Business 30 April 2018
If technology was human, it would have received an accolade for world domination. From the moment we awake until the time our heads touch the pillow at night, technology has become intertwined into almost every aspect of our daily lives, and its presence is on the rise. The internet, as an example, has experienced an increase of 100 million worldwide users, bringing to the total figure to 3.6 billion during 2016-2017, according to Statista. Despite the surge, is technology enhancing our lives or creating a feeling of disconnection?
According to recent figures published by NHS Digital, a gender disparity exists in how technology affects males and females, with a higher rate of mental health disorder symptoms (including depression, anxiety, and irritability) recorded among women than men. And, crucially, experts have identified the pressures of social media as a contributing factor. For all its intentions, social media users indicating a feeling of reduced happiness (compared to their counterparts on social networks), is on the upward. But the issue stems broader as technology continues to impact other areas of our lives.
"For all its intentions, social media users indicating a feeling of reduced happiness (compared to their counterparts on social networks), is on the upward."
A lack of time
“It appears that we have a culture, at least in the US, which advocates more of a work-life balance, but current research on the subject describes employees having a tougher time finding that balance,” says Dr. Colleen Mullen, a therapist who specializes in ‘coaching through the chaos’. “Work weeks are longer compared to 20 years ago, and technology sees people often tethered to their phones, on calls and emails that are expected to be answered.” The flow of new technology entering the market creates an air of urgency to remain continuously “plugged in,” in turn creating stress and anxiety in areas which previously didn’t exist.
“Despite there being very few circumstances in which a person absolutely must stay connected 24/7, there is sometimes the attachment for escapism purposes and other times it can be a case of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) that lends itself to always having to be ‘on’,” explains Dr. Mullen. “I’ve never a found a person to believe their entire business would fold if they were to take a few hours a night off their phone or computer.”
"Ultimately, our constant need to check in has detracted from focused productivity as we are faced with more outlets for distraction."
Are we more productive?
Whilst technology has streamlined our day to day functioning, facilitating the ease of workflow and allowing for greater flexibility than ever before, has it increased our productivity? For all its practicality, the desire to remain “plugged in” has opened the door to unwanted distractions, in turn hindering our ability to focus. “As an example, I often see clients wrapped up in the maze of dating apps and online dating sites,” says psychotherapist and life coach and recovery coach Dr. Sherry Gaba.
“They can’t turn off their anxiety waiting for that next text to arrive from that potential date, leading to a lack of focus on their projects at work because they are too obsessed with waiting for that next dating app swipe to make its way.”
Inc.’s recent article on the topic of unplugging in business explores the positive aspects of implementing periods of “unplugging,” to allow focused pockets of energy which can generate ideas to move a business forward. “Programming downtime into your day refuels and refreshes your ideas from your logical left-brain to your creative right brain for more ideas, intuition, productivity, and creative insights," Dr. Gaba says.
"You often get your best ideas whilst driving, napping, exercising and taking a shower,” outlines Dr. Gaba. The Best of BBC Future argued that technology may be enabling us to tick more things off our list at a quicker pace, but the reality is a shift in how we work, rather than how much we’re doing. Our lifestyle sees us in search of filling every minute of downtime with output, but there is a limit. Ultimately, our constant need to check in has detracted from focused productivity as we are faced with more outlets for distraction.
Why we need to unplug to reconnect
“One of the many benefits of switching off from technology is bringing about rest to your fatigued brain so you can work more efficiently and effectively. When you are tired, you don’t think as clearly, creatively, or effectively and are therefore more apt to make mistakes, and making impulsive decisions at all hours is now the new norm. This merged life is frantic and messy having to switch back and forth from mommy to worker bee,” explains Dr. Gaba.
“I recommend to my clients a technology detox, exploring with them the benefits of unplugging to allow time for thoughtful reflection, creative inspiration and explore activities that recharge their energy and reconnect them with themselves.”
Even for our physical health, unplugging has its benefits. A 2016 study published in Computers on human behavior discovered that people who left their mobile phone at home spent more time in the higher intensity workout zone than those who use their phone during a workout. Further, technology has bred increased laziness, with more time spent sitting and straining at screens, leading to other issues including body aches and vision alteration. And it also affects our ability to communicate with those nearest and dearest to us, with many of us suffering from feelings of isolation and loneliness.
