Time for a Talk: Don't Let Your Phone Be a Selfish Boyfriend (or Girlfriend)
You know the type. Selfish. Demanding. Probably fun and good looking. But also completely unavailable except when he (or she) wants to be. He takes all your time but then is never there with a hug when you need one. Don’t let the technology in your life become that manipulative boyfriend it took you five breakups to finally ditch.
The thing about those terrible, dysfunctional relationships is it’s never exactly clear how you got into them. You thought you were just friends. You didn’t really care about him that much. It's the same with technology: You had email, then Facebook, then Twitter. Then maybe Snapchat and Instagram. Before you knew it, you were deeply involved with your phone, checking it a dozen times during dinner.
“We never really chose to have that relationship with technology. We just kind of drunkenly hooked up with it. And the next thing you know, you are like, well, you know, I could always divorce him after the second kid,” jokes Priya Parker, the founder of Thrive Labs, a strategy and visioning firm, at a talk in New York City last month as part of a series on how to live with technology called New Tech City.
These days, we never want to miss a connection. We're half-overwhelmed, half out of control trying to keep up with every social media application and new device. “We behave like desperate little twerps so grateful that Facebook or Apple or Snapchat or Foursquare would invent this for us. Little old us. And without thinking of how the invention can be made to fit into our life, made to amplify our dreams, made to push us further down the road that we chose, we surrender and lose ourselves in the invention and submit fully to what it asks of us,” says Parker.
Trying to keep up with technology is like trying to earn love from a person who doesn’t know how to love. It’s completely maddening and can be very, very addictive. The good times are so, so good. And the bad times are so, so, well, frequent.
By flipping on that smartphone in your pocket, you have the world at your fingertips. “It is both an amazing creative tool and also a completely overwhelming experience,” says Vincent Horn, the founder of Buddhist Geeks. “Often people describe being distracted…wandering for hours at a time: Wait, wait, wait a second, what was happening here? Where did I go?”
What we have done is slowly allow the tech innovators of the world to drive how we live, what we think, and how we think about ourselves. We drive our use of technology based on what is invented, not what we need.
In other words, that terrible, sexy, maddening boyfriend is always calling the shots. No bueno, my dear, no bueno.
“What I want to suggest to you tonight is a completely different way of how to live with technology in which you chose how you want to live first, what you want your hours to be, what kind of space you want to have in your mind, what kind of tasks you most enjoy doing. And then, to use technology selectively, wisely and carefully to help you fulfil that purpose” says Parker. “You as technology’s elusive, badass, upper-handed boyfriend, and not the other way around.”
It's time to have a serious talk with yourself. Be honest about what you are looking for, and how technology can benefit you, not distract you. Take the reins to your own sanity back. Here are Parker and Horn’s tips for getting that conversation started. Go for it. You deserve better than to be obsessing over a beautiful, self-centered, manipulative boy -- or your Facebook feed.
- Conduct an audit of your technology habits. Write down, in real time, what technology you are using, when, and for how long, says Parker. Keep track of how many minutes you are on Facebook, how many tabs you have open at any one time and how often you switch back and forth between business and personal tasks. Then, be honest with yourself as to whether your use of technology and social media is in line with your purpose or whether you are being a hypocrite.
- DTR with your email. You have been “hanging out a lot,” but you don’t know if he is seeing other people. You deserve better. Time to define the relationship, or "DTR." Parker says you ought to do the same thing with your email. You call the shots. Make sure that each morning, you take a brief amount of time to establish your priorities for the day before looking at your inbox, which Parker calls a “to-do list made for you by everyone else in the world without your permission.”
- Have designated check-in times with your email. You can’t run a business if you are stewing in your inbox all day long. Have times that you check your email, and then have times when you focus on tasks. An hour and a half is an ideal amount of time to be focused on a task, says Parker.
- Use those away messages. Not just when you are in the Bahamas. Parker likes to include a physical location in her away messages even if she is away from her computer for only a couple of hours. For example, if she is in a work meeting, Parker will write that she is “in a visioning lab in Brooklyn.” Not only does that tell people that Parker is not at her computer, it also gives her work a sense of legitimacy and reminds people what Parker does.
- Practice focusing. Your brain is like your bicep, says Horn. If you practice bringing your attention back to the task at hand, your brain’s ability to focus will strengthen at a biological level. Parker and her husband set aside days where they gather a group of friends to do gather for 12 hours at a time without accessing their phones. Technology did not make human beings distractible, says Horn. “Technology has taken that and given it a whole bunch of crack,” he says. You are going to have to pump your brain attention muscles stronger than ever to stay on track.
Don’t throw away all men because one bad apple broke your heart. Notably, neither Horn nor Parker suggest living without technology. The answer to an unsuccessful relationship is not being alone forever. Instead, seek a relationship with technology that will support your purpose, your passion and your ability to get things done.
“We have to be able to work with our technology consciously and not create a kind of digital dualism, as Nathan Jurgenson describes it, a kind of way in which we split off technology and our lives,” says Horn. “If we pathologize technology, we are pathologizing part of our own experience, part of ourselves.”
Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.