With the seemingly relentless and inescapable noise and demands of modern-day devices, getting a mere five minutes of distraction-free time, and dare I say peace and quiet, can seem near impossible.
We are living in a time when there is no distinction between “on” and “off” or public and private time. Whether we realize it or not, we no longer have space to ourselves.
Even at home, the world floods through our cellphones, laptops and tablets, and our attention remains on call— essentially, we are always in “on” mode. Consequently, our nervous system has become locked into a state of perpetual fight or flight, and we are “twired” all the time—tired and wired— with the prospect of relief nowhere in sight.
Ironically, even computers need to be shut down every once in a while to reboot, but we humans somehow think we can do without recuperating.
Research suggests the average person checks his or her smartphone 190 times per day. Today, we are bingeing on technology as if we were browsing a cruise ship buffet. What I mean is our devices enable us to live in a constant state of distraction and entertainment— and ultimately offer a means to escape the present moment and ourselves.
Despite being aware of the negative consequences this lifestyle can have, many of us continue to binge and increasingly use these devices. The only difference between technology addiction and other addictions is we are all in on this one. In the pre-technology era, when people had an addiction, they would be excluded in their societies, but technology addiction is so common nowadays that we’re all part of the club, so the issue is less prevalent.
In truth, technology is not doing this to us. Rather, technology is simply making it easier and more acceptable for us to act out the most primitive aspects of who we already are. Technology is the perfect partner and tool for our reptilian self. The reptilian self is your inner 5-year-old— that part of you that wants what it wants and wants it now, regardless of whether it’s good for us. And yes, we all possess this primal mode.
Thus far, we have been building bad habits and allowing ourselves to fall into a kind of entertained sleep, letting technology decide how it will use us rather than the other way around.
But the good news is each of us can immediately start building a healthy relationship with technology by simply making small choices to work toward change. Depending on who you are, this could mean: not playing games on your phone when riding the bus, not putting your device on the table when you are with a friend, not checking your phone when you wake up in the middle of the night, not posting every thought you have on social media, or not taking selfies each time you have the impulse to do so. These are all little things that have the potential to radically change the way we live and feel.
Technology is not going to start making mindful choices on our behalf. It is us— the humans using technology— who must make mindful choices for ourselves and take ownership of our behavior. This is the only way we can regain control and bring our lives back in sync with what really matters to us. Change happens one individual, one moment and one choice at a time. Why not start now?
Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister and veteran meditator. She is that author of "The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World." For further information, visit www.nancycolier.com.