Derrick, 17, rolls out of bed and wanders into the kitchen. His dad is making coffee and asks if Derrick wants some breakfast, maybe toast and an omelet? Derrick grunts, grabs his phone, and curls up in the corner of the couch, ignoring food and father.
Twenty minutes later, dad walks by and mentions that the first bell at school is in 10 minutes. Derrick unfolds from the couch, throws on sweats, and rushes out the door, calling a hasty goodbye over his shoulder.
Technology can become a distraction from living life to the fullest, an obstacle that often needs to be reevaluated if we are to focus on things that matter. It has a habit of getting inside us and changing our minds, hearts, and wills.
It’s pervasive enough and influential enough that we can’t afford to assume the distraction is something we can handle. We’ve got to decide who’s going to be the master in our lives—us or tech.
When Monica scrolls through her feed, she feels triumphant—her parents think she is looking for new décor ideas for her bedroom. They are updating her room, and at age 13 she loves finding the latest trends online.
But what they don’t know is that from the image-sharing website she can also view videos from the social media app they have not yet approved. Before she knows it, an hour has passed and she hasn’t even begun to look at any room décor. Besides that, she’s starting to feel dissatisfied with the choices she’s made so far in her room—maybe she doesn’t like that new rug after all.
We are losing control of our lives and our passions due to the seductive nature of technology. Technology is stealing our time. Even worse, it is making us feel bad about ourselves. Unfocused and isolated, we only turn to technology more and more.
Devon’s lunch hour is too short to go home, but the comradery in the employee lounge is always a refreshing break. When everyone worked from home during the pandemic, the lounge stayed empty for almost a year. Now that most employees are back in person, the room hums again with conversation.
But in the isolation of the pandemic, Devon grew accustomed to playing a game on his phone during lunch. It’s a great one—he only needs five minutes to play a round, and he’s pretty good at it. It gives him a nice break from the drudgery of his work, and he still has time to eat and check his personal email. He’s not staying in the lounge for lunch anymore, though. He’d rather grab his food and head back to his cubicle where he can play in peace while he eats.
How do we recognize these large—yet subtle—distractions in our lives? How do we regularly assess the path of our lives to ensure that we’re seeking and investing in the most significant things?
Perhaps it’s not as hard as we imagine. Maybe it requires only a little intentionality and effort. And often, realizing what’s going on is the first step.
Kinsley looks down at her nursing baby to find him staring at her, waiting for her eyes to lock on his. But she hadn’t noticed because of the phone in her hand, the feed on her screen. “When my baby looked at my face, I wanted him to see my eyes looking back at him,” she recalls. It was the beginning of the end of social media for this mother of four.
* * *
I give you these examples because our tech use is so pervasive we hardly even notice its impact anymore. Who do you envision when you read these stories? Do you see your child, your friend, yourself?
I’d like to flip the narrative. Let’s check in before we check out. Let’s create before we consume. Let’s use tech as a tool, rather than a toy.
The key is not to throw out all tech, but it would be wise for all of us to reboot, take a step back, and realign tech into its rightful place in our lives. The leaders of technology are not going to stop warring for our focus, our time, and our money.
We must learn to fight back in a responsible way if we’re going to live lives that matter. Let’s take responsibility for our part in submitting to the tyranny of tech.
I challenge you to a tech detox. Summer is coming, and with it often comes a change of pace. Take the opportunity to turn off your technological inputs to the barest essentials.
I encourage you, this summer, to take 29 days and detangle from technology as much as you conceivably can. It takes some adjustment, but this practice reboots your awareness of your tech use, and gives you the opportunity to realign its use around your priorities, not the priorities of the tech creators.
It begins with a decision.
Are you living life to the fullest? Can you take a break from your 24-7 tech use for one month this summer to take back control of your life? Of course you can! Once you’ve made the decision to take a tech detox, tell someone. We all need accountability.
Then think through what you need from your tech for living and working. Be ruthless in eliminating what you don’t need.
Do you use a grocery store app for coupons? See if paper coupons are an option—or try shopping instead at a less expensive store for the month to save money.
Do you need to take pictures of your child’s birthday party? Dig out that old digital camera, charge the batteries, and take the memory card into the drugstore to get the pictures printed afterward.
Do you need to check your email on your phone from your bed at 10 p.m.? Save it for the workday when you are at your computer.
Make a specific plan for your 29-day detox—what will you delete from your phone and what will you use? Will you turn on the family TV, and for what reasons? What curfew will you set on your computer?
Enable screen time limits on your device and let your accountability friend set the passcode; use a free trial of website blocking software so you can focus at work.
Your loved ones will notice the difference in your attention and attentiveness. Within your 29 days, if possible, set aside a week for a family or friend-group detox and plan out-of-the-ordinary activities to enjoy together.
We can rebel against the shadowy motivations of tech companies who profit from our attention and information. If we do, we’ll be freed to focus on things that matter.
And summer is the perfect season to give it a try.
Sandra Loud says
It’s a fantastic and necessary ability to relearn how to communicate with other human beings and the world to be a vital part of it. To play devils advocate for a minute though are the people who are isolated due to health concerns for example. Having options offered through technology often is the only way to stay connected to the world and friends. It can be a draining feeling to try and keep up real life friendships, and it often makes you feel like a burden when you have to cancel plans over and over again. It is not that we shouldn’t keep trying, and that others shouldn’t reach out often as well, because technology is no substitute for human interaction, but often technology is the only viable source on a regular basis.
Barbara Renz says
There is a difference between using technology to connect with friends and family and using technology that isolates from people. The examples in this article all highlight turning away from people.
I have definitely noticed a “pulling away” if you will, from Instagram. I find the app to be draining and it takes up much of my time, endlessly scrolling especially on the “search” page.
So, I unfollowed several accounts and do not utilize the app that often.
I also turned off notifications for my email. They were driving me crazy!
I like the idea of a complete detox from it all. I will definitely look into this :)
I have a plain flip phone so no apps, no social media (which I loathe in all its forms), no texting, no internet/data. It makes and receives phone calls so I am good there. I also do not have a tablet nor a desktop, a television, a stereo and/or radio.
But I do have a computer at work plus a personal laptop. My problem is that I am online on my. laptop during much of my personal time I have websites I visit, email I read and respond to, and other “fun” stuff. But like your examples I find myself ignoring other things important to. me–like my three beloved cats, like a walk, like so much that has fallen by the wayside. So I am going to commit to the Digital Detox by choosing a particular start date in June and giving myself one hour per day online to check email and play around. I may use it all at once in the evening or do some a couple of times a day. And the one other restriction I am imposing on myself is to stop and close it down, even if I have not used the entire hour, by 8:00pm. I don’t know what I will do exactly with the time until bed but I intend to find out.
I suspect this is going to be hard like the time I quit potato chips. It was an addiction like any other and for several weeks all I could think about was those chips. But slowly they decreased their death grip on me. Yes, I am pretty sure not reaching for the laptop will be as hard as not going to the grocery. But here goes the experiment . . .
Our rule of thumb is check your email and phone once a day. First sending myself a message to be accountable to do my list to do , and reward myself a half time on my phone. My brother recently gave me a nice earplugs set and that got me into listening and exerting. It’s great thing to use at the gym / or outdoor with my friends. Really there are very good use of tech if only it does require self discipline now everywhere I walk to or run I myself use and am plugs -in my ears. Can’t use this the same way to talk as I was on the phone though .