December 9, 2010

Technology, addiction and the ten-day challenge.

Technology can be a tool and/or a toy.

Whether we are willing to admit it or not, many of us with 24/7 web connectivity have a fierce addiction to technology and the constant stream of information. We find lots of fascinating and useful information online; we waste countless hours of our lives online.

Since becoming a school teacher several years ago, I have witnessed how the technological revolution and its accompanying, hurried lifestyle is affecting teenagers and children. Their attention span seems to get shorter each year. Some kids cannot even absorb a simple set of verbal or written instructions. Their brains are wired for incessant entertainment and fast-paced sounds and images. They crave over-stimulation.

Last week, I asked my ninth grade creative writing students to complete a survey on their technology usage and habits. Of the 101 who responded, 98% use Facebook, 36% of the 100% who have a cell phone use their phone to access and send email, and 72% use personal technology devices for two to six hours per day. I also asked them to write a paragraph describing how technology has affected their life. Here are a few of their most telling and eloquent answers:

“Technology has affected my life in a positive and negative way. The bottom line is that technology helps us all, but by making us better it makes us worse.”

“Technology is kind of stressful and addictive. You can’t do your homework without checking your facebook, twitter, email and your cell. As if you had the obligation of seeing what’s new… to catch up with the world which keeps your life racing.”

“When I was a kid, the only electrical things I was allowed to use were my RC car and TV. Now as a 15 year old, I have piles of modern technology. I’ve started to realize how much of the technology I buy ends up being wasted, and now I try to use things until they don’t work, take better care of them and only buy the things I really need.

“Technology has changed my life. That could be good or bad; I say it’s bad. It has made life simpler, duller. I can imagine a world without technology, yet I can’t really picture myself living in it.”

The Ten-Day Challenge Project

This week, I assigned my students the “Ten-Day Challenge,” in which they choose a habit to start or stop doing for ten days in a row. Many have vowed to quit using facebook, quit eating junk food, read for an hour a day, or practice mindfulness meditation for thirty minutes a day. One boy vowed to take cold showers as a way of conserving water. A few brave souls have even vowed to give up their Blackberry.

I told them about my two experiences at ten-day, silent Vipassana meditation courses and they stared at me in disbelief. Not talking for ten days? Impossible! I also told them about the time I tried the Master Cleanse, drinking only water, tea and a concoction of lemonade, maple syrup and cayenne pepper for ten days straight. I urged them to choose a personal challenge that would be difficult but realistic.

In case you want to join us, here is the task:

Choose a habit to start or stop (or both) for ten days straight. Keep a daily journal of your experiences. Write at least a paragraph each day describing what happened, how you felt, if you succeeded, if you faltered or failed and why. (When we return to school in January, I will teach the student a series of writing workshops on  persuasive essays, culminating in oral presentations in which they convince their classmates of the superiority of their personal ten-day challenge.) So what habit do you want to break? What do you need and want to do more of?

No matter what your ten-day — or eternal — challenge may be, yoga and mindfulness can help in three huge ways:

1. Physical benefits – namely flexibility, strength and reduction of muscular tension
2. Psychological benefits – focus, concentration, relaxation
3. BALANCE – finding it, keeping it, living with it, loving it

The most extreme form of technological ten-day challenge, an “information cleanse,” is outlined in Focus, a new e-book by Leo Baubuta of zenhabits:

If you look at information and communication as a form of mild (or sometimes not-so-mild) addiction, it can be healthy to force yourself to take a break from it.
»» Don’t check email.
»» Don’t log into Twitter, Facebook, or other social networks.
»» Don’t read news, blogs, subscriptions.
»» Don’t check your favorite websites for updates.
»» Don’t watch TV.
»» Don’t use instant messaging of any kind.
»» Do use phones for as little time as possible, only for essential calls.
»» Do spend your time creating, working on important projects, getting outside, communicating with people in person, collaborating, exercising.
»» Do read: books, long-form articles or essays you’ve been wanting to read but haven’t had the time for.
»» Do watch informative or thought-provoking films, but not mindless popular movies.

Focus also covers mindfulness and the value of single-tasking instead of multitasking.

Benefits of Slowing Down

1. Better focus. When you slow down, you can focus better. It’s hard to focus if you’re moving too fast.

2. Deeper focus. Rushing produces shallowness, because you never have time to dig beneath the surface. Slow down and dive into deeper waters.

3. Better appreciation. You can really appreciate what you have, what you’re doing, who you’re with, when you take the time to slow
down and really pay attention.

4. Enjoyment. When you appreciate things, you enjoy them more.
Slowing down allows you to enjoy life to the fullest.

5. Less stress. Rushing produces anxiety and higher stress levels. Slowing down is calmer, relaxing, peaceful.

Of course, I have to teach by example and model what I expect from my dear students. Last year, I attempted to go vegan and wrote this essay about that failed experiment. This year, I, Miss Fajkus, vow to do the above information cleanse beginning December 23, 2010.

May all your challenges be challenging, fun and fruitful!

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Michelle Margaret Fajkus  |  Contribution: 56,495