Dum & Dangerous: Why it is time to check our technology use

It isn’t technology alone, but our relationship with technology that determines our experience of life.  Take my iPhone, in that little rectangle I can look at my calendar, locate my contacts’ information, I can receive and answer my mail, and solve dinner table debates with just a finger touch.  So, yes, I do love my iPhone, as I love any other technical device that enhances my experience of life.  What isn’t a loving relationship, but a hot-mess-entanglement is people’s compulsive obsession of being attached to smart phones or other technologies.  Chances are, unless you’re living deep in the mountains or at a meditation retreat (located deep in the mountains, staffed by geriatric monks), your world is populated by people glued to cellphones.  And apparently this obsession is not only making these people waste time, it is making them stupid, it’s killing them and it’s brewing a generation of careless parents.

Here are some tech obsession studies that prompted me to write this post and that will illustrate my point:

  • A Kent State University study found that of the 500 students observed, “high frequency cell phone users tended to have lower GPA, higher anxiety, and lower satisfaction with life (happiness) relative to their peers who used the cell phone less often.”
  • According to the National Safety Council, there is a cellphone related car accident every 30 seconds (~335K this year alone). The NSC reported 3331 distracted related deaths in 2011; 12% (350 fatalities) were explicitly attributed to cellphones. Experts believe that number is far higher given that 50% of fatalities were for reasons unknown.
  • Studies conducted at the University of Essex found that the presence of a cellphone, even when not used, affected subject’s ability to connect on a deep level and find empathy for his or her partner.
  • University of Maryland study found that people who used a cellphone, even for a short period, were less likely to engage in “prosocial” behavior, which is defined as behavior intended to benefit another person or society as a whole.
  • A Boston Medical Center study observed how cellphone use affected parenting. They found that 40 out of the 55 caregivers studied used their phones during meals, and that children were more likely to act out with caregivers in direct proportion to the level of the caregiver’s absorption with the phone.

So what do we do to avoid falling in the cellphone/technology trap?

  • Cultivate awareness. Check yourself frequently to see if your use of technology is taking you away from the present moment. Sometimes the present moment calls for a phone call or checking your GPS. But quite often, what’s going on around us in our immediate environment–talking to friends, practicing yoga, walking in the park, doing a work task, doing nothing–is more important than whatever we’re doing on our phones. If you’re mindlessly using technology, stop.
  • Go techless. Leave your phone at home. Don’t pack a tablet. Get away from backlit screens. It might feel uncomfortable for a while. Your brain is detoxing. If people like your spouse are accustomed to reaching you at any time, let them know you won’t have your phone. It’s okay. The world will not fall off its axis.
Posted on April 30, 2014 .