There’s no doubt about it, technology is cool. Our modern societies could not exist without it. But technology can also be a big source of stress. It seems to have its own priorities, and it is insistent about its demands for our time and energy. Not to mention what it does to our wallets every time we are drawn to buy the next generation toy.
Then there is the cool factor. Even as grownups, we like to be up to date. We don’t want to appear slow or out of touch. If you want a new job, for example, there are always other candidates who may be younger, and quicker, and employers want people they don’t have to be train. So there can be tremendous stress in trying to keep your skill set current while competing with people who seem wired in from birth.
The view from the other side.
Frequently I meet people in their 80s or even 90s who are very tech savvy. But at the same time there are others who do not seem the slightest bit bothered by their lack of it. They breezily admit they don’t own a computer, and my first thought is usually “wow, what do you do with all that free time?” You don’t have to ask, though. They are quick to tell you about running around with their grandchildren, going hiking, biking, bowling, or whatever. Their days are packed with fun. Are they stressed about being offline? Apparently not.
Finding a middle path.
Few of us would want to toss out our technology. But while we may not want to give up the benefits of technology, we can still reduce the stress it causes by giving more attention to our own priorities, and less to those electronic demands.
1. Set some ground rules.
A few phenomenally successful people have written that they only check their email once a day, usually in the late afternoon. That’s a revolutionary thought. You mean you don’t have to be at everyone else’s beck and call every minute of the day? Nope. I guess not. In fact, these people are immensely successful precisely because they set their own agenda. They know what they need to accomplish, and they put their own goals at the top of their priority list. If someone needs them in an emergency, that person can call.
Of course, your ground rules can be whatever you want them to be, and will depend on where your technology stress is coming from. Do your kids text during dinner? Has it been months since they looked at you face to face? Then maybe you need a rule about no phones during family meals. Or set restrictions on your DVR.
2. Forgo the need to buy new.
Yes, I know consumer spending helps drive our economies. But all the spending doesn’t have to be yours. If whatever you own works just fine, don’t be swayed by ads to buy the latest gadget. Put that money into your retirement or college funds, or pay off credit cards (which might still have your last gadget hidden in the balance you owe), and save yourself the stress of another bill to pay.
Recently, there has seemed to be a backlash, at least from American businesses, over new computer operating systems forcing older but fully functional systems to become unnecessarily obsolete. You may have experienced this yourself. It can be frustrating when a program you use regularly no longer works with a new computer, or maybe the software manufacturer just gave up trying to match the incessant changes, so new versions no longer exist.
It is stressful to feel forced to spend money just to keep doing what you already do. It feels a little like being robbed. We may feel stress, frustration, and even anger, because someone else is taking control of our daily activities, and taking away our right to choose.
But we can stand up for making things last. Of course, you have to be willing to ignore the sneers from salesclerks who look at you like you came from the dark ages because you are trying to find batteries for a perfectly good four year old phone. Yes, that was me they sneered at. But our lives are already too full of disposable solutions, and our landfills full of their discarded remains.
3. Be patient during the learning curves.
New technology is never easy, at least for those of us over 25. Once you get it, then things work fine. But when it’s new and strange and does things on its own that you don’t want, it can feel like war. It sits on your desk and seems to say, “I, the machine, am smarter than you. Surrender now, for I will win.” Meanwhile you fume, and grit your teeth. The stress is huge.
Do I sound like I have a personal vendetta here? I may. I am on day four with the new phone and I have made it past wanting to commit murder or feeling like I would have a stroke. Meditation seemed hopeless, and I lay sleepless, repeating the mantra, “I hate my phone. I hate my phone.” The phone I practically had to take a mortgage out to pay for.
But while we are not exactly friends yet, the phone and I are at least no longer bitter enemies. I have learned a bit. I can breathe again. Life is not so bad. I can do this. I have only made one stupid call to my boss that I couldn’t figure out how to stop, (screaming “no” was totally futile), and a few emails that went nowhere. But the stress is easing, and next month I’ll be just like my friends who all say they love this phone.
4. Take a tech break.
We all need time when no one can reach us. Time to look at the real world and each other, instead of a variety of screens. Maybe time to cook from scratch, or go camping in the wild. Our amazing planet is out there for us to experience, and people’s lives are short. Fitting in more reality can refresh you, so do it while you have the chance.
Down deep I adore technology. After all, it is how I get to write this for you, and how I get to expand my world. But technology is there for us, not the other way around. Keeping your stress down and your sanity intact may simply take an occasional reminder of who’s in charge.
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