By David Ryan Polgar
Arthur C. Clarke, famed writer of 2001: A Space Odyssey, once said that “[a]ny sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This was one of Clarke’s Three Laws, deriving from his 1962 essay “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination.” Given the extraordinary technology that now fits in our palm or pocket, it is no wonder that we have broadly adopted major advances in technology without always considering some inherent tradeoffs. Who isn’t dazzled by a little magic?
The magical honeymoon may be over.
“When smartphones became popular there was a lot of gee-wiz,” says Google spokesperson and TV personality Daniel Sieberg. “People are now thinking a little clearer about their tech.” Sieberg is the author of The Digital Diet: The 4-step plan to break your tech addiction and regain balance in your life. The main thrust of Sieberg’s book is that the user needs to regain a semblance of control in their tech consumption. A person should be enjoying the wonders of technology as opposed to feeling enslaved or hollowed by it. Sieberg lays out some initial questions to determine where you are on the spectrum:
· Do you find that your family can be in the same room but not talking to one another because you’re each interacting with a different device?
· Do you sometimes feel the urge to pull out your smartphone when someone else is making a point in conversation?
· Have you ever felt that something hasn’t really happened until you post it on Facebook or tweet about it?
· Do you feel anxious if you’re offline for any length of time?
As an employee of Google who oversees media outreach efforts, Sieberg is obviously a tech guy. He was also the host of the ABC News program Tech This Out!, which reviewed all the latest gadgetry. This creates a certain level of mental dissonance for people who expect their tech use advice to give given by those far outside the industry. As we have seen with the advocacy of tech balance by Randi Zuckerberg, an early Facebook employee and sister of Mark, those within the ecosystem of Silicon Valley are increasingly becoming the champions of finding a new way. Sieberg cites a sea change in how the industry is thinking.
“I like Randi's approach a lot [both aimed at kids and adults] and I think it's an increasing sentiment within the tech community. It's no longer a contradiction to be in the tech space and want to have that sense of moderation. I point to the Wisdom 2.0 conferences as a key piece of evidence. For me, it's always about loving my technology-- just not unconditionally.”
The Wisdom 2.0 Conference was founded by Soren Gordhamer, an author whose 2009 book (Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Teachings for the Creative and Constantly Connected) sought to interweave mindfulness techniques into our hyperconnected world. Leaders from tech companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook, and Apple explore the conference’s mission to “not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world.” The genius of the title Wisdom 2.0 is that it is reminiscent of Web 2.0, and it implies that there is a fundamental shift in how we are viewing our tech consumption.
Sieberg notes that more and more businesses are recognizing the importance of having mentally fresh employees. He emphasizes that the future is not necessarily about working more or always being on, but working smarter. “Being connected all the time will only create a workforce of exhausted and stressed workers. At Google, we also get perks like massages and time to play games, etc. I think tech companies recognized early on that 24/7 just doesn't work for everyone, even if the company is in the digital space. Now how employees actually take advantage of that is another story. The onus is still on us.”
At Google, though, it does seem like many employees are taking advantage of this new approach. One of the most popular programs internally is a free seven-week class called “Search Inside Yourself.” The focus of the class is on building increased emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is something that can easily go by the wayside in today’s increasingly online world with potentially decreased levels of authentic connection.
Sieberg’s watershed moment was when he realized that although he was surrounded by photos, friends, and comments online, he was increasingly becoming less attached to the most important people in his life. “Remember that we all share our best moments online. I fell victim to that. I ended up liking that person better.”
Unbeknownst to Sieberg, his sister had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was a wake-up call that social media has its limitations. Mostly, there is certain private information that is not appropriate to share online and is only discovered through direct conversation. “It’s a reminder that we don’t need to live our lives solely through social media.”
Sieberg had to resort to the decidedly low-tech option of picking up the phone and calling his sister. Since then he has altered his relationship with tech—making sure that he is using it instead of being used by it. It’s about trying to extract the benefits of connectivity while being cognizant of its ability to take us away from the moment. Most of all, like any food diet, it is an evolving struggle to find a happy medium. “It's not easy but I'm managing much better now than I ever did. Part of it is because I want to ensure I'm present as a father and husband.”
Part of the allure of living a life fully online is that it is ever-changing, vibrant, entertaining, fully controllable, and offers a constant form of validation. The trap is that one can get caught in a never-ending loop of brand curating and life comparing. Or, as Sieberg now notices in hindsight, “I was terrific at broadcasting but terrible at communication.”
I imagine you know a lot of people who are wonderful broadcasters online but terrible at authentic communication and friendship in real life. Perhaps you’re falling into the trap. If so, it’s time to take back control.
Overplugged is a joint project between David Ryan Polgar and Dr. David Greenfield. Polgar is an attorney, college professor, and speaker who examines the ethical, legal, sociological, and emotional effects of technology. Dr. Greenfield is one of the world’s leading authorities on Internet and Cyber Psychology. To learn more, please visit Overplugged.