We can’t dispute the remarkable impact technology has afforded and its crucial role in modern lifestyle, but the improved life quality from disconnecting is “incentivizing,” as put by Dr. Mullen. “The benefits gained range from better sleep, more time to spend with family and friends, and less intrusive thoughts, to keeping up with everyone else and having the time to think about life circumstances and work through some struggles.”
Armed with the facts, are you ready to unplug?
3 min read
Earlier this year, I was speaking at an event and walked into a small auditorium which held no more than 250 seats. I gathered my notes and carefully got situated on one of the high-top chairs trying to remember what Kate Middleton would do. To cross or not cross the ankles, that was the question.
I quickly surveyed the room. And the first thing I immediately noticed was that the front row was entirely empty. Each and every chair. Alone and just waiting to be occupied.
People trickled in and climbed over each other to get seats in the very back. Others asked colleagues to move down the row to make other seats available. Two individuals even came in just as we were about to start and sat in the aisle. And by the aisle, I mean the floor, right on the steps.
And the front row? Still entirely empty.
"Plenty of seats up front everyone. I don't bite, come on down," I joked. Attempting to make eye contact with those on the floor of the aisle. And they would rather sit on the dirty floor than sit comfortably in a chair.
Because anything but the front row. I'll sit on the floor, I'll stand in the back, or I'll even stand in the hallway listening in through the door. But please, no, not the front row. I can't. I won't. I don't.
Why don't we want to sit in the front row?
"I don't sit in the front row" or "I don't do front rows" was my mantra for much of my life. I always sat in the back row in college and then in graduate school (except for when they assigned seats which was just terrible.)
Early on in my career, I would enter the empty room before the meeting or workshop started, and there I would be, marking my spot in the back corner. I would even get there early so I could sit in the back. And if I had to leave to use the bathroom, I would be sure to mark the chair with my black cardigan. Just in case someone tried to sneak into my back-row seat.
The back was safe. I didn't always have to pay attention. And let's be honest, I didn't want to have the attention drawn to me.
I was introverted, and I was shy (which are two different things) and afraid of having to contribute. Afraid to use my voice. Afraid I would say or do the wrong thing. And for someone who saw herself leading and making impact in corporations, I had to start to tackle this fear head on.
"I don't sit in the front row" or "I don't do front rows" was my mantra for much of my life.
As I found mentors who helped me with my fear of speaking up – and I mean speaking up in meetings, speaking in front of leadership, and speaking in front of a large audience - one mentor encouraged me to think about where I chose to sit and why. She advised me to always sit at the table, and to pull up a chair to the table if necessary. And to always sit in the front row.
"Pull up the chair for others to sit at the table," she coached me. "And bring a colleague along to sit in the front row with you."
Because when you sit in the front row, we all make a physical commitment. To be present, to be seen, to be noticed, to be engaged, to be supportive of whoever is speaking. To make eye contact, to smile, to nod our heads in agreement as the speaker shares their knowledge. To build our confidence. And to maybe, just maybe, work our nerves up to ask a question or even make a comment.
Why don't we want to sit in the front row?
We don't want to be called on, questioned, or asked to contribute. We don't want to have to use our voice. Because some of us are still working on finding our voices. Some of us are afraid if we use our voice, and say the wrong thing because others will judge us. Some of us are disconnected and disengaged. We are just trying to get through the day. It's just another meeting/event/workshop on the calendar to attend.
Some of us are scared. Because if we sit in the front row, we might actually be seen. And whether we want to admit it or not, we are trying hard not to be noticed and get by.
Because when you sit in the front row, we all make a physical commitment to build our confidence.
Next time you attend a meeting, sit at the front of the table. Sit in the front row. Be seen. Be noticed. Let people know you were in the room, in that meeting. Let your voice be heard. And bring someone along with you. Don't let that front row continue to be unoccupied.
Please don't sit in the back row. And for that matter, when an actual chair/seat/spot is available, please don't sit in the aisle either. And certainly don't sit on the floor.
This article was originally published September 30, 2019.