Renegotiating our Relationship with Technology


Feeling a bit overwhelmed lately? Messages waiting for you on Twitter, Facebook, Digg/Reddit and LinkedIn? Plus your crowded mailbox with 6000+ unread and/or unaddressed messages? Join the club.

A lot of us are kind of overloaded at the moment, and might not fully realize how it is impacting them and people around them in negative ways.

On the list of fundamental truths about the human condition is that we are limited in capacity. Regardless of how intelligent you are, there is a breaking point. That point may be a lot closer than you think.

I’m fundamentally a technology guy, but I know that as I’ve spent more time in the world my relationship has changed in fundamental ways. At one time shiny and new was sufficient for me to be excited about something because there was rarity involved. Those days are long past. It still had better be shiny and new but it better enhance my quality of life in a real way. Accessing my email on the toilet is not enhancing my life in a real way.

I believe that technology has the ability to take us to a place where we can be more comfortably ‘human’, spending more time in our own skin, enjoying time with friends and family, taking in a nice day.

But we’re a long way from figuring out what that looks like.

The next step is finding a way to be connected without making ourselves nuts with overstimulation. This hasn’t gelled yet for me, it looks like it will be a long journey. Possibly years. But I’ve found a few first steps worth sharing.

1) Turn off email notification. On your desktop and phone. You don’t need to know the moment an email comes in. If you are waiting on a very specific email, say confirmation of a big contract. Turn it on while you are waiting, then turn it right back off again.

2) Bankruptcy is your friend. Empty your inbox. Turn on your vacation auto-responder with a “sorry I’ve declared email bankruptcy” message. Let them know it is you, not them, and if they have something they sent you in the past week that they really need a response to, please send it again.

3) Reduce the number of ways there are of getting your attention. Enumerate all the crap on your biz card or email sig, if there are more than 2 you should consider trimming down. If there are more than 4 you may need a rethink.

4) Don’t use your phone when you are a) in a meeting b) with your kids c) in bed d) on the toilet. You aren’t saving time, you’re hurting yourself. If you start fiddling with your phone while you are supposed to be listening to me, you better be feeling strong my friend, cause I’m coming at you.

5) Find a way to be alone in your head. Suggestions: a) take long walks (you can call them hikes if it feels better) from time to time b) take up meditation c) don’t turn on the radio/podcasts when you drive.

Declare “email bankruptcy” today, right this moment. Sign off from twitter for a few weeks. Forget you know the URL to your social media site of choice. Stay the heck off Facebook. And turn off your damn cell phone for at least 10 hours a day. You might feel a little twitchy for a week or two, but in a month you’ll be glad you did. The world isn’t going anywhere.