Getting a novel gadget or using technology in a new way is much like entering into a new relationship. I remember when I got my first computer: I was in love. I remember when I first discovered the Internet: I was in love. Same thing when I started e-mailing: love at first byte! At first I couldn’t get enough of any of it. These technologies were intriguing, compelling, and astonishing. Of course, after time, I found myself spending far too much time on the computer, and a couple of times I wound up somewhere on the Internet I had no business being. I used to be thrilled to get a dozen emails; now I process hundreds daily.
In the beginning I envisioned how much time these technologies would save me. Remarkably, there is still not enough time at the end of my day. At first all of these new innovations were fun and exciting. But over time they’ve become a little less innovative and a little more intrusive. Where once I couldn’t wait to log on to Facebook, now I do so with a bit of a sigh at times.
All this technology delivers on some of their promises, but not all. Occasionally I ﬁnd myself looking for my next “relationship.” I’ve come to realize I have a tendency to respond to new technology as the ancient Israelites did with manna in the wilderness: at ﬁrst, it’s a God send, but before long I find myself complaining and looking around for something new.
Which brings me to another connection point of technology I’d like you to consider: technology connects you to others, good or bad, but it also connects you to yourself, good or bad. It’s amazing what you learn about yourself when you think you’re in control, when you’re sure you’re in charge.
As I often warn, “Those who make the rules break the rules.” Technology gives you the impression you’re making your own rules. So when under the illusion of that control, it’s interesting to see which of your personal rules you’re willing to break, where you’re willing to compromise, and what areas of your character produce the greatest amount of excuses and rationalizations.
Technology has a way of tempting me to make exceptions where my personal rules apply. For example, I try to obey traffic laws when driving, but I underwent an almost militant rebellion when the state of Washington outlawed using cell phones while driving.
Up to that point, I had become quite accustomed and comfortable paying marginal attention to the road and, sometimes, intense attention to my phone conversations—even when my family was in the car. It took me quite a while (and a hands-free Bluetooth) to quell my resentment at being told I was not competent to both drive and hold my cell phone at the same time.
I know there is research out there that shows it’s not holding the cell phone that’s the problem; it’s the conversation itself that’s distracting. Still, I anticipate being less than grateful when the ban expands to driving while using a cell phone at all. I rely on my drive time to catch up on voice mail and make necessary phone calls. I like this technology and want to continue using it. Like everybody else, I think of myself as exceptional: I’m not impaired just because I’m loudly discussing with my wife the actual location of my kids’ soccer game while driving in distracted circles through strange neighborhoods. I don’t appreciate being told not to do something I consider myself capable of doing well.
Technology, you see, has a way of making me feel even more in control, more in charge, and more capable than I actually am.
As a professional counselor I’ve seen less benign and more devastating examples of how technology has lured others into doing and viewing and saying things they later regretted. l’ve seen technology propel people into situations they feel powerless to exit. l’ve seen the use of technology reveal aspects of character, integrity, and personal weakness that both shocked and shamed the one exposed. l’ve seen great surprise over the power these things can have in personal lives and choices. Over and over again, l’ve heard people confess they started some technology-empowered behavior believing they had control. Then they come to my ofﬁce after realizing they were being controlled instead.
Caution is warranted. Technology is powerful, not only in what it can provide but also in what it can elicit. It enables connection. Many of those connections are wonderful, fun, and even useful, but some connections are problematic. You need to be alert to the problems others can bring into your life. You need to be aware of the problems you can bring upon yourself and your relationships. You need to be honest with yourself about how often, how much, and why you’re tethered to your technology and whether that’s a positive or a negative in your life.
This is why I created the book Hooked, and I often recommend technology detoxes for my clients. If you think you are struggling with a technology addiction and need professional recovery assistance, my team at The Center • A Place of HOPE is standing by to help you. Fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a technology addiction specialist today.