The Influence of Technology in Our Lives

“The technology is rewiring our brains,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists. She and other researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess. New York Times: Hooked on Gadgets and Paying a Mental Price

It seems that almost everyday a new article or study comes out that clues us in to how pervasive the effects of technology and social media are on our lives. Whether the effects are personal or relational, technology and social media are transforming our lives. Some of the ways that it transforms our lives can be expected (feeling connected, up to date information, organization, etc.), but other times the effects are ones we don’t expect (anxiety, affairs, jealousy, anger, porn addiction, lack of intimacy, etc.).

John Dyer and I are speaking at Woodcreek Church in Plano on Sunday night, and this is like the fourth or fifth time in the last year or so that we have been able to collaborate in person on the intersection of technology, theology, and relationships. In this post I would just like to point you towards some resources that you may find helpful as you begin to think more critically on how technology and social media are influencing your life. And I would like to suggest a few tips that you may find helpful in navigating through this issue.

Technology Transforms Us
I have written about this topic numerous times on my blog at rhettsmith.com, and hopefully you will find something helpful there for you to read. I also recommend that you regularly read John Dyer’s blog at Don’t Eat the Fruit. John does some of the best writing at the intersections of technology/theology and technology/relational-practical psychology. Check out one of John’s talks below on how technology is not neutral.

One of the more succinct articles on the topic of the transforming effects of technology on our lives is from New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Charles M. Blow, who has a great round-up of some of the articles and studies of interest, Friends, Neighbors and Facebook.

Last, I want to recommend just a few books with varying themes on the influence of technology in our lives:

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende

Facebook and Your Marriage by K. Jason Krafsky and Kelli Krafsky

Set Some Technological Boundaries
Most people adopt a technology into their lives without really asking, “How is this technology going to shape me? How is this technology going to change my relationships, or impact my family dynamics? So one of the first boundaries that I think is helpful for individuals and families is to begin with some questions. For example:

Seeking Boundaries Through Questioning

  1. If we give this iPhone to our son and daughter, how may this technology impact how we communicate with them in the future? And are we okay with how it transforms the communication process?
  2. Is the device age appropriate? For example, does my 8 year old really need an cell phone?
  3. If I’m on the computer instead of interacting with my friends, wife, kids, etc., what kind of message is that sending to them? Am I okay with that message, or the their perception of the message that is being sent?
  4. How will my use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) impact how I communicate with others?

There are lots and lots of questions that you can ask yourself, or those that you are in relationship with (partner, spouse, family, co-worker, etc.). So begin there. Be creative and explore how the adoption of a technology into your life will transform it. Once you have asked some questions, setting some physical boundaries is helpful. For example:

Setting Physical Boundaries

  1. Set time limits on when a technology can be used. For example, many individuals and families that I know set time boundaries on their use of cell phones and computers, often leaving them off from the time they get home till after the kids are in bed. Some choose to leave them off all night. You don’t have to be legalistic about it, but play around with some ideas. I find it helpful to leave my cell phone off when I come home from work so that I’m focused on my family, especially my daughter who goes to be within an hour or two after I get home. I may decide to check it after she goes to sleep to make sure there is nothing urgent, but I often choose to leave it off till morning so that my wife feels that I’m fully present with her.
  2. Create a physical place where you can put aside your technological devices as a way of saying to one another, “I am present. What matters most is what is happening in front of me, and not what is happening out there.” Some families have been creative in creating spaces such as baskets where every member in the family puts their devices from night until morning. Check out John Dyer’s article, Why You Need a Technology Basket at Home.
  3. Set aside at least one day a week where you strive to be as technology free as possible (I know technology can mean a lot of things, but I’m primarily thinking of computing devices, cell phones, etc, etc.). Do you have a day where you leave your phone off, or don’t check your email? If not, think about setting aside a day to do this. It accomplishes at least two purposes: 1) Signals to yourself, to your family, and to others that you won’t let technology dictate your life (at least one day a week); lets those people know that for at least one day a week you are setting aside time to be fully present with them. 2) Helps one lower technological anxiety (something that many people don’t realize they have until they start to unplug).

