Are we empowered or enslaved by technology? by Sion Stansfield
In this blog I could have focused on the wider conversation around digital wellbeing; the stats that tell of our addiction to our devices, the fact we are more connected but seemingly more lonely, than ever before. With so much already out there I wanted to instead tell a personal story… from someone who knows how empowering digital tech can be, but who is still trying to find a balance with it to ensure it is a positive force rather than a negative one. So this is my journey with digital tech.
Wellbeing is such an interesting journey — the interconnected nature of every element becomes more and more apparent as you start to delve deeper into your own state of health, happiness and sense of worth.
The Digital Age… wow things are changing fast. From the advent of the internet to having every piece of knowledge you could possibly want or need just a finger-tip away. We are always available, whether near or far. Always contactable, whereever we may be (apart from that momentary quiet when we fly, and yet they’re now trying to bring wifi into that sacred space too!). The world is moving fast. And we are expected to keep up. It can sometimes feel as if we’re being asked to move at a million miles an hour, and yet we often feel like we are actually moving slower and slower as so many different things (people, apps, news) are vying for our attention.
So, I’m going to give my personal perspective here. And whilst by the time you read this it will be immortalised forever on the world wide web (should anyone find it!), I’m actually putting pen to paper and not tapping it out on a device, with the intention of removing as much distraction, and focusing the whole of me on this piece of work. Something I’m guilty of rarely doing!
Ten years ago I walked out of Westfield White City with a purchase that would change my life more than ever… a shiny new iPhone. I certainly had no idea how prominent this small device would become in my life. How quickly I would start to feel lost without it. How much time I would spend simply staring at it, whiling away the hours. Apparently I survived before I had this device, but based on how prominent a part it has played in my life I can scarcely believe that!
Now there is a part of me that wishes I had grown up in an age where teachers teach from interactive boards, and instantly share notes to iPads that their pupils are working from. I was the kid in school that was held back with a pencil whilst everyone else moved up to using a pen because I was a leftie that seemingly smudged the pen ink. And to top it off my short sightedness and refusal to wear glasses meant I was often found peering over the shoulder of a peer trying to copy their scribbled notes from the notes they were copying from the teacher’s blackboard. Needless to say, I didn’t flourish in my early days at school and without a doubt technology could have helped me.
I do count myself lucky though. As a millenial we are the last generation to have grown up without smartphones, social media or a complete reliance on the internet.
I do however almost split my life in two – pre Westfield White City without the smartphone and post.
Now put your hand up if you experience any, or all of these things throughout your day:
- Staring at your phone but not remembering picking it up.
- Walking along and then becoming acutely aware your hand is resting on your phone in your pocket.
- Phone by the bed being the last/first thing you hold/look at.
- Distractedly looking through social media, e-mails, news feeds whilst also on a phone call.
- Out with mates whilst having online conversations at the same time.
- Feeling rushed to get out of the door but on reflection realising you’ve spent twenty minutes on your device before leaving.
- Sitting down to carry out a “really important task”, seeing a notification pop up, responding to it and then completely forgetting what that “important, must do” thing was.
- Starting to feel panicked when you see your phone battery dipping below 50%.
- Taking a train journey that you’ve taken hundreds of times before and on looking out the window realising there are so many sights on the journey that you are seeing for the first time.
- That excitement when your phone pings to let you know someone is messaging you.
- The promise you make to yourself each night that tomorrow you will be better, you will read more, be more productive and less distracted.
Now the reason I’ve hand raised to write this piece on digital wellbeing is not because I’ve looked at the statements above and been able to honestly say ‘no’ to all of them. Far from it. This is my personal list of things I know I need to work on in order to have a better relationship with technology and my ever present device. My current relationship has left me feeling less productive, more frazzled and slightly hollow.
All that said, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up just yet. We have been presented with these incredibly powerful devices that puts the world at our fingertips but haven’t been provided with any best practice instructions on how to ensure they don’t become all encompassing!
So. what steps have I already taken and what steps do I pledge to make to improve my relationship with my device?
- Fight the fear of being forgotten – We feel that we must always be responsive and front of mind at all times… not the case. Hide the phone away!
- Screen time limiters – I’ve already put a one hour per day limit on my device. Word of caution, don’t cheat by putting whatsapp on the laptop or turning off screen time limits for the day.
- Phone down by 9pm, bed by 10pm – Absolutely no phone time for an hour before bed. Netflix documentary is allowed. Reading, podcasts and socialising are preferred.
- Remove distractions – Remove notifications from all apps, including vibrate, and in turn increase focus, productivity and reduce the feeling of being frazzled
- Be present when socialising – Phone out of sight, out of mind, or where possible left behind. This weekend when I was with my parents I left my phone in my mum’s handbag. Conversations start to feel rich again.
- Breakfast focus – No phones at the table. This allows me to focus on my day, removing procrastination, setting me up for the most productive day.
- Embrace boredom – We used to regularly be bored — on train journeys, on the toilet, in waiting rooms — now we fill the time in a digital haze. This is thinking and creative/problem solving time, where our mind wanders and we solve the world’s problems. I’m going to embrace boredom again!
Taking all this time back and instead using it towards supporting the happiest, healthiest version of me, is my pledge.
Having adopted this a week ago, I’ve already started to feel the benefits. The feeling of coming out of a cloud, of no longer being drawn at every second of the day to the phone. Getting this time back has meant I’m able to put it towards more meaningful things. Whether that is essential admin or thinking about my next holiday. The phone provides a never-ending realm of short-term pleasures, but nothing sustainable, nothing real, nothing meaningful.
As philosopher Bertrand Russell said: “To be able to concentrate for a considerable amount of time is essential to difficult achievement”.
So, coming back to my opening statement about the interconnected nature of wellbeing, it is so clear that my mood, my health, my relationships with friends and family, are so clearly affected by my relationship with my device, both positively and negatively. I challenge you to think about the small changes you might want to adopt to ensure your mental, physical and emotional health is the best it can be. Let’s not throw the phone away just yet, but let’s have some rules of engagement firmly in place.
If you are interested in finding out more about digital wellbeing then check out:
- https://digitalmindfulness.net/ – Great podcast and articles
- https://www.thelightphone.com/ – Light Phone removes distraction from all those many apps, turning the phone from an entertainment device into a functional tool