Redefining Our Relationship with Technology

The Cost of Convenience

Our relationship with technology is continuously evolving. How we engage with our smart speakers and our smartphones, our fitness trackers and our thermostats looks different now than it did 10 years ago, and different still from how it will look 10 years from now. An increasing number of Americans own mobile phones and a quarter of adults report they go online “almost constantly.” You don’t have to look hard to find studies on how smartphone use impacts our mental health and well-being, particularly among younger demographics.

With newly advanced capabilities, smartphones bring ease and convenience to our lives. There’s little that can’t be done with a swipe, tap, or click. From navigation and weather reports to camera filters and endless emojis, it can feel as though we’re growing ever more captive to our pocket devices.

Digging Deeper

Having recently replaced my 6-year-old phone (ancient by today’s standards), I’ve been thinking about my screen time and its role in my life. Since giving up TV last year, I’ve sought to be more deliberate about how I spend the unoccupied minutes of my days, carving out time for meditation, writing, reading, exercising, hiking, baking, and the seemingly lost art of simply being.

Similarly, my latest handheld acquisition is a welcome opportunity to reevaluate where I stand in relation to the technology that pervades each of our lives. Here are some of the ways I’ve grown and continue to challenge myself:

1. Break the cycle: Technology keeps us in a constant catch-up loop, with new devices being revealed at an alarming rate. By the time you purchase the latest release of a product, development of the next is already underway. While tech companies aren’t necessarily engineering equipment designed to give out more readily to ensure that you replace it, they are working fastidiously to convince you of what you’re missing if you don’t. Before you upgrade or catch yourself gazing wide-eyed at the advertisement depicting the specs of the latest iPhone, consider your motivations. Are you feeling pressured to keep up with those around you? Are you an impulse buyer? Are you trying to fill a void? A good rule of thumb is to wait a week before following through on a big purchase. You may be surprised by how your attitude and sense of urgency can shift over a short period of time.

2. Set limits: Screen time limits aren’t just for kids. We each can benefit from being more intentional about how much time we spend plugged into our electronic devices no matter our age. In fact, we’re fairly diligent when it comes to planning and scheduling the other segments of our lives. We don’t linger over breakfast for 3 hours or luxuriate at the hair salon for 5. Rather, we divide our time into reasonable chunks, 30 minutes here, 2 hours there. Yet we can be quite lax when it comes to setting boundaries around our tech use. One study suggests that “American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media”. Decide what’s feasible for you. If your job requires you to sit at a computer for most of the day, develop anchors around your usage outside of the office. Consider powering down your phone, computer, or tablet at a certain time each day or activating the Do Not Disturb feature to create some consistency. Spend a week tracking your leisure use and identify where you want to make changes. Remember that you’re in control of your interactions. Don’t be afraid to let a non-urgent text message go unread for a time or step outside sans phone.

3. Cultivate hobbies that fulfill you: Have you ever ventured off the grid, and instead of feeling anxious at the thought of missing an important notification, you felt completely engrossed in your surroundings, blissfully removed from competing demands for your attention? Sometimes we become so tethered to our screens that we forget our lives exist outside of them. Technology is a proven godsend for keeping up with distant relatives and networking with friends across the globe; but it’s not a replacement for forging face-to-face connections. Join a book club. Strike up a conversation with the barista at your favorite coffee shop. People-watch at the local park. Fill your time with pursuits that engage your body and mind in new ways and you’ll soon find that doing so is far more desirable than refreshing your newsfeed.

4. Do your research: In our information-rich age, it seems like new studies are cropping up every week about technology use and its impact on our lives. One week it’s harmful to our attention spans, the next it’s a springboard for creativity. As consumers, we owe it to ourselves to remain informed about the digital companions we invite into our lives. Read the existing research and challenge its assumptions. Talk about it with others. Consider its implications in your own life. Ask questions. It’s our curiosity that drives trends and determines their importance in our lives.

Bottom Line

What role or roles does technology fill in your life? Like all healthy relationships, our relationship with technology requires thoughtful engagement and routine evaluation. Where are we falling short and how might we improve? How are we using it to meet our needs and what needs would be better met elsewhere? If you haven’t asked yourself these questions lately, perhaps now’s the time.

Read More

Calling All Bookworms: Summer Edition

Ive always been a voracious reader. From the time I was young, books have been among my steadiest comrades accompanying me through all seasons of life. Nowadays you’ll find my nose buried in a page-turner in checkout lines, waiting rooms, park benches, and comfortable couches. As a writer, I get a rush from finding the perfect word to describe the day’s unfoldings and swoon over syntax. In short, I’m what you might call a word nerd. It should come as no surprise that I start every day with a crossword and have fallen prey to biting off more books than I can chew too many times to count. This summer I’ll be sharing what’s on my reading list, so find a cozy corner, settle in, and stay tuned!

