A couple of years ago I did a 3-day silent retreat contemplating the topic of this article (and here’s the list I came up with at the time). How can we engage with technology in ways that nurture without being drawn into the real danger of addiction? Unlike earlier technologies such as books, for example, most of us need access to computers and the Internet in order to earn a living. Here are some pointers that may be helpful.
Our relationships with technology are similar: Each of us relates to technology in a unique, highly personal way. We lose or cede control, stability, and fulfillment in a million different ways. As Leo Tolstoy wrote in the novel Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
The refrain we commonly hear is that we need to unplug and disconnect. Conceptually, this recommendation may feel good as a way to take back total control and to put technology back in its place as a subservient, optional tool. But using technology is no longer a matter of choice.
If you were to apply for a white-collar job of any kind and inform the hiring manager that you refuse to use e-mail, you’d get a swift rejection. Our friends share pictures digitally; no longer are printed photographs of the soccer team or birthday party mailed to us. Restaurants that use the OpenTable online reservation system often will not take phone calls for reservations. Even the most basic services, such as health care and checking in for a flight, are in line for mandatory digitalization. Yes, we can opt out of those services and businesses, but if we do, we lose out.
With these negative influences in mind, we can propose a simple set of questions to ask ourselves in deciding how to create a more mindful and conscious engagement with our technology. Does our interaction or use of the technology make us happy or unhappy? There are many derivatives of this question: Does it make us tense or relaxed? Does it make us anxious or calm? The answer may be “both,” and that is OK, but we should consider whether, on balance, an interaction leaves us with good or bad feelings.