We all know that technology is a double edged sword. Luckily, it's possible to benefit from the pros while avoiding the cons. Here's how...
Sure, we’ve all heard the phrase plenty of times, mostly coming out of a friend who had too much to drink at a very average party. In this context, and most others, it’s normally used to describe broad societal issues rather than the subtleties of our everyday lives. By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve been made acutely aware of the threats posed by nuclear war, chemical weapons and even caveman tech such as knives. Fortunately, most of us have also learned that nuclear power is far better than coal, chemicals are just as capable of saving lives as they are of ending them and sharp objects are mostly used for cutting food rather than robbing people. For the majority, that’s where the story ends. We accept the good with the bad, keep calm and carry on. But technology is a double edged sword that we experience everyday, mostly in mundane and barely noticeable ways.
Once we begin to recognize the role it plays in our lives, both positive and negative, we become empowered to decide which technologies are worthwhile despite the risks (think knives), which could probably be replaced (nuclear with renewables) and which are simply unavoidable and need only be managed responsibly (like chemicals). Here are 4 steps for building a healthier relationship with technology while also avoiding it’s worst side effects:
Before you can decide which technologies and usage methods are right for you, it’s important co consider what you’re willing sacrifice and for what benefits. The kinds of questions you’ll need to ask yourself on the way to making that decision include:
- Is your privacy worth more to you than what you gain by giving it away?
Many people answer this question with, “well I have nothing to hide”. That’s all good and well, but there are other serious considerations when it comes to privacy. Probably the most important is that your personal data can now be used against you for other nefarious purposes besides old school spying. This includes unfairly influencing elections & policy, empowering companies to exploit your deepest fears for profit and, in extreme cases, even encouraging genocide.
- Are some side effects on your physical and mental health a worthwhile price to pay for the benefits technology provides?
For most of us, the answer to this is an obvious yes. We know that the relatively negligible ill effects of an occasional TV binge are well worth 5 straight hours of watching libertarian hillbillies run shady big cat zoos. That said, there is also real and serious danger that comes with the use of certain technologies. You don’t have to be a 5G conspiracy theorist to agree that certain wavelengths and frequencies are harmful to humans and other species. There also aren’t many people telling their children about the wonders of the dark web or encouraging them to spend more time on social media. We all need to draw our own lines in the sand when it comes to which technologies we’re willing to accept into our lives and our societies. The only way to do this is by weighing up potential risks benefits.
What are your moral and ethical philosophies about technology and life in general?
It’s a big question, but one we all must confront if we hope maximize the benefits and avoid the pitfalls that come with being technological animals. Are you the kind of person who prefers to use the best and/or cheapest version of something, regardless of who created it, who benefits from it and what effects it has on the wider world? Or, do you believe in supporting ethical/sustainable companies & technologies? How you spend your time and money has a real effect on the wider world and the future of every being that inhabits it.
Answering these and other tough questions that have no one right answer and that we all approach differently is the first step to ensuring that you have a healthy relationship with technology.
After you’ve decided your own boundaries and how you want to approach living with technology, the next step is to analyze how you use it. Are you addicted to or do you have an unhealthy dependence on any form of tech?
If you’re serious about living a balanced life in the 21st century, you have to regulate your technology usage. Some obvious signs of addiction or overuse are spending excessive amounts of time on a device or app, checking a device or app constantly and choosing tech time over important aspects of life such as socializing, work, exercise and eating well.
Does your use of technology help or hinder you when it comes to achieving your goals? If it’s the latter, what could you change that would help you to avoid the dangerous side of this double edged sword?
If knowledge is not power, at the very least it can lead to some self-empowerment. Understanding the technology you use and the psychology behind why you do it will help you to ensure that the tool never guides the makers hand. For some, this might mean learning more about topics such as privacy or why big tech monopolies are a critical issue in the 21st century.
If your issues are with social media, news or gaming addiction, there are ways to break the cycle. In some cases, if you’re tough enough, you can just go cold turkey and delete the offending accounts or apps. You can also participate in online forums that function like AA meetings for tech junkies to get support and ideas from people who have had similar experiences. But this can be a self defeating act as your regular poison will still just be a click away. Things get even more problematic when, like literally billions of others, you work with a smartphone, computer or some other form of technology every day.
That’s where productivity management tools come in. Why try with one hand tied behind your back when you can simply bind both and thus ensure that you’ll stick to your goal. There are some free to use apps that do a job worthy of their price tag, meaning they’re usually easy enough to bypass that even beginners can untie themselves with ease. As a programmer myself, I could easily get around most self-imposed technical restrictions as soon as my will cracked, so I decided that only a proper set of handcuffs would do. Those handcuffs are FocusMe.
After asking so many questions and making some big decisions about how you want to change your relationship with technology, the last thing left is put it all into practice.
For most people, the kinds of changes they want to make include reducing dependence on some form of tech or trying to better regulate the time we must spend using it. For others it may be a case of reducing tech hesitancy and embracing new technologies that once seemed too complicated, dangerous or expensive. Naturally, when reality and theory meet they aren’t always as compatible as they seemed in your head.
Which is why, either way, you’ll need to be patient as you adjust to your new way of doing things. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you fail sometimes or your new ‘rules’ simply don’t work in practice. The most important thing is to keep looking for better ways to strike the right balance. If at first you don’t succeed, go back to the drawing board, design a new strategy and try again.