digital overload

In our article about how to incorporate a walking fitness plan in your life I mentioned that my family reintroduced small family walks after work. With these walks we got a couple more steps in our day but more importantly we got some time to our selves away from the relentless calling of the internet, all the gadgets and digital media. This got me thinking on the influence modern technology is having on us and if I really need to check my Facebook app again.

Amazing technology

There is no dispute on the positive side of technological progress. Arguing against technological progress is pretty short sited. The way the internet in combination with smartphones has changed all our lives for the better is in no dispute. I still find it amazing that with no effort and almost no cost I get to talk and view my friends and family all around the world. At first it was through our computers and in the last couple of years smartphones have given us this same ability. Social services like Facebook, twitter, Skype, Viber and Whats App have made it simple to share important life events with the ones we care about or to publicly express our opinion. Backup services like Google drive, drop-box, box have made it possible to back up our most important memories. These services have finally made it possible never to loose these memories no matter what. The new wave of education sites like the Khan academy or Udemy have brought a revolution to education, learning and self empowerment. At no cost or very little cost you have the a ton of education material at your fingertips. We have never been so empowered by knowledge, nor has knowledge ever been so accessible or sharable. If you want to improve your knowledge on a topic or are just curious about something it is simple to find it and to dive into world class lectures.  For me, all of this is nothing short of amazing especially if you think of the fact that about 10 years ago most of this did not exist.

The price of being online – digital overload

The new modern, always online, always social, always up to date and always available lifestyle does however have a few drawbacks. It is very easy to hit that wall of a digital stimulation overload. Have you ever tried not answering the “call” of the phone whether it be a new tweet, message, phone call, or status update that just arrived? It is almost impossible. It is almost impossible because curiosity gets the better of us.  Not to mention that the modern social norms expect your immediate reaction and response. A few years ago, to get away from this, all you needed to do, was switch the computer off.  Actually let me rephrase that, and lets look at it from another angle. A few years ago if you wanted to participate in all of this digital wonder you needed to turn your computer on and have a decent modem to get to the internet. With technological improvements the single desktop computer we all used to have in our house has slowly been replaced with multiple laptops, tablets, e-readers, smartphones, smart TVs and of lately smart watches. All of which are fighting a fierce battle for our undivided attention. Several studies have been done on smartphone usage and it turns out we check our phones over 100 times a day. This is just for the phone. None of these studies take into account all the gadgets we have in our house.

My typical digital day

OK, so lets bring the story back to us, our average day and what it looks like. Naturally it will vary depending on your age and daily obligations, but if you are like me and go to work almost every day I will bet your day is more or less similar to mine. My phone alarm wakes me up in the morning. Before I have even properly opened my eyes  I take my phone with me to the toilet. There I will check the latest news, emails, messages, status updates, healthy breakfast, lunch suggestions, anything that might arouse my curiosity.  Then there is breakfast. I check the time on my phone and start making breakfast. Once finished it’s time to take the kids to school. Again check the weather on my phone and the time to see what to wear. Once the kids are at school it is off to work. For many, the daily work consists of working in front of computers of some sort whether it be a desktop, laptop or  tablet. So the average day includes of a list of mails that never seam to stop arriving. Then there are the messages, tweets, and status updates. Throughout the day there is a constant checking of the phone to see what is new “out there”. On the way home there are a few groceries that I need to get. If I you don’t use my phone to check my shopping list I certainly pull it out if the line in front of the counter is a bit longer. As I mentioned in a previous article when my family gets home, we eat and then go together for a walk. This is our together time. Once home, it’s back to relentless digital assault. In the evenings when it’s time to go to bed we are all around some sort of gadget each emerged in our own curiosities. No wonder so many people are having problems falling asleep at the end of the day. And just to make it clear, our kids have the social aspect of the internet much more integrated in their lives then we do.

Reducing digital stress

There are apps out there that will tell you how many times and for how long you have been using your phone. But there is no app out there that will do this for all your gadgets. So a few weeks ago I was thinking. What could I do to reduce the digital stress on my life.

  • Uninstall apps
    First I checked what I used the most and which of these apps also had a web page that offered more or less the same experience. I uninstalled these apps from my phone. For me the two big ones were Facebook and twitter. By using the web interface through the browser and not the app I significantly reduced the amount of times I reached out for my phone “just to check” things. The simple fact that I had to type in my username and password meant I reached out for those services much less. Am I missing out on much? Well I have found quite the opposite. When I do log on, I pay more attention to what I am reading then just mindlessly  going through the never ending timeline.
  • Avoid the internet in the evening before sleep
    In the evenings we try not to use the internet for reading the latest news. Rather, we are trying to divert our attention with books or talking.
  • Limit your kids time in front of gadgets
    For our kid we have limited the time he spends watching YouTube videos. Luckily he is still small and relies on us for them. But we are aware that at this age it is better for him to play with his non digital toys and get his imagination going.
  • Don’t leave your phone in the room you are sleeping
    Over night we turn notifications off and keep our phones outside our bedroom.
  • Do offline stuff
    On weekends we try to organize outdoor activities. That way we are getting away from most of our devices and spend more quality time together.

It would be easy to blame technology for the current trends. However, technology, especially digital technology supplies us with an abundance of possibilities. It is our duty to learn to live with these new possibilities and to pick the right amount of usage. The right amount here being the point where the technology is beneficial for us. Completely avoiding digital technologies is also not a possibility because modern life demands them. So finding the right balance is more important then ever. The digital era is still in its infancy so there are many more things to come. We will need to find a way to balance all of these things correctly so that they are beneficial to us.

I would love to hear any of your ideas on how to keep the digital technologies at bay. What has worked for you and what has not? Which digital services have really made your life easier?

Photo credit: technology by Cathy, App Store by Cristiano Betta