New Year Resolution: Control my technology addiction

Last year I addressed a life-long addiction to food that nearly killed me. This year, it will be how I change my relationship with enabling technology.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

2015 was a milestone year for me in that I finally decided to address an issue that had been haunting me my entire adult life: my relationship with food.

In January of last year, twelve months ago, I underwent a surgical procedure called a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy. This, along with embracing major changes in how and what I eat, as well as living a more active lifestyle, has enabled me to lose 127 pounds (and still going) over the course of a year.

Like any form of addiction, it is a battle I will have to fight the rest of my life. I resolve that I know that even though I may become healthy, I will never be "cured".


This is no different with recovery from any kind of addiction, be it drugs, alcohol, gambling or even sex.

If you are an addict you are pre-disposed to being one again, even if you've eliminated the symptoms. And there is also potential for addiction transference as well.

In my case the symptoms were diminished health, a lack of self-esteem and living in a state of constant anxiety.

I may have addressed and have gone a long way towards fixing all of these problems, but the potential for them to return if I don't stay the course is very high.

My mental health due to taking on this addiction has improved substantially, but I believe that food is not the only addiction that I need to tackle in order to improve my well-being.

Just like my reliance on food as a way of coping with every problem life threw at me, I believe that my reliance on technology plays an integral role in my day to day mental health.

In my professional life, technology is an enabler that allows me to be more productive.

Email, calendaring, VOIP and video conferencing, in addition to intranets, file sharing and other collaboration tools make it possible for me to work remotely and still stay in touch with other people on my team, throughout my company and even extending to its customers.

I would also go as far to say that without these tools it would be impossible to be a corporate citizen at all. By being multi-platform and able to run on my mobile devices they also improve my work-life balance, because I don't have to be chained to my desk in order to use them.

But a side effect of this is that because I have this stuff running on all of my devices, there is also the tendency to always be at work. It becomes very easy to answer emails and instant messages after hours.

I believe that my employer recognizes that "after hours" time exists. So if I answer a email or an instant message after normal working hours (let's call this 7pm in the evening) it is my own fault. Not theirs.

There are obviously times when you absolutely have to answer an after hours email or IM. "Critsits" do happen, especially in the technology industry where we find ourselves in a support role, be it for internal reasons or for end-customers.

But critsits don't happen all the time, and not every email or IM needs to be treated as one.

I suspect like many other people, I need to learn -- or rather un-learn how to do this. Just like my relationship with food, this is instinctual behavior from 20+ years of dealing with constant critsits in professional services roles that I need to change.

Any work-related anxiety I get from not responding immediately is my fault and nobody else's.

As we continue to peel back the anxiety onion, on top of all the tools we use for business, there is also all the social networking stuff.

I use Facebook and Twitter to follow the industry, which I have to do for my role at Microsoft and also in my capacity as a freelance writer.

But it would be inaccurate to say I use these strictly for professional purposes, a lot of things of personal interest gets mixed in with the feeds I follow. I'm a technologist, and technology is also one of my hobbies. As are a wide variety of other things.

I keep Twitter running on all of my devices all of the time. I use it most in the morning and during the evening, but I do glance at it a bit and issue a few updates during the day, and more on the weekends.

I think it is safe to say that I am probably using Twitter too much, in both my professional day and my off hours. The same could be said of Facebook, although more so in off hours.

The constant stimulation of social networks is a stress inducer. It will be that much more once the political campaigning hits full swing. Within three or four months the volume will be tremendous and will be louder than anything else, if it isn't already.

I've tried using enabling technology to filter these things out. Unfortunately it's not foolproof, and the solution that I used which was Facebook-specific doesn't currently work, although it is being re-written.

Ultimately though, peering at Twitter and Facebook constantly because of continual updates is my own fault. Nobody else's. Any stress I derive from what I read and feel the need to respond to is my own fault. Nobody else's.

So what should I do? Well, I could apply some techniques I have learned coping with food-related anxiety after my surgery -- during Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT.

Specifically, the technique I find most valuable are Mindfulness exercises.

You don't have to undergo ACT to use mindfulmess. In fact mindfulness practice has been around for a very long time, going back to Buddhist psychological traditions.

Without getting into too much detail, practicing mindfulness allows you to be self-aware, moment to moment, in your own stream of consciousness. If noise or sensory input is making you anxious, becoming aware of those sensory inputs and acknowledging your stress inducers helps you deal with it better.

Unlike food-related anxiety, however, technological-induced anxiety is for the most part purely self-inflicted. You can choose at any time to turn the social networks off. You can decide at any time when work hours stop and personal hours begin.

So in essence being mindful with technology means not just knowing when to disregard sensory inputs, but acknowledging that they exist and having the ability to remove yourself from the situation -- to turn the apps off, to have personal time.

To not allow our technology to enslave us.

I do not advocate necessarily becoming a Luddite, especially if you are a technologist.

However, I do feel that having the ability to mindfully disconnect is going to become increasingly valuable.

For some of us, especially those who grew up without social networking technology, it will be easier to do although we will require re-training and continually reinforcing our own mindfulness.

For others, such as millennials, it will be extremely difficult. And I suspect this is a specialty and a demographic many mental health professionals will be focusing on in years to come.

Talk of course is cheap. Ultimately I need to take this into my own hands, and this year I will make technology my slave -- not the other way around, as I have permitted it to be.

Will 2016 be the year you become mindful in your use of technology and social networking? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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