ structure also lends itself to collecting names of people you don’t really know. Their profiles often heavily manicure the truth to construct impossibly positive versions of life, which eat into your own insecurities and leave you feeling pretty crap; the rest of the world is riding elephants while you ride the subway.
Ask yourself what value you actually get from social media: are you a passive or active user? Does it fulfil your social scheduling and sharing needs? Are you happy when using it? How much time do you spend on it? Try going a week without to test your dependency; you may find you don’t miss out on anything at all.