Today I left my iPhone at home. It’s 9p.m. and I am still alive to write about it.
I got the idea last night while sitting outside at a mall, talking to my wife and enjoying the night air while our 5-year-old slurped ice cream. I glanced over at some pre-teens huddled around each other. No one was speaking; everyone had their heads down peering at mobile devices.
The scene reminded me of the two dads at my daughter’s fifth birthday party who were standing about two feet apart on their iPhones. They weren’t chatting and they were missing the joy of watching their children laugh and play.
Then I had to face hard facts about myself. For the past 10 years I had embraced my old BlackBerry (RIP) and my iPhone like family members. They slept next to me on my night table and woke me in the morning. They caught me up with the world as I got ready for work and went to lunch with me when I took a break. They were invaluable companions, keeping me connected to my emails and texts seven days a week, 365 days a year — but at what cost? Even when I was sitting face to face with my wife, family, friends, or co-workers, I felt compelled to check my partner’s little screen periodically. These devices were controlling my life. And I’m not alone in this. Techno-dependence is widespread.
I know — world-changing technologies have always met resistance, often being accused of destroying humanity. I don’t really expect anyone to throw away their iPhone after reading this article. But, as a technology user, you need to ask yourself four questions to ensure you are truly connected to the world around you, most productive, sincerely happy, and focused on your wellbeing.
1. Are You Disconnected?
Mobile devices provide a remarkable connection to the world, they bring us information that has never before been possible. They are also disconnecting us from live human interaction and the environment around us.
FaceTime, Skype, and the amusing remote controlled, mobile teleconferencing system that allows your head to walk around your office on an iPad on wheels while you work from home are notable innovations, but are void of the human energy in live interactions. If you have ever seen a live theatre production and then watched it on a screen later, you can see that something’s missing.
2. Are You Less Productive?
Did you know that checking your email first thing in the morning makes you less productive during the rest of your day? The messages waiting for you are usually a “to do” list from others. But despite the adverse impact on their day, studies show that most people still check their email shortly after they wake up.
If you are like me, you also use your mobile device as an alarm clock, a habit which instantly sets me up for a less productive day. The alarm goes off, the email pops up and suddenly I’m chasing other peoples’ demands. It got so bad that I recently switched to a standard alarm clock and only check my email during a blocked time at the end of my day. Guess what? I’m writing 50 percent more each day and have more personal time than ever before.
The key is dedicated block time and letting colleagues, friends, and family know your schedule. By doing this, you are training others around your life as opposed to the other way around.
If your business and job demands a quicker email response time, you can add a late morning email session too. But I highly recommend that you don’t add more than two sessions a day totaling more than two hours — unless your job is answering emails. But be careful: many people think their job is answering emails when it’s actually not.
3. Are Your Relationships Suffering?
What do you do in bed with your significant other? OK. It’s too personal a question, unless you are like the half of U.S. office workers polled who reported emailing. With that kind of bedtime routine, it’s not surprising that 6 percent of those asked said their relationships had suffered from excessive use of the Internet.
4. Are You Damaging Your Body?
Does your neck hurt from looking down at your mobile device hours everyday? Do your hands tingle and cramp from using it or your computer? Are your eyes tired? Do emails, texts, and calls disrupt your workouts, your meals, personal time, and sleep? You only have to look around you to see the impact mobile devices and computers are having on our health — people wrenching their necks, shaking their hands out, rubbing their eyes.
In fact, 62 percent of those surveyed reported that they routinely end their day with work-related neck pain, 44 percent reported stressed out eyes, 38 percent complained of hurting hands, and 34 percent reported difficulty in sleeping.
In most cases, these issues can be reduced or alleviated by taking short hourly breaks to stretch or be active and ensuring your body is properly positioned for the work you are doing.
Technology is an amazing thing, but remember, just like everything in life — moderation, self-control, and good practices are key.
Published on Huffington Post, 29th October 2013 and Forbes, 3rd February 2014 .