Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Digital Overload and What to Do About It

This post may contain affiliate links.
image source

There I was. I was sitting in a house we had rented right on the shore in Oahu, Hawaii. With the windows open, we could feel the ocean breeze and hear the waves meeting the shore. My husband and I had made the trip without our three children and with three other couples that we are great friends with.

As we relaxed after a long day of traveling, what did we do? We were four sets of parents without our children--free to be loud and do whatever we may have wanted. And what did we do? We all whipped out our iPhones and checked email, posted to Facebook, browsed Pinterest, and played Words with Friends (with each other!). 

Okay, I know we were tired, but I found the whole scene very sad and marveled that we had even come to this point--we did not grow up in a technology era. This technology at our fingertips is very new and not something any of us even dreamed about when we were graduating high school. We know how to have a good time without the aid of technology. And yet, that was our knee-jerk reaction when we had a moment to just sit. 

We got better. Due to some mild complaining about the utter silliness of what we were doing (um, maybe I was a complainer...I think that is pretty obvious by this point in the post), we either were interactive at night or fell asleep on the couches because we had worn ourselves ragged. We interacted with each other, the ocean, and coconuts (and for the males, axes and machetes as they attempted to open said coconuts--and amazingly, no one thought "Let's just Google how to open a coconut with a saw"--they just did it).

So if you were to ask me, "Do you think people are addicted to modern technology?" my answer would be "YES!" I definitely do. I think people are addicted, with or without knowing it, unless they put limits on themselves in some way. These people would have a respect for and awareness of the potential for addiction

And I think we can come and go with addiction, too. I know there have been times I am definitely addicted, and times I can assuredly say I am not. Like I pointed out in my previous post on this topic, our world is new to overwhelming technology that can literally never leave your side if you so desire. We are new to this idea of monitoring technology, signs of addiction to technology, and what to do about it.

We are almost always plugged in. Before cell phones became extremely common place about 10 years ago, if you wanted to talk to someone, you called their house and if they were not home, you left a message and waited for them to respond! Imagine the patience that required! Now we call the home, then call the cell, then text and maybe email (or send an Facebook message) until we get a response. It is rare you are ever without your phone. I kind of like it when we go camping in areas with no cell phone service. Time is more relaxing.

In the article "Keeping Safe & Balanced in a Google-YouTube-Twitter-Facebook-iEverything World" by Jan Pinborough, there is a list of 10 signs of digital overload and also 10 ways to cut back. I appreciated these signs because it is a simple list to read through and evaluate if you might be a little overly-attached to your media. So here we go.

10 Signs of Digital Overload
I don't know how many of these need to be present before you say, "I need to change something." As you read it, just get a feel for where you are and where your children might be and then react as you see fit.
  1. Slipping away from activities with people to check email or social networking sites. I think if you feel compelled to leave live people that you enjoy in order to keep up on what is going on in the Internet, you probably are a little addicted.
  2. Checking the same sites repeatedly within a short period of time. I find myself doing this sometimes. When I realize it, I kind of shake myself out of it and tell myself to get off of the computer. When I do that, I am bored--and it isn't like my life has little to do. I have tons of things to do. So I always take this as a sign that I need to remove myself from the computer.
  3. Spending little time outside. Brayden loves to be outside, so I always know he is addicted to technology when he would rather come in and do some sort of electronic device rather than play outside.
  4. Finding it hard to complete a task such as writing a report without frequently breaking away to check email or unrelated websites. I find this happening to me sometimes, too. I will be writing a blog post, go look at something else, and then get side-tracked and distracted by checking other sites. Then I have to remind myself what I was doing in the first place.
  5. Spending little time in face-to-face interactions with friends. I think this relates to number one a lot. Again, if you are finding you prefer interacting on the internet over with your friends in-person, you are probably addicted.
  6. Going online or using a digital device when you feel stressed or want to avoid an unpleasant task. Umm....can we say laundry? Or for me right now, "morning" sickness and wanting to avoid that. This is one reason I have a rule for myself that I can't do anything with technology until I have completed the things I have as "must dos" on my list that day. 
  7. Family members spending most of their time at home in separate rooms interacting with screens. I think you could even say a couple sitting on the couch together "talking" to each other over Facebook. At least that is something I am not guilty of because my husband refuses to have a Facebook account.
  8. Frequently using digital devices to entertain a child instead of talking, singing, playing, or reading with him or her. I do not do this because it drives me crazy. Just ask my husband. He gets a look most anytime he pulls out his phone and turns on Elmo for McKenna. 
  9. Checking the computer first thing in the morning, or getting up during the night to use digital devices. I think both of these are fairly common--hopefully for the sake of sleep the former is more common than the latter.
  10. Spending long stretches of time surfing for content, often viewing content that is inappropriate or borderline. I don't do this. I have never been much of a "surfer."
10 Ways to Cut Back
Like I said, I often find myself in a state of needing to cut back, and I think that is probably true for all of us unless we have amazing limits for ourselves and follow them closely. Here are some great limits we can set for ourselves. I think there are a lot of great things to do with technology, so I don't think the answer is to cut it completely--at least not long-term. These are some great ideas for helping ourselves avoid addiction.
  1. Check and answer email only once or twice a day, at scheduled times.
  2. Use social networking sites only at scheduled times and for a set number of minutes.
  3. Practice a "digital Sabbath"--setting aside one or two days a week to "unplug." 
  4. Leave your cell phone in another room during time with family or friends.
  5. Call instead of texting.
  6. Invite children to help search the house for supplies that can be used in non-digital activities: children's books, board games, art supplies, and equipment for outside play. 
  7. Organize talent shows, art shows, or service projects with family and friends (my addition--basically you are trying to do things that are productive and keep you off the computer.
  8. Use internet-blocking software to keep on task while working.
  9. Limit recreational surfing; watch TV and videos selectively and intentionally.
  10. Keep a gospel-centered perspective, using technology to uplift yourself and people around you.
I think these are great lists to refer to on a somewhat consistent basis to keep ourselves aware of how we are doing at the time. Technology can be a great tool, but it can also consume our lives if we aren't cognitively aware of what we are doing.