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” — Groucho Marx

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are — Brené Brown

If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown, it’s time you were acquainted. A self-described “storyteller”, Brown lives up to the name. She’s a leading researcher on shame, authenticity, and belonging, and recently landed her own Netflix special. This is my second time reading this gem and I’m so glad I picked it up again. For the perfectionists and people-pleasers among us, you’ll find yourself relating to Brown’s candid portrayal of her struggle to live authentically while harnessing the courage to see beyond the tales of unworthiness we so often tell ourselves. Drawing on years of research around our desire to fit in, Brown reminds us with her characteristic wit and wisdom what it means to live wholeheartedly and how we can come to better embrace our messy, imperfect selves.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table — Molly Wizenberg

Meet Molly: food blogger, podcast producer, New York Times bestselling author, and all-around inspiring human. In her first book, Molly seamlessly weaves together memories of her family (her father, affectionately known as “Burg”, and her mother, “Like those impossibly tiny lamps and teacups you find in dollhouses, she inspires a lot of cooing, and though she’s very assertive, people often want to pat her on the head.”) and her journey into adulthood with the recipes that complement each person, period, and place she’s encountered. Another repeat read, this book will leave you simultaneously salivating and wishing the author would invite you to dinner (as much for the delightful conversation as for the famously good food.) At once lyrical and relatable, this is an ideal book to carry along on your commute or curl up with under the shade of a tall tree.

The Objects of Her Affection — Sonya Cobb

Coming soon!

Read More

The Impersonal and the Intimate: An Unlikely Pairing

There are moments when life feels strangely intimate: when you turn on the radio and your favorite song starts to play; when a newborn curls its tiny fingers around your thumb; when you catch a beautiful sunset on your drive home; when you have just the right amount of change in your purse for a small treat to cure the pangs of hunger; when a stranger compliments your outfit.

And there are moments when life feels unbearably impersonal: when you lose a job you loved; when you sprain your ankle days before the marathon you’ve been training for; when you learn your partner’s been unfaithful; when your computer crashes before you’ve saved your work; when you miss the last train home.

No matter how the events of our lives unfold, the meaning we assign to them and the lessons we derive from them greatly impact how they shape us and ultimately, how we shape the world.

Tragedy and loss happen with an alarming regularity despite our best attempts to shield ourselves from their inevitable occurrence. Our humanity binds us to an unspoken agreement that none of us is immune to suffering. A minor setback can spiral into a life-altering tragedy, while a series of tough breaks can redefine the very fabric of our lives.

Yet there’s another agreement that we often fail to hold ourselves accountable to: none of us is immune to joy.

As impersonal as our lives’ misfortunes may seem, they are imbued with a deep intimacy that can only be revealed as we allow ourselves to fully encounter them: eyes wide open, emotions laid bare. As author Joanna Macy writes, “The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.”

Imagine the inner workings that have taken place after you’ve received unsettling news. You may have reevaluated your priorities, your relationships, or your life’s work. You may have discovered a deep well of inner strength you didn’t know you held. You may have gained an appreciation for the simple moments of your days. You may have learned a new skill, mended a broken heart, or ignited an old passion.

The intersection between suffering and joy is one we’ll encounter numerous times over. It might be days, weeks, or years before we experience the transformative effects that tragedy often evokes. But it is at this unique juncture where intimacy lies.

There are many avenues to discovery, inspiration, revelation, and renewal, and the paths that are marked by the achingly familiar roadblocks and unfailingly determined obstacles can be some of the most revealing. Through a constant interplay of the seemingly random and obscure to the apparent predestined and deliberate, our lives are at once mysterious and elementary.

While the whys and hows of our journeys may not always be apparent, we can learn to recognize that the answers we seek rarely exist in isolation. They are intimately connected to how we define ourselves as individuals and how we let our lives’ unfoldings define who we become.

Read More

Lessons in Living and Losing

This article originally appeared on No Sidebar.

This past month I lost a cherished member of my fur family. While the first of its kind, it wasn’t my first encounter with grief and certainly won’t be my last. In some ways, I wish I could shield myself from the pain that accompanies the loss of those we love. Whether sudden or long-anticipated, such absences cut right to the core. We recall our fondest memories in an effort to preserve the life that was and move through our days with a renewed sense of reverence for their simplest moments.

Like a child with an insatiable curiosity, we see the world with fresh eyes. We begin to notice that the things to which we cling most tightly are those we’d be better served by releasing: our insecurity and envy; our failures and regrets; our need for order and control when life continually abides by rules of disorder and entropy.

Read More