Striking a healthy balance with technology
Americans seem to struggle a lot with balance – work-life balance, balancing an active lifestyle with the benefits of “downtime,” or balancing a healthy diet with the occasional indulgence in a piece of cake or glass of wine.
A few weeks ago on National Public Radio’s regular program Fresh Air, I heard an interview about how technology is affecting our balancing act. In this story, “Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets,” host Terry Gross interviews New York Times technology journalist Matt Richtel about the effects of increasingly accessible information on the brain, stress levels and productivity.
TECHNOLOGY IS LIKE FOOD
Richtel uses an analogy for our relationship with technology that I found helpful and insightful. “Technology is analogous to food. So just as food nourishes us and we need it for life, so too in the 21st century, in the modern age, we need technology,” Richtel explains. “And if we consume too much technology, just like if we consume too much food, it can have ill effects.” According to Richtel, research shows these ill effects range from increased stress to poor concentration, memory and productivity to less engaged and meaningful relationships.
MULTITASKING AND THE COCKTAIL PARTY
In the interview, Richtel also explains the troubling juggling act our brains go through when we are constantly multitasking. Here Richtel shares another useful analogy, “It’s a kind of cocktail party test that researchers have known about for years, where if you sit at a cocktail party and you’re listening to the person in front of you, you can’t really listen to the person behind you.”
It turns out our brains aren’t really equipped for multitasking. “So apply that to the person sitting at a desk, fiddling with a device or trying to read an IM while surfing a website or talking on the phone to a boss or colleague or subordinate. What you are basically doing is switching rapidly among those tasks, not doing them at the same time,” Richtel explains. “And all the research says when you switch among those tasks, you cut your effectiveness at each one of them by a significant degree.”
HOW CAN WE STRIKE A BETTER BALANCE?
By this point in the interview, I’m thoroughly convinced we could all benefit from a break from technology, and I’m tempted to throw my cell phone out the car window. But I’m also reminded that it’s a balancing act and that, practically, we need technology in order to survive and thrive. So, how can we strike a healthier balance with technology?
Personally, I’m trying to limit my technology consumption by watching less TV, silencing my cell phone when I’m connecting face-to-face with family and friends and planning my time in a way that limits the need for constant multitasking. I also accidentally put my Blackberry through the permanent press cycle on my washing machine a few weeks ago, and while I know I’ll eventually use my insurance to replace it, I’m not in a big rush.
Richtel’s comment about the person sitting at the desk trying to multitask between two or three different technologies and effectively being less engaged with any of them also motivates me to think about how we can strike a productive balance with technology at Mottis.
Our associates are encouraged to seek out quiet time and space to focus on particularly complex or challenging projects. We use a “busy” or “in a meeting” messages on our iChat status to indicate to coworkers that we’re not available to jump to another thought or project at the moment. But I wonder if we could also benefit from a collective effort to establish more time for associates to work on one project or big idea at a time without interruptions.