Is Technology Downgrading You?

Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject

We always make the wrong assumption that by buying new gadgets, phones, and devices— we will somehow “upgrade” our lives.

But what if the opposite were true — that by buying these new devices and tech, you are actually downgrading yourself?

Attention is your most valuable commodity

The problem of having all these new devices and technology in our life is this: it sucks away our attention.

Our attention is now our most valuable commodity. We only start with a certain amount of attention. And the more notifications, text messages, emails, and vibrations of your phone — the more attention is being sucked away from you.

We are suckered into thinking that having more technology is going to make us more efficient, more productive, and more happy.

But more stuff usually equals more problems. More devices mean more things to charge, more things to update, and more things to worry about.

I know for me personally — I am a sucker to this. I remember at one point, I would feel “paralysis by analysis” or “choice overload” when it came to reading e-books. Should I read a book on my Kindle, on my iPad, on my phone, or my laptop? I would waste precious attention, energy, and focus — trying to make this stupid decision.

What I’ve done (at the moment) is getting rid of my Kindle and iPad, and uninstalling the Kindle app from my phone. Now all my reading is done on my laptop, as .ePub books in the mac iBooks app, or just reading PDF’s. It isn’t the most “optimal” solution, but it certainly makes life less complicated, and less distracted.

Is technology empowering, or de-powering you?

Steve Jobs once thought of building the personal computer to be a “bicycle for the mind.” In the past, computers did really empower people to do these amazing things. And of course they still do.

But the cynic in me is starting to see how technology is “de-powering” us. Rather than using the amazing tools of technology to build, create, and be creative — we are suckered into becoming passive consumers. We watch YouTube, mindlessly scroll through our social media feeds, and binge Netflix. Rather than going out with the cameras we already own and taking photos, we waste time on camera review blogs, wishing we had a newer and better camera.

I’m sure you’ve seen this (or perhaps been a victim yourself) — you’re at a restaurant, having dinner with your partner or friends. Then instead of talking with your friends in real life, you’re both looking at your phones. Or one person is looking at their phone, and their poor partner is left feeling neglected. Is social media really empowering us in this way, or de-powering us?

How to be less distracted in today’s world

The human mind has a limit in terms of how much information we can process. I’ve always tried to become more effective, efficient, and optimal in my life and work. But in reality, no tools, technology, app, gadget, or widget is going to help improve you.

Rather, the only thing we can upgrade is our mind. Our personal philosophy of living. To seek to have fewer distractions in our life, in order to have more focus.

Practical remedies for myself have included:

  1. Everyday uninstalling one (superfluous) app from my phone
  2. Everyday spending less time on my phone (or better yet, keeping it on airplane mode, silent mode, or turning it off completely)
  3. Limiting my screen-time in the evening
  4. Turning off wifi when I need to do real work
  5. Installing browser extensions that block distracting websites, or limit my access to them

So when it comes to any technology — be a skeptic. I love technology and how it has increased access, information, and empowered many creative people (myself included).

But there is also a dark side. We are trading our personal information for free social media services and cat videos. We’re trading our precious attention to have our eyeballs manipulated by more advertisements. Is the trade-off really worth it?

There are no right and wrongs — only right and wrong for yourself.

Just be conscientious, and don’t be a sucker.


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