The Chatty Housewife said...

This really spoke to me! I'm the first commenter too... obviously I check my google reader way too much throughout the day and it's probably the same for Facebook and Pinterest too. Uugh. I have some personal work to do! Thanks so much for the inspiration.

Michael and Natalie said...

I find this to be a really interesting post. Just like my previous comment about TV, I love my phone, too ;) My husband is an attorney at one of the largest firms in the country and is actually bound to have his phone with him at all times. It is unacceptable for him to be without it without prior notice to everyone he works with. And even then (paternity leave, vacation, etc) he must always have his phone with him to say nothing of his laptop. It is the reality and there is no way to change this. He must be accessible at all times, and he must often respond to an email when he is with me at dinner or playing with our children in the backyard. And truthfully, this doesn't bother me. My own father had a mobile phone back in 1988 or 1989, and has always loved technology, and from a shared religious perspective I think that, when used properly, technology is an extremely wonderful and effective tool in sharing positive ideals with others.

When you talked about your time in Hawaii with your friends, I can definitely understand preferring to interact personally with your companions rather than being on your individual devices, but if you had been with each other all day and where tired, may I ask why you where bothered by your communal digital time? I think you know I do not mean this question as a flare in any way, I simply want to understand more of why it bothered you, and maybe why it should bother me more.

Perhaps it is because I don't view myself as having an addictive personality. I think we (moms?) have this penchant for looking at ourselves and feeling guilty. Guilt, guilt, guilt! And Pinterest isn't helping!!! :) If you like your phone and you derive utility from it, enjoy it! If you're using common sense and not depriving your children, what is the big deal if you choose to spend a great amount of your free time on it? I spend lots and lots of time on my various digital devices, but I also don't know another mother in my peer group who has a more active social life than I do, sans phones. As always, thought-provoking and interesting post. Thank you!!!

Plowmanators said...

Natalie, This article I reference comes from the Ensign, and with our shared religious background, I would guess you have noticed various apostles and President Monson speaking about the need to temper our use of digital media. I believe they speak the truth, so I try to listen and adjust my life accordingly.

In Hawaii, we hadn't all been together all day. One couple had come from another state and we haven't seen them for a long time. For the rest of us, we were on the same plane, but not interacting with each other. I just thought it was sad that instead of talking with each other, the instinct was to turn to the digital media. It wouldn't have been that way ten years ago.

The point of this post (and the article) is to be self-reflective. You notice there is not qualifying statement of "at X point you have gone too far." As I pointed out on the ten signs of digital overload, "I don't know how many of these need to be present before you say, "I need to change something." As you read it, just get a feel for where you are and where your children might be and then react as you see fit."

If you don't think there is any need to change anything in your life with media, then there is nothing for you to worry about. For someone else, they might think they need to make some changes and that is totally fine. I know I personally at times feel just great about our and my own level of media use. Other times, I know we and I need to make some changes. So I not only think it is personal, but I also think it is a dynamic thing that it is wise to evaluate every so often.


Related Posts with Thumbnails