Could you totally unplug? Could you cast aside all of your digital devices and go off the grid? Does the thought make you feel more relaxed and serene, or does the idea of being disconnected fill you with anxiety?
“Real-time is the new prime-time,” says stress-management consultant Judy Martin. “So if we’re living in a real-time situation and we’re always on, we need to learn how to manage that. Because if we don’t, we burn out.”
What impact does this constant connection to our digital devices and our technology have on our health or happiness, or our mental, physical, and spiritual well-being?
Medical technologist Peter Adams says that constant-connection technology could provide us with valuable feedback on our well-being. “The ultimate goal is, as human beings, we want to be in charge of our health. I think that the more we trust that information, the more accurate it is, the more real-time and well-informed it is, the more we’ll trust and use it. We will take action before it becomes a problem.”
But how do we recharge and focus on ourselves when we’re constantly connected to digital devices pushing status update and contact requests and new information our way? Are we straining ourselves to take in as much of it as possible?
“There’s a saying that’s become popular, this theory of ‘the fear of missing out,’” says Shane Hankins of non-profit organization Reboot, the founders of the National Day of Unplugging. “So people are very concerned that there’s a conversation or dialogue going on (that they’re missing.)”
The allure of 24/7 constant contact is so great that sometimes it can be hard to find balance.
“We’ve come to what I think is the tipping point,” says Martin. “How are you going to manage your work-life merge, and how are you going to use the technology paradox to your advantage? Staying in touch, with your family and friends, staying in touch with work, [but] doing it in a way that works for you so you don’t burn out.”
From biology to philosophy, everyone is searching for the secret to what makes us happy. And one thing all those disciplines agree on is that we make each other happy. We find joy in community and companionship. In fact, so much so that using social media releases oxytocin in our brains – the “cuddle chemical” that makes us feel loved – and yet what happens when we spend more time staring into screens than looking into the eyes of other human beings?
Jennifer Sertl, a digital strategist and founder of Agility 3R, stresses the importance of traditional sources of connection. “My son, when he was four, he wanted to know, ‘Does your heart remote control people?’ Being human is kind of messy, in that there is no on and off button for feeling and emotion. I think it’s important to think about how we are teaching people what is human and what is technical, and I think it’s really important that we reinforce the usefulness of being human,” she says.
“It’s very easy, with technology, to sort of turn off, and let technology do the work of identifying your own happiness,” says John Havens, founder of The H(app)athon Project, which aims to use technology and science to develop a better understanding of happiness and well-being. “Whereas people have to proactively take charge and say, ‘Well this is what I’ve identified I want to use, what technologies I want to use and how is this going to make me happy?”
Are our brains evolving to keep up with the information overload, or is multitasking a myth? How can we be more mindful of our relationship with technology and each other so that we can each find the balance we need for our own well-being?
Ellen Langer writes about the concept of mindfulness, which she defines as the ability to simply notice new things. She says that picking up on new things is the essence of being engaged with your environment. She doesn’t necessarily agree that mobile technology is simply making us more mindless. “There’s a way to make an argument that these gadgets are making us more mindless, especially the easier they make things,” she says. “[But] there’s a way to understand that these gadgets are leading us to be more mindful, because we have to now think of new uses. We’ve changed the way we did things before. Just noticing things is the essence of engagement; engagement is what everybody’s seeking.”
“One aspect of technology that will make people a lot more happy is when we start to make cultural decisions that will catch up with our technology,” says Havens.
How is technology impacting your well-being? Do you see the digital world adding stress to your daily routine, or is it improving your quality of life?