Contributing Author: The Tortoise
The average technology-filled 21st century urban lifestyle is not a relaxing one. Jobs come with long commutes and traffic jams. At work and at home, machines and gadgets demand constant attention. Emails, messages and texts trickle into your life in a steady, inexhaustible stream. Life is now cybernetic, with people intimately linked to smart phones, tablets, computers, laptops, game systems, GPS devices, e-books, television and all manner of consumer technology. We have become cyborgs, fused with our machines, plugged continuously into the Internet, connecting to the world and each other through a 24/7 freeway of social media platforms which include networking and blogging sites, image and video sharing sites, personal broadcasting and collaboration tools, widgets, social bookmarking and news aggregation and of course, virtual worlds and virtual reality platforms.
For many older people, consumer technology is still regarded for the most part as augmentative; that is, something that enhances a chosen lifestyle and its tasks, functioning as an 'aid' rather than a 'driver'. For the 'Generation Z' who have grown up using and being surrounded by such technology, however, 'personal tech' is a way of life. Personal technology is central to their lives, indispensable, fundamental, immediately impacting how they think, respond to, and address life situations. Gen Zers negotiate life with technology, and live through their technology. On the extreme end of this trajectory, a Gen Zer's personality and self-worth may be enmeshed in their social media and their reception -- if they get many 'likes', it gives them a 'high'. Too many 'dislikes', and they crash, damaging their self-regard. For such Gen Zers, experiencing anxiety and withdrawal symptoms when deprived of their personal technology is not uncommon.
Whether we like it or not, urban living in the 21st century has become synonymous with cybernetic lifestyles. Machines are all around us, on us, even in us, helping us, connecting us, freeing us and providing opportunities unimaginable a century ago. Yet this same sea of perpetual connectivity in which we live also generates more stress than ever before, not least because it is extremely hard to disassociate ourselves from it. To help manage stress, we need to recognise our reliance upon this human-machine connection, and to come up with ways to use it to advantage without being devoured by it.
Does This Sound Like You?
- You can't live without your smart phone.
- Can you remember the last time you left your phone in another room and forgot about it? Do you check it constantly for messages, or social media pings? Do you get anxious if the battery is low? When was the last time you remember leaving it off? Can't recall? Do you take your phone out the moment you have a wait on your hands, or a queue to stand in? Do you feel anxious, nervous or restless if you're in a no wi-fi or no phone signal area? If all this sounds familiar, you're on the road to connectivity addiction. Being 'connected' all the time may seem satisfying, but it can also overstimulate you. Constant stimulation is stressful for the body and mind. If you are always 'on', the body and mind does not get to rest or regenerate. This sort of stress, eventually, can lead to depression or anxiety.
TIP: Give yourself an electronic break once a week, even if for just half a day. Switch off the phone and all other electronic devices for several hours. Let your mind rest and recuperate. Be aware that if you're used to being constantly connected, you will experience some anxiety the first time you try this.
- You facebook or tweet all the time.
- In these days of Facebook and Twitter, people feed off and thrive on display. Part of that process involves presenting themselves in images as they wish the world to see them, in order to receive a response they hope to get, and while we are all guilty of this process to some extent, social media has transformed the politics of such performance into an addictive 'instant gratification' loop, accessible 24 hours a day. Are you constantly checking the number of 'likes' on the images you post to social media? Are you constantly thinking of what to post next on Facebook or Twitter? Are you on cloud nine when you get a high number of 'likes', but feel down or miserable when you get too many 'dislikes'? If this sounds familiar, you need to be careful you are not setting up a harmful cycle where your sense of self-worth and self-confidence is being dictated by your social media audience -- most of whom are total strangers to you.
TIP: Take a mental step back. Remember that your social media followers or readers may be, for the most part, people who do not know you. The internet is a place where anonymity lets people be as rude or contradictory as they want. Do not let their opinions govern how you feel about yourself, or how you treat yourself.
- You take pictures of EVERYTHING.
- The convenience of a digital camera in our phones has changed lives. Everyone can now be a photographer. We can record everything, at any time, anywhere. Precious moments can now be stored forever, with a click. Being able to record emergencies, accidents and incidents at a moment's notice are all advantages of a camera with video capacity which lives with you in your pocket. Massive memory cards allow storage of thousands of shots, without the hassle of film. Phone cameras, in the right place and the right time, have saved lives, reputations and solved crimes. Is there a downside to this? Yes, possibly. If you find yourself haphazardly taking pictures of EVERYTHING, simply as a matter of course, or from a fear of 'missing something', you may have a problem. How many of these shots do you actually access, later? Substituting the camera for your eyes actually encourages people to pay less time and attention to the things they take pictures of, as they think "not to worry, I've got pictures of it." The result is a poorer, less clear and less stable memory of the occasion. The reason, as Bastyr University psychologist Dr Diedre Clay explains, is because "[t]he lens is a veil in front of your eyes and we don't realize it's there."1
TIP: Take pictures, but enjoy the moment. If you're visiting a place or attending an exhibition, do not rush past everything, leaving the experience to your camera. Focus on things and people with your own eyes, allowing your mind and senses to store the experience and your own responses to it. Participate and soak it up.
- You don't actually talk to anyone.
- Do you prefer texting your friends to talking to them in person? Are you more comfortable hanging out online to meeting them in the flesh? Would you rather connect through social media than make appointments in the physical world? In this age of ultra-connectivity, we can have relationships with people without ever having to leave the bedroom. Our phones, computers and Internet connection allow us to connect with any number of social media, forums, chatrooms, daterooms and virtual worlds to talk and interact with people from all over the world -- in real time. For many people, the Internet has revolutionised their horizons of possibility, allowing access to news, knowledge, help and human connections in ways not possible for them before. Can too much of a good thing be problematic? Yes, if it is removing your ability to interact healthily and appropriately with people in the flesh. Many Gen Zers are losing (or have not acquired) the 'real life' social skills that members of a community need to maintain the health, coherency and stability of that community. Some are finding it difficult or awkward to interact with 'real' people away from the computer screen. Experiences, feelings and empathy are in danger of being 'flattened' or lessened by the 'quick grab' snapshot nature of Facebook, Twitter or phone texting.2 And while the easy anonymity of digital interaction and our own computer screens are safety shields, they can also distance us and reduce feelings of responsibility and consequence. Internet trolls and cyberbullies, for example, thrive on anonymity and the protection afforded by NON face-to-face conflict: in the physical world, they would think twice before saying the same things to someone in person.
TIP: Try to meet up with family members or friends at least once a week.
- Multitasking is a way of life.
- Multitasking in this day and age seems unavoidable. With machines, messages, work, friends and family needs vying for attention all the time, people have learned to multitask. We eat lunch at our work-stations, watch TV while working on the computer, answer texts while doing the dinner, watch the kids while helping others on the forums. Are we more efficient or productive? Or just more stressed, overstretched and anxious? Perhaps even feeling, as Bilbo Baggins once put it, "like butter scraped over too much bread"? The stress and wear and tear from too much multitasking can be insidious: you may find yourself anxious and nervous without knowing why. If multitasking is making you a bundle of nerves, it's time to rethink.
TIP: If at all possible, handle one task at a time, so you can focus on its details to the best of your ability. Make lists of priority jobs, and stick to the list. Instead of being distracted by five tasks all at once, pay attention to the single job at hand, enjoy the concentration, let your brain process everything comprehensively (not fleetingly), and live in the moment.
1 Rossi, Carey, '12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health', Health
Image Credit: Pixabay