When science fiction authors of decades past envisioned a world dominated by technology, they focused on how it would change our existence. The premise of a story might center around a fantastic innovation, but its message would be about the impact on individuals and society, good or bad.
Modern technology might not have developed exactly as science fiction predicted. But the lessons remain true. There are upsides and downsides to consider before adopting new technology and the possibilities it offers. For instance, a company could face unexpected compliance violations and need a lawyer skilled in business litigation to resolve the issue.
The individual risks of technology can be even more inconspicuous. Most of the time, we use technology in the form of innocuous devices or virtual platforms. Few could have foreseen the impact of smartphones and social media over the last decade. Yet now that gadgets have become integrated into our lives, more people face the need to confront the same issue: is a tech-centric lifestyle proving detrimental to you?
A question of agency
In today’s world, the influence of technology is undeniable. But everyone has a different perception of the potential negative impacts it can cause. And we all like to feel that we’re still in control of our lives, capable of functioning without technology.
Sure, when you have a device in your pocket all the time, you can be tempted to play games more often. Equally, though, you get to make use of idle time, reading books, or listening to podcasts on the subway. And when you still keep your phone within arm’s reach at home, even in bed? The distractions can be annoying and sleep-disrupting, but that’s probably offset by the productivity they bring at work.
Anyone can come up with a list of benefits to counteract the supposed harm of technology. But if you evaluate the situation through the lens of personal agency, you might see things differently. In psychology, agency is the extent to which you have the power to act on your behalf. And an increasing number of people in the modern world feel overwhelmed by life. They struggle to adapt or make decisions and experience a high level of anxiety.
If you acknowledge feeling like you aren’t in full control of your life, think about the role played by technology. Imagine removing devices from your lifestyle; do the adverse effects go away? Does your agency increase?
Curbing the influence of devices
When the answer to those questions is affirmative, it means that your devices are detracting from your agency. Regardless of their other benefits, they are exerting an overall negative impact on your life.
This can happen in several ways. Overstimulation from devices can interfere with your cognitive processes. For instance, if you always have a phone in hand, your ability to live in the moment or pay attention to your surroundings is reduced. Too much screen time, in general, is also linked to lower physical activity, which in turn decreases motivation.
The nature of online communication can change our behavior towards each other. The more you participate in online interactions to the exclusion of face-to-face communication, the more you get exposed to negative influences, groupthink, and status pressure.
For these reasons, a ‘technology detox’ is often recommended to anyone who needs to curb the influence of their own devices. By adhering to a scheduled tech-free hour each day, and maintaining a hands-off-devices policy during mealtimes and before sleep, you can reclaim a measure of control over your life.
Detox is just the start
However, there are limits to how much you can benefit from the effects of a tech detox. And limiting screen time even further isn’t an option for most of us. Our jobs require us to use devices for at least eight hours a day, perhaps even more in the age of remote work.
We can’t turn back the clock or revert to a time when devices weren’t in mainstream use. As a solution, injecting new, positive influences into your daily life can counteract their effects. Mindfulness practices such as meditation or keeping a journal can help increase your awareness. Spending more time in nature also helps in this regard while giving you more physical activity.
You can also be more selective in your association with people. Spend more time in real life hanging out with supportive friends and family, or participating in community activities. By finding these methods of deeper engagement, you can learn through new experiences and manage your emotions and anxiety. You can improve your agency. And you’ll be able to get back to a point where technology doesn’t impair your quality of life.