Tech is but a tool, digital era or not

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Article Date: 
Jun 04 2017, 2202

Does our digital world make us make happier? We tend to accept that technology will always be a mixed bag and we have to take the bad with the good, writes journalist Kira M Newman in Yes! Magazine.
According to Amy Blankson, author of the new book The Future of Happiness: 5 Modern Strategies for Balancing Productivity and Well-Being in the Digital Era, this very attitude is problematic. “As tech advances and we accept these changes without pause, I worry that maybe our happiness is getting left behind, moving further down the priority list,” she writes.
Instead, she argues, we should take back control of our happiness by pausing, becoming more self-aware, and setting intentional goals for our technological interactions. That way, we’ll cultivate more connection and productivity in our lives.
Some statistics: Young people spend an average of six or more hours a day on their phones, for example, and 50 per cent of teens feel addicted to them. Six per cent of US employees checked their work email when they or their spouse were in labour!
The average American user turns their phone on 46 times per day, and only sometimes are we doing something useful: looking up a restaurant on Google Maps, for example, or setting an alarm. Other times, we’re driven by a buzz, a ping, or just the illusion of one — and these interruptions are costly.
Research suggests that being distracted from a task (like, say, working) for just a minute can disrupt our short-term memory, causing us to forget whatever ideas or intentions we had in mind. After a mere 2.8-second interruption (the time it might take to read a text message), we make twice as many errors on a complex task; after 4.4 seconds (the time it might take to write one), our errors triple.
At the same time Blankson also wants reminds us other side of the story. “I encourage you to avoid the road of the tech doomsday-sayers, because I don’t see that it is truly possible for us to eliminate technology and I don’t think we should have to eliminate technology to find happiness,” she writes.
For example, most Internet users say email has improved their relationships with their family (55 per cent) and their friends (66 per cent). Half of us have met someone online that we later connected with in person, and 22 per cent of people are married, engaged to, or living with someone they first encountered on the internet (and those relationships aren’t any less stable than the ones formed in the “real world”).
“Tech is not a toxin that we need to flush out of our systems — it’s a tool,” writes Blankson. “And it’s a tool that we must learn to wield effectively.” So Blankson encourages us to use technology intentionally. She wants us to use technology deliberately “with when, how, and why we use technology.” The key question to ask is: “Does this technology truly make me happier and more productive?” We do not always raise this obvious question, notes Newman.
Blankson urges us to unplug regularly. Unplugging can improve our focus, helping us collaborate, learn, and socialise more effectively. In one experiment, Korean workers who took a break without their phones felt more energetic and less emotionally exhausted afterward compared to workers who brought their phones along, even if they didn’t use them. Further, studies suggest that modern children need to unplug regularly in order to differentiate the real world from the virtual one.
“Small decisions, which feel disjointed and innocuous, are the biggest determinants of our productivity, and ultimately of our happiness,” she writes. Our little habits and choices, determine if our technological culture is effective and happy.
(The writer is professor of science, religion and philosophy and author of Gratefully and Gracefully)