Last week I was scheduled to run a wellness workshop on behalf of another company. I do this from time to time. In fact it’s how I cut my teeth as a speaker and deliverer of useful wellness stuffs to stressed out employees. It was in a town about 20 miles from where I live, so I hopped in the car with plenty of time to get there and set up, put the postcode into Google Maps on my iPhone and off I went.
It was all going so well…until, a few miles from the junction I knew I was coming off at, my phone died. Just to clarify, I had 44% battery when I left 20-minutes earlier. Forty-four-freaking-per-cent! It seemed that Google Maps, thirsty as always, had sunk its smart-teeth into my battery life and bled it dead.
Now tell me dear, what would you do if you were driving to a random company in the centre of a random town and were possessed only of a dead iPhone, a tank of petrol and the knowledge of which junction to get off the motorway? How in god’s name would you get there?
Well, I tried various tactics and, for your entertainment, I’ll list them here.
Tactic 1: Drive into the outskirts of said town, park up and try to hijack someone’s wifi network on your laptop, so you can Google your way there once more.
Tactic 2: Run into a random business park, grab a sweet man walking through reception of the first building you see and demand he print you off a map.
Result: SEMI-FAIL (the map was tiny, black and white, and thoroughly useless)
Tactic 3: Get the postcode off the printed map and put it into your outdated Garmin
Result: SEMI-WIN (I made it to a random retail park within about 500m of the company HQ, yet still had no idea where it was).
Tactic 4: Leg it in what you believe may be the vague direction of this company, asking five people along the way where the bloody hell it is
Result: EVENTUAL WIN
I made it. I delivered a great workshop. I stayed long after it ended to answer questions. And the minute I got home, I called up my mobile provider to order me a new iPhone. Well guess what? I’ve now spent two days – TWO DAYS! – trying to back up my old stupid one to iCloud so I can actually use the damn thing! Two days of Googling ‘What to do when iPhone takes seven hours to back up?’ and ‘What to do when deceitful iPhone promised it would be backed up by morning and it LIED?!’ Two days of signing into and out of my iCloud account. Two days of deleting tarot card apps and the videos my hubby and I make for each other when one of us is away, to create space for this mythical back up.
As I sit here writing this on Wednesday (new phone arrived on Monday), I am still, apparently, 11 hours from backup nirvana and Google Map sanity. I don’t know how this can be.
But I do know one thing:
TECHNOLOGY NEEDS TO BE PUT BACK IN IT’S BOX
I’ve come to believe that technology is a wonderful thing…until it isn’t.
Technology helps us connect with loved ones or colleagues on the other side of the world, to see their smiling faces almost as well as if we were in the room with them.
Technology helps us get stuff done quick. My dad once told me that in his first job back in the early eighties, he spent all morning opening and reading letters, and all afternoon dictating answers to them. Now you can answer your mail lying in bed, standing at the bus stop, sitting on the loo.
Technology helps us find things, know things, track things, organise things, share things, watch things, listen to things and record things. It can help us work, eat and sleep, as well as exercise, cook, chat, bank, navigate and even meditate.
We can take a #selfie, airbrush it, superimpose a pair of cat ears and a line of nonsense over the top then share it with the world. And, if we’re not careful, we can spend our precious time scrolling the nonsense thoughts of airbrushed people with superimposed cat ears.
And thus, the madness begins.
There is a dark side to technology, and you can see it in people walking down the street with their noses in their smartphone, missing…life.
You can see it in toddlers who bumble up to televisions and try to swipe left. In lovers sitting across the dinner table engrossed in the scroll.
You can feel it when you shut your laptop in the evening, e-fatigued. And when you lie in bed, tired but wired, with your melatonin levels all over the place.
You know it’s there when you can’t find your way without a Google Map. When you’ve forgotten what it is to explore. Or to be lost.
I see my own madness in the 15 browser tabs I have open, in the 14,980 unopened emails in my inbox, in my iPhone, banished to lie on top of the wifi router for optimum upload speed.
