My name is Lisa…and I'm addicted to the Internet.
Opening an email account 15 years ago seemed benign enough at the time. I recall the endless amounts of spam that would get dumped into Hotmail, but I just wouldn’t bite the bullet to splurge on a monthly fee for AOL. Then in 2008, I joined Facebook, which I consider gateway social media because it was followed by an explosion. Whether it was Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn or Vine, I was sucked into an online universe in which I could dive deep into movie reviews, medical maladies and the honeymoon photo album of my middle school locker partner.
Whether it’s our appetite for information, an ever-growing inbox or engaging in a Netflix marathon, the dangers of distraction manifest themselves in three primary ways. The good news: An ounce of prevention may indeed be worth a pound of cure. There are simple, proactive steps you can take to redefine your relationship with the distractions that inhabit our increasingly digitized world.
Danger #1: Risking your safety. At minimum, perhaps you’ve stumbled trying to simultaneously navigate an uneven sidewalk and your phone screen. At maximum, you might have put lives at risk texting while driving. Comedian Louis CK has a compelling take on our compulsion to communicate, and the data on the danger is clear when it comes to texting and operating a vehicle.
Prevention: Changing behavior and building new habits can start with small actions and can even be aided by technology. Therefore, your best bet is limiting access to your phone, either by putting it in a hard-to-reach place or switching to airplane mode. Limitations create guidelines for our behaviors and help to build new habits. When you’re walking, replace the action of reading with that of smiling: Each time you have an urge to engage your screen, smile at someone, at a bird or the sky above.
Danger #2: Neglecting your people. It starts innocently enough; you might glance at your phone while the kids are on the swings or you forget to check your calendar until you are in bed for the night. All of a sudden, it is customary to reach for your phone before your feet hit the ground in the morning and Facebook has replaced face-to-face in your family. Intimacy on all levels is at risk now that we’ve started spooning our smart phones.
Prevention: Determine with yourself and with your loved ones when to use technology and when another form of communication better suits the situation. I recall the amazement a colleague shared with me when she realized that picking up the phone to quickly discuss a challenge was more efficient and less overwhelming than the long email exchange that was bound to ensue. Technology should only add to the ever-growing buffet of communication options, not be the only option.
Danger #3: Shirking your dreams. There are few characteristics that make humans unique in the animal kingdom. One of them is our ability to imagine and conjure up a life different than the one we have. Since our ancestors were scrawling to-do lists on cave walls, we have never had a lack of tasks before us. And while productivity provides a great amount of pleasure, it is easy to fall into the trap of checking boxes instead of chasing dreams.
Prevention: Identify what I call your “big boulders,” your goals or large projects that derive from your core values and feed your soul. Support this list with your “small pebbles,” those activities in which you must engage to support your big boulders. Check in with yourself throughout the day to ensure your efforts are aligned with your big boulders; course correct when they’re not.
Technology is not a passing fad and, in most cases, it has greatly improved our lives. In William Powers’ book, “Hamlet’s Blackberry,” he details how technology has always taken a bit of getting used to. (Can you believe books were once seen as a threat to society?) So I remain confident that we can consciously use technology in service of our goals, and not as an obstacle to them.