The other day I was walking down Westwood Plaza in LA when I noticed how many people were walking and texting. At least a dozen people were connected to their cell, hardly looking up to see where they were walking.
Several weeks ago, Michael Moore invited people to his new theatre and said, "If we catch you texting, checking your email, or talking on your cell phone during the movie, you will be banned from the theater for life." It made me laugh out loud, but it also made me think about the seriousness of our addiction to tech. We live in a world where wireless connection is taking precedence over human contact. A few weeks ago, an 18-year-old teenager in Taiwan died after playing online video games for 40 hours straight. He spent his final hours in an Internet cafe.
What have we come to? Why are we so preoccupied with technology?
Last spring, when I rented a cottage on a lake in Salt Spring Island, B.C., I stayed on a remote part of the island that had no Internet or phone access. It didn't seem like a big deal at the time since I had wanted retreat and solitude. But in that first week, I noticed my uncomfortable feelings with not being connected to the rest of the world. I thought about how many emails were piling up in my inbox, and what was happening in the news. More than that, I knew what I really wanted was to distract myself from my own aloneness, to be preoccupied, instead of alone with my own thoughts. And just like previous retreats, it took time to fully release and detox my connection to technology.
As a meditation teacher, I've come to realize that people's worst fear, perhaps even more than dying, is being alone with their own thoughts and feelings. Technology distracts us from ourselves. It keeps us from going inside. If we feel bored or listless, it's easy to make a beeline to the computer and surf the net. It keeps us from feeling and healing our inner pain. Like TV, we use technology as an escape.
If we're choosing to invest so much of our time and energy into being online, I think we need to ask ourselves what we're really getting out of it.
Do you think you will find what you're looking for through your computer? What are you really getting from Facebook and Twitter?
Is it ever going to give you the true purpose, meaning and freedom, that you're looking for?
Tech can only take us so far in our true need to be connected. What we need is human connection. But we unknowingly substitute it with the worldwide web. Sure, we can have sex on the Internet, but can we have true love? We can have community through social media, but will it ever fulfill our true need for real connection?
I've noticed that technology feeds unconscious behavior. It often keeps us from being present with ourselves and with each other. We often use technology to fill a void we don't want to feel. Even worse, people are addicted to technology.
Addiction is defined as frequent and obsessive behavior, despite negative consequences from dependency. People who are addicted suffer withdrawal symptoms ranging from feeling annoyed to feelings of desperation. Do you feel anxious or upset when you leave your cell at home, or when you don't have a wireless connection? How much does it affect your well-being? People who suffer from addiction are often in a state of denial, and use substances or objects to preoccupy themselves, in order to avoid feelings of depression and anxiety.
Addiction has physiological effects, including the release of a brain chemical called dopamine. It's responsible for the instant gratification someone gets from engaging in addictive behavior. Ever get high checking email? Depending your use, it could be affecting your brain. In a small study published in Plos One, researchers found evidence that people who abuse technology may develop similar brain chemistry and neural patterning to those who abuse substances. In the long run, addiction to technology can create greater social dis-ease, anxiety and depression. Sadly, we are passing these addictions on to our children.
We need to be aware of how we use our technology. What is your relationship to technology like? How attached do you feel to your computer? Many of us suffer from the need to be connected. Technology has become an intricate part of our culture. However, when do you know it's addictive? When the need to be connected is constant and frequent. Our unconscious addictions, whether through alcohol or technology, often reflect deeper pain and wounds. Everytime you feel the pull to your technology, take a moment to pause and think, "Why am I really doing this?"
So what can we do about this new epidemic, and how can we release our attachment to tech? The first step is to have awareness. When you are aware, you are present. You know what you are doing and why you're doing it. Everytime you check your cell, just notice the energy that is driving you to your tech device. Bring conscious awareness to unconscious, automatic behavior. Choose not to be a zombie to your computer. Be aware of your inner state without judgment. The more aware you are, the more you are empowered to make a different choice.
Simply take a breath, pause and notice the choice you're making.
- Is checking the computer creating greater freedom for me, or greater attachment?
- Am I fulfilling a real need and purpose, or avoiding a deeper pain?
The more aware you are about your relationship to technology, the more empowered you become. Let's make our technology devices work for us, not the other way around. At the end of our lives, I don't think anyone would say, "I wish I spent more time on my computer."
So let's be mindful about our relationship to technology.
Let's put humans before devices.
And let's stop substituting technology for love.
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