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October 6, 2015

How Breaking Free from Technology can Improve our Social Lives.

Matthew G/Flickr

Is our addiction to technology, in all its various forms, wearing away at the very fabric of our social lives?

I recently found myself gathering for some after-work drinks with friends. Friendly hellos and hugs were exchanged. Drinks ordered and we settled down into the nearest booth for what I was imagining to be a fun catch-up.

What’s everyone been up to? What’s the latest with your crazy ex-boyfriend?

And then the energy shifted. Attention wavered. A phone slivered its way out of a beaded clutch and onto the table. And then another one.

Someone starts texting our perpetually late friend to assess just how delayed she’ll be this time. Another slides her perfectly manicured finger across her device and dives headfirst into Instagram. Conversation turns to the crazy ex-boyfriend’s Facebook account. More phones are picked up off the table as they check Facebook to see what humble-brags he posted recently. And in the blink of an eye the entire table is silenced.

What just happened? We haven’t seen each other in months.

I am witnessing the social side effects of popping the technology pill.

From the start of the 21st century, technology has continued to unfurl at lightning speed, leaving us more connected with each other than ever before. In some respects this is a godsend. Plans can be made, changed or cancelled via a few taps on our respective devices. Groceries can be ordered. Swipe right and a romantic date can be arranged.

Over the past 10 years we have made one of the biggest leaps in technology known to mankind and it is still evolving.

Exciting stuff. But at what cost?

For those who can recall the days of yore, when we were all technology free, they might remember catching up with a friend or two a week. Perhaps talking on the home phone with a couple more. The odd letter and postcard from those further afield.

Catching up with friends was exhilarating. They could have easily spent the last month hand gliding in Peru and you wouldn’t have heard a peep about it.

Nowadays, no party is complete without Instagram hashtags. Group photos are uploaded onto Facebook before the hangover has even had time to kick in. With a few clicks our entire social circle gets to see just how much fun we are having.

But are we really having fun? I can personally attest to attending a party that I just wasn’t into. The vibe was off and no one was having a good time. Yet, on social media, all is well—we are filtered to perfection and having the time of our lives.

Perhaps one of the side effects of the technology pill is that we now live with our feet firmly planted in two totally different worlds—planet Earth and planet social media. On planet Earth, we have to relinquish control, earn our keep and deal with the trials and tribulations of reality. Planet social media is a shiny, happy place where we are masters of our own destiny, we have the ability to curate our own lives and decide what the rest of the world can and cannot see.

No wonder everyone wants to live on planet social media.

What we have to remember is that it can become hypnotically easy to lose ourselves, if we spend too long dwelling in the orbit of planet social media. The longer we loiter there the greater the chance that we can lose our grip on reality.

If we continually grade ourselves by how exciting our social media presence is or how many online friends we have, we are essentially grading ourselves against a scale of superficiality.

Here’s the thing no one tells us about the scale of superficiality—it has a thirst that can never be quenched.

There are never enough likes. We will never get enough re-tweets. Our expectations will keep rising and we will always want more.

We run the risk of becoming disillusioned by our real lives.

So what to do?

We all need technology in our lives. How do we stay on top of our business and social lives online while balancing the other aspects of our real, day-to-day lives?

Trying to maintain this balance has remained a constant battle for me. I began to notice that the first thing I reached for in the morning was my phone and from that moment on, it was my closest companion all day. I had gulped the technology pill down without a thought and now I was starting to notice the side effects:

My concentration levels became shorter.

I was easily distracted.

I was unable to finish a task without checking my phone throughout.

Enough was enough. My phone and I needed a serious talk. We needed to start implementing some real boundaries between us.

So, I allotted myself phone-free time zones:

The first waking hour of the morning and final hour before bedtime is mine and mine alone.

Whenever I leave the office for lunch, I put my phone in my bag and don’t look at it until I get back.

When I’m out with friends, I am mindful to keep my phone out of sight and focus on the person sitting in front of me.

It took some time to get used to my new self-imposed rules. Once I set some parameters around how I chose to use my technology, I started to notice incremental improvements:

The constant brain fog of distraction dissipated.

I started to connect better with people.

My sleep improved and my stress levels decreased.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should follow my lead. My rules worked well for me but might not be practical for another person’s schedule.

However, it is important to open a dialogue.

1. Ask yourself: what side effects are occurring in my life as a result of technology dependance?

2. How can I change things? Even if it’s just dedicating a phone-free hour of each day to really connect with our environment. Or perhaps choosing to allocate a phone-free zone when interacting your kids or when studying.

Whatever changes need to be made; the key is to be mindful.

Technology has an uncanny ability to take us out of the moment and disconnect us from ourselves.

In making a mindful choice about how we choose to connect with technology, we put ourselves back in the drivers seat of our own lives.

 

Relephant:

When to Pick Up: Proper Cell Phone Etiquette

How Having an iPhone Changed Me in the Worst Ways

Why Technology Can Never Replace Books

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Author: Victoria Cox

Apprentice Editor: Jaimee Guenther/Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Image: Matthew G/Flickr

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Victoria Cox