Technology is as much the center of our existence as the sun. Our lives revolve around it, from our computers and cellphones to our washing machines, cars, and even our high-tech sneakers. All this technology has improved our lives in many ways, but it has also distracted us from the things that matter most.
Nancy Sidhu, PhD, a licensed psychologist in Chester, NJ, recently shared her assessment of some of the ways that technology affects people. She reflected on how it makes our lives so much better. It reduces our workload, increases our efficiency, and advances our knowledge more easily. And all this allows us to deliver on the promise of having more leisure time. People can be freer to enjoy more leisure time … that is, unless they get entranced by technology.
Too often, people become so focused on their devices and machines that they lose sight of how those things were intended to free them to enjoy leisure or pursue more fulfillment and meaning. Consider how washing machines and dryers have affected people’s lives. They often allow people to get many more chores done in a day. But as Sidhu explained, “Contrast that with a village in a remote area where a villager spends Mondays going to the river with other women from the village to spend the day sitting on rocks and washing their clothes in the water. They talk as they spend the day together and help each other as they wash their clothes.” Similarly, there was a time when families would gather around a radio or their only television to enjoy the programming together. This evolved to people watching different televisions in one house, and now to people watching their individual phone or tablet screens. In exchange for the workload saved and the greater personal choice available to us, we have sacrificed built-in communion with others. People can, of course, continue to spend time together, but they do this less often because their focus has shifted from connection and meaningful engagement to their devices. That’s certainly not always the case, but it is a danger that is too often realized.
Technology is so engrained in our culture that people often don’t think deeply about how it affects them. With each new development, its influence will continue to grow. If you want to live a fulfilled life that embodies your values, it is important to be aware of how technology shapes your life. To help with this, Sidhu suggests that you consider these questions -- and the constructive actions that might come to mind as you reflect on them:
- Have you felt like you are competing with a loved one's device for your attention?
- Do you struggle with being tired from staying up too late on a device?
- What was going on around you while you were focused on your screen, especially when you were around others? What experience might you have missed (such as making eye contact and maybe engaging in conversation)?
- Do you feel lonely even though you have hundreds of friends on social media?
- Are there times or ways that you use social media to effectively help you feel happier or closer to others? Are there times when it backfires?
- What would it be like to not look up an answer right away and instead wonder about it or discuss it?
- Do you monitor time spent on a device so you can balance out time in nature or with others?
- Do you use social media or technology to engage more fully in values that are important to you?
As you reflect on the place that technology has in your life, you might even consider other questions. The idea is not to demonize technology, but rather to consciously control your use of technology rather than have it control you.