Habit: Technology Diet
Unconscious addiction to technology blindly dulls your mind, ruins your sleep, and steals your willpower. Technology is an invaluable asset to use at your disposal as long as it doesn’t use you up and spit you out. Consider these experiments:
- Turn off your TV, your cell phone, your computer this weekend. Take a 24-hour technology fast.
- For the next week only use technology between 8 am and 8 pm. No devices between 8 pm and 8 am.
If you can’t stomach the thought of technology deprivation from these experiments or you’re rationalizing why you need your technology for profressional or personal reasons, you might have an unhealthy relationship with your tech. You may be the Human Cyborg on the Scale of Technology Use pictured below and that imbalance can be unhealthy.
The unexamined life is not worth living.
Examine your world with the diet options below. They may be easier for you than the experiments above.
We’re all dopamine addicts waiting for our next dose of tech-packaged cocaine pellets. My brother is an anxious bystander watching the world feed on cell phones from the passenger seat of cars, buses, and the side of the road. While riding to the movies last week he offered to lookup the directions, so I could focus on the road. “Everyone is on cell phones and pills” and that’s a wicked combination. I tell myself that I slow down the car when I’m looking up directions, but my reaction speed in those moments is no match for even more distracted drivers oblivious to the world around them. Probability and statistics. When I see people driving a little too close to the car in fron to them at 60 mph and deeply engaged in a conversation or checking their phone, all I can think is “probability and statistics”. Eventually, these mild risks catch up to you. If the chances that you get into an accident in one of these situations is 1 in 1000 and you drive your car daily in this distracted way, it’s not a question of if you’ll get into an accident because you were distracted but when. With 365 days in a year at 1 in 1000 probability of an accident, you’re very likely to have an accident within 3 years. The 1 in 1000 probability is an uneducated guess, but still habitual distracted behavior like this ramps up the probability that you will eventually suffer mild, moderate, or maybe major negative consequences from your actions.
It’s not just distracted driving and the frightening consquences that scares me. Technology improves our lives and steals them back. We’re faster, sharper, stronger from better technology. We’re mindless, tired, and weak from constant technology. I picture my brother on the side of the road watching the bus pass by with heads connected to phones like umbilical cords. I scan every customer in the supermarket in the checkout line and see not one person between 20 and 50 years old without their head in the their phone. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but the statistics frighten me. “How do I want to operate in a world of cell phone zombies?” There are no perfect answers. I’m a zombie myself at times. What follows are the impacts of constant multi-tasking and methods to establish a diet from your technology whether that’s your cell phone, your email, or your TV. “Diet” implies a temporary change, but I hope you make a permanent adjustment. I encourage you to pick one of the methods below and experiment with how it might make your life a little better. Reform your relationship with technology. Squeeze all the benefits you can from technology, but once in a while – stop, take a look around, and ask yourself: “Do I want the life I see around me with heads buried in their phones or a little more nature, deep conversation, and living in the moment?”
Overusing technology tends to cause more multi-tasking. When the sound of a cell phone text message arrives or Outlook pops up a new message that just arrived, you’re immediately distracted. You may dismiss the message immediately, but you’ve still lost your focus briefly. More often we’re tempted to check the new message immediately. It’s common. It’s social. It’s dopamine. There’s plenty of research on the benefits of limiting multi-tasking. This infographic has several stats referenced below. Experiment with the ‘Technology Diet Options’ further below and enjoy the brain boost from these benefits.
- Higher IQ – Multi-tasking decreases your IQ 15 points, three times more than smoking pot. I know some really smart people that smoke pot, but I don’t want to live with an IQ lowered 3x as much as them in their drug-induced state.
- Better Quality – Multi-tasking can increase your error rate 50%. That’s disastrous. Even if you hovered in the 10-20% error rate range, you’d go from effective to incompetent pretty quickly.
- Increased Productivity – Stats here show that it takes on average 25 minutes to return to a task after getting distracted. I’ve seen other studies indicating that checking an email requires a minute or more to return to your previous task. I expect the impact depends on what distracted you, for how long, and other factors, but even a minute for every email you check and text message you read adds up pretty quickly to a lot of lost time. How many emails or text messages do you check in a day without batching to read many messages all at once? Multiply that times a minute to get the minimum amount of your day you’re losing to technology distractions.
