Technology fatigue: what is it? This is what I call the mental fatigue that comes to those of us who were not born with an iPhone in our hands but are now at the cutting edge of the integration of technology into practically every facet of our daily lives. We are now participating in a very significant moment in history and in the evolution of our species: the transition from the Industrial Revolution to the Information Age or what I like to call the Age of Technology. Right now, we are experiencing the full effect of riding the technology wave. We’re in what surfers call the “gas chamber” of the technology wave – basically like being in a tunnel surrounded by water as you surf. Here we are, balancing on a surfboard, whipping over the surface of the ocean as it hurls us toward shore. The adrenaline and excitement are intoxicating as our lives are transformed at a pace that generations before us never could have imagined.
Our economy, our language, our culture are all being affected by the runaway speed of technological advancement. We are no longer left to ourselves for a stretch of time while out on a walk or at home in the evening with a good book. We receive texts and emails while walking the dog, driving to work, during dinner, and in the movies. With technology permeating nearly every aspect of our lives, there’s so much to learn and re-learn: we have not one remote in the living room but four remotes to keep track of and then these four remotes might later get consolidated into one new, more advanced universal remote, which gives us yet another remote to learn how to use. Remember the old days when there was an on/off button on the t.v. and a dial to change the channel? Remember what it was like to daydream or wonder about something you knew nothing about? Lost are the random moments of day dreaming in response to a problem or pondering possibilities when it comes to something that can be “Googled” on a smartphone or nearby device. Wondering has been replaced by “Googling.” Sitting down to write a letter to a friend in a distant state or country has been replaced by a digital exchange on Facebook, by a moment-in-the-life conveyed via Instagram, or a micro-documentary via SnapChat. And while any of these is taking place, some other friend might shoot a text your way to interrupt the Facebooking, Instagramming, or SnapChatting. It’s a new way of being in the world. Rarely are we without our phones or some kind of device nearby and we are nearly constantly learning how to use something new.
Learning to make use of personal technology is similar to learning a new language. In learning a new language there are the mechanics of speaking, the grammar and syntax to learn, and a whole new vocabulary. We know that the very young are most adept at learning new languages when the brain’s plasticity is most elastic and absorbent. The same goes for technology: we learn new mechanics of its use, how to integrate it into our lives, and how to manage the constant flow of information coming at us from all directions. It’s easiest for the young to pick up new technology and because they don’t have to rely on their parents and the community to learn it, like babies do when learning language, they can soar past their elders in how quickly they learn it. They learn technology from technology itself. With new hardware, new software, new apps, and a plethora of passwords to remember or to store in a digital keychain, our psyches, both young and old, are being taxed in a totally new way.
So what happens to us, the bridge generation or generations that can remember when every telephone had a wire and the screen in a home stayed put? What happens as we rush to adapt to the integration of technology into so many aspects of our lives? Like any growth spurt, adaptation to something so new and so pervasive takes a lot of energy. Mental fatigue, memory issues, a decrease in motivation, and an increase in stress characterize technology fatigue. There is no diagnosis in the DSM-5 for this condition but Wikipedia calls it “technostress” and describes the physical and emotional symptoms resulting from the stress. See if any of these symptoms of the resulting anxiety match your experience: “headaches, backaches, eye strain, neck pain, stiff shoulder, joint pains, mental fatigue, depression, nightmares, panic, resistance, and a feeling of helplessness. suffering insomnia, loss of temper, irritability, frustration, [a possible] increase of errors in judgment and poor job performance if not dealt with.” This, of course, is not a mental health diagnosis and Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information for mental health issues, but the fact that Wikipedia has an entry for “technostress” is indication that many people have pondered the effects of the rapid changes that characterize the Information Age.
If you feel you might be suffering from technology fatigue, what should you do about it? First, recognize it, if this is true for you. Without an acknowledgement that you are experiencing this it will be difficult to address. Second, you will need to set your intention to address the issue. With your intention set, it will be much easier to follow the next set of recommendations:
- Take regular breaks from technology throughout the day. Give yourself periodic breaks to breathe deeply and reconnect with your body. Turn away from your computer or phone and shift your awareness into your body where you can identify places of tension. Imagine breathing into those places of tension and releasing the tension. Do this several times throughout the day.
- Give yourself some limits on use of devices, such as not using your phone in bed, not checking email before 9:00am, or not spending more than 30 minutes on Facebook. Use a friend or spouse to help keep you accountable.
- Take technology-free vacations either for a day on the weekend or, if you’re really brave, maybe your whole vacation!
- Cultivate hobbies that do not require use of technology. Learning to make something with your hands is an excellent way to reconnect with the physical world around you.
- Find ways to interact with others for fun in person, not via social media. Playing good, old fashioned card games or board games is a great way to enjoy the company of friends or family.
- Learn mindfulness meditation so you can train your mind.
- Exercise, especially outdoors.
It’s also important to assess whether your stress is a result of overuse of technology or of other aspects of your life. Stress from technology fatigue can and should be addressed in and of itself but this might not eliminate all sources of stress from your life. If you need help addressing other sources of stress in your life, seek help from friends, partners, or a therapist. Digital technology is an extremely useful and, at times, enjoyable aspect of life in the 21st century. Our challenge is to use it wisely.