We are constantly hearing and reading about the negative impact of social media, and other digital forms of communication.
Recently a survey for Safer Internet day found that 10 percent of children between 8 and 10 were online for more than four hours every day, and almost 40% are speaking to strangers online. These findings prompted CyberSafeIreland to call for a national parental online safety campaign, an initiative to help protect our children.
However, how can we as adults protect ourselves from the demands of online communication? How can we reclaim some power in our relationship with technology, improving our work and personal lives, and the behavior we model for our families?
In the world of work the culture of being “always on” is pervasive. Prof Cary Cooper , a leading authority on workplace psychology, argues that it is the advent of emails on our phones which began the modern era of technostress. Faced with the stress of a constant flow of information from our phones and laptops, we find it difficult to focus on what we are doing, or to prioritise the incoming flow of other information and demands.
France is introducing a law guaranteeing employees the right to “disconnect” after they leave the workplace. In Germany the Daimler corporation supports employees by deleting emails while they are on holidays. They have introduced the automatic response: “This person is on vacation, so we’ve deleted your email. This person will never see the mail you just sent. You can email back in a couple of weeks or email someone else.” Other companies are blocking client emails outside of work hours. These type of interventions are very supportive of employee wellbeing and ensure employees can enjoy their out of work time much better.
Companies, however, do need to be explicit about their expectations of their employees inside and outside of office hours and set out an email policy. (See my previous blog post)
Our personal and professional lives are generally less divided than before, especially for those of us who are self-employed. The constant checking of our devices causes us to feel overloaded, diverts our attention from families and friends, and engages us when we should be relaxing or resting at night.
A survey by Deloitte found that almost half of respondents felt a constant need to check their phones, and, according to another poll, most of us check our phones on waking. This is not how we should start our day!
A Global Campfire.
We can, however, cultivate a more positive and empowered approach to social media and the digital revolution. Technology allows us to listen to podcasts and videos, and we can now join in conversations across the globe and build communities that support and nourish us. We can join webinars, meditations, enlist in online courses, and build communities with like-minded people.
Recently I heard Thomas Hübl, a contemporary spiritual teacher, refer to our increased social connectivity as holding the possibility for a global campfire. He was suggesting we could use technology to connect worldwide in a positive manner. Many people are feeling isolated and disconnected from the wider community. Digital technology can ease this sense of isolation. It can also support us to connect with ourselves through meditations and other self-reflective practices.
To shift our relationship with technology, however, requires us to take back our power and become more aware of how we are engaging with our devices. By setting limits on how often we interact with digital technology means we will also enjoy it more when we are using it.
We need guidelines at work which will respect employees’ rest times, and ease the burden of technostress. We need to encourage new behavioral norms around time off and perhaps introduce initiatives such as “no-email Friday? In our personal lives, we need also to adopt a more mature relationship with our technology.
Some questions we might ask ourselves:
How much am I using my digital devices? Do I ever switch off?
Do I check my phones while watching a film, reading a book, or talking to friends or family?
How do I feel after using social media?
What can I do at home or in work to reduce the time I spend on digital devices?
Could I try having a technology, or phone free, day?
Could I initiate a conversation in my workplace about an out-of-hours email policy?
Monica Haughey Feb 2019