- More Control – With technology constantly pushing information to you you can feel like you’re not in control of your brain and your life. It’s easy to be on auto-pilot most of the day. That’s natural. If technology keeps pushing information to you, it can be overwhelming and stressful. It can also be incredibly freeing when you begin to limit what’s pushed to you. Pulling information that you choose in a given moment gives you more control over your brain and your life.
Technology Diet Options
- Morning Routine – Avoid email and social media until after breakfast. Let your mind ramp up naturally without the stimuli and potential stress from information sources you can’t control. Save that for later in the day when you can act on any issues.
- Daily Email Routine – Pick one or two times daily to check email. Block out your calendar if you need a reminder. Reset expectations with bosses and co-workers on your email response time and how to get an immediate answer from you using IM or a Phone Number. I like to tell people to imagine that email is like an actual letter in the mail. It may take a day or two to respond. That may not work for every job, but consider challenging expectations.
- Bedtime Routine – Avoid your cell phone and tablet a half-hour before bed. Let your body wind down. Read a book. Take a bath.
- Outlook Email Notifications – Turn off the visual pop-up when you receive an email with these instructions.
- Cell Phone Notifications – Tune down the number of cell phone notifications you receive with these instructions for iPhone and Android.
- Cell Phone Do Not Disturb – Turn off or tune down the text messages and calls you receive late at night and early in the morning with these instructions for iPhone and Android. You can make exceptions for certain contacts that you don’t want to miss, even overnight.
- Professional Committments – Maybe you need to respond to client, boss, or team demands 24×7. Everyone needs to earn, but consider whether there are any assumptions you can challenge. Can I reset expectations with clients, bosses, team members (dependencies)? Can I brainstorm a better option for my dependencies and educate them on why a better me is better for them? Am I willing to stunt my growth and not deliver my full potential for this current job? You might think you can’t reset expectations with your dependencies and sometimes that true, but just as often you think it’s true and it’s not really true. Experiment. Try resetting expectations on response times and constant availability. If it doesn’t work, consider whether there are any other jobs that would allow you to continue to grow with your mind sharpest.
- Personal Committments – Maybe you’re worried you’ll miss an important call or maybe you have fear of missing out (FOMO) on social opportunities. For those important calls, you can make exceptions when limiting your technology to allow your key dependencies to still contact you. FOMO battles your brain-dulled self for control of your body and mind. Here’s the hard truth if you have FOMO. You will miss social opportunities from dialing back your technology use. You probably won’t miss much, but eventually you’ll find out that you missed an event because you didn’t see your friend’s post that day. That’s the price you pay for a better, brighter you. The upside is when you attend social events now, you’ll be a more dynamic version of your best self. That might lead to more opportunities and JOMO (Joy of Moving-up Overflow) in your social hierarchy.
- Addiction – The social contact you receive with the swipe of a thumb is hard to break. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using technology, but when you feel drawn to it first thing in the morning, late at night, or whenever you have a free moment during the day, you may need an intervention and no one will do it for you. It’s a normal part of our world now, so you will take solace in knowing that you’re just like everyone else. It’s socially acceptable, but that doesn’t mean it’s optimal. There’s a scale of optimal technology use between ‘not using technology at all’ and ‘student pulling an all-nighter on the computer’. If you’re using technology first thing in the morning or late at night, like the man pictured below you may be closer to that student on this scale than you think. You won’t be completely brain-dead in the morning like that student, but you might be brain-dull and I’d rather see you brain-bright.
All of man’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
– Blaine Pascal
I bet Pascal wouldn’t advocate for spending your life as a hermit, but might want us to consider the issues we create from our restlessness. Spending time by yourself or fully engaged with other people without the draw of technology can be liberating. For many of us in our information-matrix-connected world, disengaging from technology requires practice. Challenge yourself. Pick one of the diet options above to practice disengaging. Regain your balance and increase your health on the Scale of Technology Use pictured below by making that diet change a permanent lifestyle choice. Your brain, your friends, and your future self will thank you. You’ll display a sharper mind now, connect more deeply socially, and grow into your best self.