Does too much technology, with our smartphones especially, interfere with the quality and the personal connections in our lives? Do we concentrate less because of the unceasing demands of our digital devices?
I’ve just finished reading Jonathon Safran Foer’s December 2016 article, Technology is Diminishing Us, and he makes thoughtful points about how, despite the good things that 21st Century digital devices bring to our lives, they can also diminish our daily emotional responses and contemplative experiences. The author reflects, with a personal emphasis, on digital distractions that increasingly disrupt of face-to-face communication, and his ideas connect well with the conclusions that Massachusetts Institution of Technology professor Sherry Turkle shares in her books Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversations, also well worth reading.
Foer, whose essay appeared in The Guardian, notes that early on technological innovations aimed to help people more easily accomplish daily life tasks — telephones replaced letters, answering machines supplemented phone calls, email made communication even easier, and texting easier still. Each change or invention sought to help people communicate more efficiently and effectively (in theory). Yet all this ease of use comes with caveats. The devices that connect us to others almost all of the time and to unlimited information whenever we seek it, have become electronic busybodies, obsessively notifying, alerting, locating, and suggesting (even when we try to turn many of the features off) as we attempt to concentrate, interact with others, and get things done. Most of us do little to stop these interruptions.
Interestingly, a few simple steps can markedly improve the digital wellness in our lives — and the lives of our family members — helping us become more mindful of the attentional and emotional challenges that we face when the gadgets we carry around demand too much attention. I’m trying to incorporate some of them into my family’s daily activities — because there are steps for people of all ages. Here are a few ideas that feel like they are working in my life, and almost all have to do, in one way or another, with moderation.
- Put devices away during meals.
- Charge devices farther away from the bedside at night.
- Seek a balance between reading print and electronic media, paying special attention to reading print books, newspapers, or magazines in the half-hour before bed.
- Place devices out of sight and reach with the sound down when any activity — reading, writing, playing piano, etc. — requires concentration.
- Avoid the use of a device in a restaurant and never give one to a child unless you plan to interact with the device and the child with your full attention.
It is no accident that each iteration of the gadgets and devices we increasingly depend on features convenient new ways to do things, thereby gaining a larger and larger role in our lives (and stealthily increasing our distraction). Perhaps the most compelling reminder of the prudence and moderation we should demonstrate in our own lives is how technology executives themselves take steps to limit mobile device access for their own children. We cannot be too mindful or too moderate.