How I avoid zombification amidst a world of technology

The prevalence of technology in my life scares the shit out of me.

From the moment I wake up technology starts beckoning me. Though I’ve read a million times that you should not start the day by checking email, most days, the first thing I do is grab my phone and check my email. I can’t help it. It’s like a siren song that starts playing the moment I wake up.

Then I check facebook. Why? I don’t know. I don’t think anything of any real significance has happened to me on facebook since 2005 when my crush poked me and I mistook that for genuine flirting.

Technology is so deeply ingrained in my life that I even use an app to help me meditate. Seriously. It plays a chime once the desired amount of time in meditation has occurred, and it keeps track of how much I meditate. It’s actually pretty cool.

To borrow an analogy from my close friend Clint Bentley, what cars and convenience food have done for our bodies, technology runs the risk of doing for our minds.

Technology destroys our focus by making it too simple to multi-task. It lowers the quality of our life by polluting our time with inane (yet somehow irresistible) cat videos and endless links on reddit. And it dampens our relationships by ensuring that nearly no one we hang out with is truly present for any extended period of time while we are together. How many times have you been in the middle of a killer conversation only to have your friend check his phone and derail the whole thing?

Of course, technology isn’t innately bad. The fact that there is a camera, GPS, mp3 player and well, phone, on my phone makes my life easier. That I can see my friends and clients around the world through Skype helps repair the distance. And being able to throw my laptop in my bag and work from nearly anywhere is liberating.

What I’ve learned is that the trick to ensuring that technology is working for me (and not vice versa) is moderation. Below are the most effective tricks I’ve found to prevent technology from hijacking my mind and life.

1) For at least part of the weekend, I keep my computer off and switch the sim card from my smartphone to a regular feature phone.

Yeah – I end up missing the occasional party or bbq that my friend emailed me about instead of calling, but on the balance, disconnecting from technology so that I can reconnect with life is worth it.

If you don’t want to switch phones but you do want a break from constant connection, you can also download an app that prevents the wireless and data connections from activating on your phone thus rendering it, basically, a phone.

2) Whenever I’m with other people, I keep my phone on silent and resist the urge to check it until I’m alone.

This is actually harder for me than it should be, especially when everyone else is neurotically checking their phone. I always want to ask – why are you checking your phone right now? Are you uncomfortable? Bored? Is something important happening in your life that you’re not sharing? Are you trying to defray an awkward moment?

In most cases, I think the answer is no. We check our phones because it’s habit. And because everyone around us does.

Every now and then there is real situation that I need to monitor – someone is in the hospital or going through a tough time, a flight has been delayed, etc. In these cases, the phone goes on vibrate and I explain why I’m checking my phone when I do.

3) When my girlfriend and I go out we leave our phones at home. I do this with several of my closes friends as well.

It enables us to be present with one another and eliminates the potential for digital distraction.

Incidentally this irritates one of our friends so much that she’s repeatedly gotten mad at me for not paying enough attention to my phone and for missing her calls. And while I understand her frustration, to me the benefit of truly connecting with my friends without frequent digital distraction far outweighs the cost of missing a few cool opportunities.

4) I use apps on my browser to make sure that I’m not spending more than 20 minutes per day on facebook, reddit and other mindless sites that I love. When I hit 20 minutes, I get locked out of those sites for the rest of the day.

5) At least once a year I take a complete vacation from technology. Earlier this year I flew to Costa Rica. I gave a few people the contact information of the hotel I was staying at and left my phone and computer at home. I didn’t check my voicemail or email for an entire week.

At first this made me neurotic. I kept imagining that a loved one would need my attention or that the deal of the century had just landed in my inbox and that unless I responded ASAP, the offer would be retracted.

But after about 48 hours or so of neurotically wanting to check my email and voicemail, the desire vanished and I felt clearer and freer than I had in ages.

When I finally returned home I learned that I missed a grand total of 0 truly important things over the week.

We live in an interesting time. The penetration of technology in our daily life is increasing rapidly. I mean, last week my roommate ordered and paid for burritos with an app. That’s crazy. Honestly, I think it’s kind of cool.

While the incredible penetration of technology into our lives unlocks huge potential for good, it also runs the risk of turning us into zombies who are over-connected to devices and under-connected to ourselves and the people around us.

The five strategies above help me keep technology at bay. They help me keep control of my mind and focus, and they help me connect with the people who matter to me. They prevent the inevitable zombification that occurs if we are not intentional about our relationship to technology.

Note: As I post this I am sitting in a coffee shop in MA with my brother who points out that I am using very sophisticated technology to explain how to avoid very sophisticated technology. Yeah, I see the irony too. Thanks Rob…  

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3 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “How I avoid zombification amidst a world of technology”

  1. Kim Aubry February 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I experienced technology free (or close to it) this weekend and was liberated. Thanks for bringing these distinctions home to all of us. Now I am figuring out how to do this daily and weekly. I am also figuring out how to be in nature more which is always renewing to me…even if is walking everyday. Thanks Jason.

    • Jason Connell February 18, 2013 at 9:51 am

      Kim – thanks for the comment. Glad to hear you had a tech free weekend! It’s amazing how clarifying getting away from the technology that saturates our life can be. I read recently that the average American adult spends 8.5 hours a day looking at a screen. That’s nuts! Personally, I turn my phone off in the evening and keep it off through the morning, and try (though I don’t always succeed) to keep my computer off for at least 24 hours on the weekend.

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