I see it in the fact that the fastest way to materialise something on the tip of my tongue is to hit up Facebook for a few seconds. Technology has trained me to thrive on distraction. You too I bet.
I see it in the itching to scroll while I wait. The discomfort of simply standing, breathing, listening, watching, being, while the minutes tick by.
And I see it in the yoga studio, in my students’ rounded shoulders, caved in chests and tight throats. We have iBodies now.
We are iPeople now.
And I suspect all this connection is making us feel more disconnected than ever. From our intelligence, from our bodies, from what we really love and who we really are.
So, how to put technology back in its box.
These are 16 suggestions, in both a personal and professional context. If you have more, please add them in the comments:
- The phone veto: a free pass to demanding ‘down with your iPhone!’ any time you want
- The app cleanse: delete your biggest time sucks. I’m still not missing Facebook.
- The curfew: establish no-tech time at the beginning and end of the day
- The push back: disable push notifications and pop-ups so you’re in control
- The DND: find the ‘Do Not Disturb’ toggle on your phone and say goodbye to bombardment
- The unsubscribe: cancel newsletter subscriptions as they come in or use unroll.me
- The tab untangler: use Pocket to save unread articles for later and shut down those tabs
- The digi-detox: a few hours a week, a day a month or an entire holiday – power down
- The email lasso: check email twice a day, disable pop-ups and delete as you go
- The follow up folder: flag emails for follow up, clear it every few days and get back to work
- The lunch break: remember those? Take one, outside, away from your laptop
- The breather: single-task, then take a break to refresh, again – away from your laptop
- The EOP boundary: establish a firm no-laptop-beyond-this-point hour of your day
- The notebook: try one of these revolutionary things in meetings and actually listen
- The brainstorm: grab some post-its and a sharpie, and make shit happen
- The walkie talkie: need to chat? Walk across the office, or hold walking meetings
By now you know I’m not an all-at-once kind of broad. Some of this stuff is easy; some’ll make you feel pretty squirmy. That’s cool. Do one thing, see how you go with it, then do another. But remember: boundaries are yours to create. If technology is making you miserable, get militant on that shit.
TV writer and producer Shonda Rhimes (she of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy) has an email signature that reads: ‘I do not answer calls or emails after 7pm or on weekends, and if you work for me, may I suggest you put your phone down.‘ Bam. What a lady boss. But you shouldn’t have to be running the place to feel empowered to create tech boundaries. I actually think this stuff is more important to enforce as you rise up company – culture grows from the ground. So decide what you’re going to do about it, communicate it clearly to those who are going to be affected, and go do.
Perhaps one of my favourite quotes will help here:
“Ask for forgiveness, not permission”
– Grace Hopper
I hope, when we look back, we’ll see the tech revolution of the last ten years akin to the industrial revolution of yore. It arrived, we got terribly excited about it, techified everything just as the industrial revolution mechanised everything, then came to know the consequences and reevaluated, renegotiated, reconfigured. Took what we wanted and left the rest.
No longer do we want to buy identical products from vast factories fuelled by underpaid workers. Those products and those places still exist, of course they do. Yet we’re experiencing a boom in ethical clothing, renewable energy, craft this, handmade that, homegrown everything. We want purity and provenance and authenticity. We want to go back to basics.
So I hope it will go with tech. That we’ll eventually wake up to the ways technology has hindered our lives as well as enhanced it, changed our bodies and minds for the worse as well as well as for the better. That we’ll relearn to feel okay without a device in our pockets, to walk without talking, eat without scrolling, find love without swiping, travel without direction. That we’ll learn how to use technology only in ways that genuinely serve us.
I find it sad that we wait until we go on holiday to leave our devices behind, read an actual book, walk without a map, talk for hours, see where the day takes us. All of that is open to us all the time.
And it starts here, now, with us, with you.
You get to choose the box – the size, the shape and how often you open it. The important thing is that, if you feel called to, you put tech back in it.