So, I’ve now gone through why I think that technology can be “addictive,” (see previous posts An Addiction vs. A Problem and The Neuroscience of Tech Addiction) although I think it is important to not got get too hung up on the exact terminology. It is typically easier to discern whether it is a problem by seeing if technology use is having a significant negative impact on various life domains (e.g., sleep, grades, work, friendships, relationships with our significant other and/or other family members). I know, I know – it can also be debatable as to what constitutes “a significant negative life impact” as well. If your child’s grades are in the B range but could be earning As if he/she were not texting, playing video games, or on Facebook so much, does this cross the line? How about 45 minutes of sleep lost per night because of technology use? Again, it is difficult to say exactly, but it is important to ask the question and try to assess the situation objectively.
This brings me to some technology use recommendations that you might find helpful for you and/or your children:
1. I have always liked the Einstein quote that “A problem cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created it.” Thus, one cannot hope to begin to rein in problematic technology use unless one first steps back and surveys the landscape. If our thoughts are being used to post a comment on Facebook or figure out how to get the 3rd star on a level of Cut the Rope, there’s no chance of evaluating whether the technology use is problematic because the thoughts aren’t at that higher level.
2. Look at the things in life that truly make you happy – think back on those. Quality time with your spouse? Playing tennis? Reading a good novel? Going for hikes on the Greenbelt? Are these happening nowadays? Are they getting squeezed out by your technology use? Be sure to schedule those important items in your day. Don’t let these be afterthoughts…they need to be forethoughts.
3. What technology use is most problematic for you? Is it Facebook? Twitter? Email? Gaming? Texting while driving? Perhaps you can even measure how much time you are spending using certain technologies (I’m sure there’s an app for that somewhere, heh). Decide what is a more reasonable amount. Unless you set some goals and boundaries with your tech use, it is easy to mindlessly fill up your time.
4. Turn off automated chimes and alarms. So, you don’t want to get a “ding” notifying you of a new email or text because these constantly pull your attention away from other, usually more important matters.
5. Don’t subscribe to receive any “push” notifications. If you sign up for these automated updates, you will receive frequent notifications of breaking news, etc. Again, these are so hard to ignore when you receive the alerts, so it is best not to receive the alerts. Check the news on your own terms.
6. Avoid using technologies that are likely to be addictive or, at least, be a big time sink. For instance, if you are a gamer, trying playing more casual games as opposed to MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) or other extremely immersive games. The average player of World of Warcraft plays between 17-22 hours per week…that’s a 1/2 time job in and of itself!
7. Make technologies less accessible. For instance, if you are finding that you are spending too much time on Facebook, don’t put the app on your iPhone. If you have kids, don’t put a TV or video game systems in their rooms.
8. If you have kids, be sure to practice what you preach. You lose any leverage to tell your kids to limit their technology use if you are not limiting your own. If you are on your computer all the time, even when you are just “working” when you get home from work, how can you tell your teen to get off of Facebook? If you are constantly checking your cell, texting others, etc., how can you expect your teen to turn his/hers off?
9. Related to the above, you can be a positive role model to your kids by managing your own technology use. For instance, if you are at home talking to your child and your cell phone rings, you could say something like, “I’ll check that at some other time, honey. This conversation is much more important than the phone.” Perhaps even better, you could turn the phone off when you get home until after the kids are in bed…and let them know that is what you are doing and why.
10. Aim for balance. Technology isn’t good or bad – it just is. It can be used to achieve many positive things – to create, learn, connect with others, have fun, and be productive, to name a few. However, if not used judiciously…mindfully…it has the potential to cause great harm and suffering in often very subtle and insidious ways. By stepping back regularly and observing how you are using technology, you can maximize the benefits of technology while minimizing the negatives.