Technology Doesn’t Control You; You Control Technology

Originally published on LinkedIn.

Are you addicted to your technology? Are you constantly battling the urge to check your phone, send a text, monitor Twitter, check in on Facebook? Is your whole family dealing with the stress of a constant media stream? Do you panic when you don’t have reliable wifi?

Why do we feel so helpless at the hands of our technology? How do we, as a culture, prevent technology from being the boss of us and how do we, personally, take back control?

It feels like the theme of battling “tech addiction” is gaining momentum right now. It’s a logical, and emotional, reaction to the ways in which technology has impacted our lives. We have rising teen suicide rates that are a result of online activity and interactions, we have fake news (and claims of fake news) running rampant because we don’t understand where and how information is getting to us, and we have a new generation of young people who have zero memory of living without screens being dominant sources of information and entertainment. The effects of technology — both positive and negative — are setting in.

How did we get to this technology moment?

First, there is the inevitable maturity of the innovation: From outlier (the internet in 1992) to shiny object (the internet in 2001) to general acceptance (the internet in 2010) to absolute ubiquity (the internet now). But technology has had other cultural consequences.

Children judge and are judged like never before. Childhood has always been about making mistakes, and (hopefully) learning from them. But there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for those mistakes when everything is documented. What was once a learning curve is now just a hard life lesson. Everything we do is at risk of being recorded and stored and available. Online. Forever.

Passive commentary is interpreted as active participation. Voicing our opinion online is considered engagement and sharing a story feels like activism. These easy acts don’t move the needle.

We talk only within our insular bubbles. What we see, read, follow, and share is all within a confined set of perspectives and opinions with which we already agree. If we don’t agree, it’s fake. And these echo chambers prevent us from hearing the other side, the other chambers. So the echoes continue.

Ultimately, the screen gives us permission to be rude and uncivil, and to express only part of ourselves. With 24/7 access to people’s voices and opinions what we often see is their darker selves because people lose sight of their conscience when nobody is watching. People can post an opinion without discussion or a picture without context any time of the day, and consume the same from others.

Honestly, it is hard not to be scared about what’s happening to us. And our digital spaces are making it harder and harder to change the momentum that got us here. Instead of learning how to have discourse and conflict and empathy, we are hiding behind devices. 

We point fingers, we blame anything that might be the problem. We blame social media, Facebook, Twitter, the other political party, the video games. We focus on the things that are wrong with technology and point to all the people that should fix them.

As a result, we aren’t getting closer to each other or recognizing the humanity in each other.

We portray ourselves as victims of technology, victims of fake news, and victims of technology dependency. But that’s easy.

When did we lose our sense of control? When did we lose our power in this technology conversation?

In this environment of fear, what I don’t hear are discussions about how we can take responsibility for controlling technology and our interactions with it. We aren’t victims unless we make ourselves so. Technology isn’t happening TO us! Without us, it’s nothing. And has no power. 

What can we do to avoid getting caught in our own bad behavior? What are some simple changes we can make to improve our relationships with technology and, ultimately, with each other.

1) Limit your time with the screen. 

Bill Gates, one of the most powerful people in technology, says he limits his children’s access to technology. They don’t have cell phones until they’re 14 and they all have screen limitations. My son attends a Waldorf school, which requires that we limit his media. This is hard, because of peer pressure and because of our culture. In the long run, I don’t care that he doesn’t know how to play Call of Duty. This is a dead simple tactic to ensure your children aren’t exposed to the full throttle impact at a young age.

2) Don’t point to what’s broken, just do it differently. 

You can’t “fix” Facebook, but you can get on there and behave the way you think we should behave. Rather than pointing to all the ways people are falling, failing, and being imperfect, assume the best.

3) Be mindful and discerning. 

Being a human in our culture today requires discernment. I have a friend who includes discernment as a core value in her business — that’s how important it is. Discernment is the ability to determine what’s good and what’s bad, what makes sense and what doesn’t, when to act and when to listen. Most of us are missing this quality in our day-to-day lives. Be discerning about news sources and about how technology works its way into your life.

4) Establish specific values around technology. 

How, when, and why you use technology should be dictated by those values, not the other way around. In your family and personal life, you can prioritize less technology. It might be hard and you might be different from families around you, but it’s totally doable.

5) Use technology to tell stories that are meaningful and humanize your perspective. 

Don’t participate in the negativity or the shouting matches. Share your opinion in a personal way, that highlights your values and why it’s important to you as an individual.

6) Talk about what technology is doing to us. 

Let’s talk about how the judgment and negativity affect us. Let’s care enough about each other — as a culture — to do something about this.

If we keep finding fault and flaws in each other, we will perish. But I believe in the inherent decency of humans. We’ve lost our way, but we’re not so far off. We can find our way back. But you will be fine, your kids will be fine, and the internet will be fine if we take care of ourselves and each other.