These are just a few suggestions to help you begin the process of thinking through this topic. What suggestions do you have?

The influence of technology is a huge topic, and with each passing day more and more information and studies are coming out as we begin to see some of the effects that our new technologies are having on our lives. So now is the time to begin asking questions and setting boundaries–not only in your own life, but helping your friends and family think through this issue.

Mr. Nass at Stanford thinks the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room.

“The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other,” he said. “It shows how much you care.”

That empathy, Mr. Nass said, is essential to the human condition. “We are at an inflection point,” he said. “A significant fraction of people’s experiences are now fragmented.” New York Times: Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price

7 Comments

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  3. by watcher on November 5, 2010  9:59 pm Reply

    Technology, especially personal computer technology, deepens sleep through identification. Identification has an insidious and powerful control over us since we are hopelessly self-deluded, believing as we do that we are unified, in possession of a central "I"... in control of our lives etc. This is nothing more than a self-projected fantasy. In fact 99.5% are asleep, hopelessly divided. Our illusion of inner unity is the biggest deception of all. The influence of this technology in actual, rather than in the imaginary terms, works in the opposite direction from Jesus' call to awaken. Controlled and limited computer use with specific ends in mind is one thing... but saturation exposure via games, porn, chat and other obsessive avenues of cyber absorption and identification deepens sleep and increases the tendency toward self-deception... a characteristic of sleep. Western technology is a devil that has helped to destroy our capacity to awaken and discover of true will, in part because it promotes the seductive illusion of power and control. It overdevelops personality (the avatar syndrome) at the expense of essence, further neutralizing our spiritual force - meantime we con ourselves that new tech makes us more unified, more alive and connected. It's amazing the lies we remodel as truth.

  4. by watcher on November 5, 2010  9:59 pm Reply

    Technology, especially personal computer technology, deepens sleep through identification. Identification has an insidious and powerful control over us since we are hopelessly self-deluded, believing as we do that we are unified, in possession of a central "I"... in control of our lives etc. This is nothing more than a self-projected fantasy. In fact 99.5% are asleep, hopelessly divided. Our illusion of inner unity is the biggest deception of all. The influence of this technology in actual, rather than in the imaginary terms, works in the opposite direction from Jesus' call to awaken. Controlled and limited computer use with specific ends in mind is one thing... but saturation exposure via games, porn, chat and other obsessive avenues of cyber absorption and identification deepens sleep and increases the tendency toward self-deception... a characteristic of sleep. Western technology is a devil that has helped to destroy our capacity to awaken and discover of true will, in part because it promotes the seductive illusion of power and control. It overdevelops personality (the avatar syndrome) at the expense of essence, further neutralizing our spiritual force - meantime we con ourselves that new tech makes us more unified, more alive and connected. It's amazing the lies we remodel as truth.

  5. by Doug on November 8, 2010  9:32 am Reply

    How to make boundries on technology is not an easy black and white issue. Of course, we have time limits on computer games in our home. But one of our daughters runs an Etsy store where she learns a whole lot about business and art. We get a little "bugged" at all the time she spends on the computer, but the upsides are great and we don't want to discourage that with time limits. I try to draw the line myself when I see face to face relationships being harmed by computer time...especially with family member (ie. my wife). Thanks for the post. I think how we deal with technology and relationships is an important and overlooked issue.

  6. by Doug on November 8, 2010  9:32 am Reply

    How to make boundries on technology is not an easy black and white issue. Of course, we have time limits on computer games in our home. But one of our daughters runs an Etsy store where she learns a whole lot about business and art. We get a little "bugged" at all the time she spends on the computer, but the upsides are great and we don't want to discourage that with time limits. I try to draw the line myself when I see face to face relationships being harmed by computer time...especially with family member (ie. my wife). Thanks for the post. I think how we deal with technology and relationships is an important and overlooked issue.

  7. Pingback : RHETT SMITH » | Therapist Writer Speaker — Practicing Marriage and Family Therapy in Plano, Texas » One Thing You Can Start Doing Now to Instantly Improve Your Marriage……

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