Letting go: Turn off the technology

At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, a number of stories about people’s obsession technology have been worrying me. Teenagers aren’t getting enough sleep, we can’t put away our cell phones while driving or walking, we use technology while running errands or working out, and we don’t even leave our addiction behind when on vacation.

Although I’m just as guilty as many others (I’m pretty attached to my sleep, but I will admit to occasionally talking and driving, listening to podcasts while walking or running, and bringing my Android phone on vacation), more and more research suggests that these habits are bad for us. Even if technology makes some parts of our lives easier – I noted earlier that having GPS on my hikes was great – we need to consider the greater cost.

The most convincing argument: The New York Times reports (amidst much anecdotal evidence) that studies suggest that we need the downtime to create long-term memories, to learn, and to be creative (besides of course the risk from distractions while walking or driving!). Adding my own experiences: I found running more relaxing when I had a partner rather than a podcast, I felt a million times better after a vacation with minimal technology, and I’m much more productive after a good night’s sleep.

So, what’s the solution? Talking to a friend about distracted driving, we discussed proposals that are designed to make using a cell phone easier while driving – for example, hands-free devices. But research suggests that it cannot overcome the fact that talking while driving is distracting. We’re not meant to multi-task all the time. But for at least those times when multi-tasking is actually dangerous, should we act as realists: acknowledging that people will always talk and drive, do we come up with technologies that at least make it a little safer? Or do we remain optimistic: hoping that as people learn information about the dangers of multi-tasking and as enforcement reaffirms their incompatibility, people will learn to turn off their cell phones?

Hard as it may be, we need to take the initiative and do a better job occasionally disconnecting ourselves from technology. Media should be making our lives better, not only more productive.

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