THE BLOG
10/29/2014 03:17 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2014

Dear Tech: Let's Reevaluate Our Relationship

Sharon Vos-Arnold via Getty Images

Apple just released OS X Yosemite, a "powerful" operating system that, according the hype, would give me even faster access to more information. As eager as a child on Christmas morning, I downloaded it.

Unfortunately, what happened is that Yosemite brought my computer to a standstill. Even the simplest task, like typing an email, took an excruciatingly long time. And forget browsing the web; that irritating rolling ball stopped me in my tracks. Out of complete frustration, I finally just walked away from the device, letting the Mac geniuses confer with senior engineers to figure out what went wrong.

This took a lot longer than I expected. My problems started on a Friday and nearly a week later, I was still computer-less and exhibiting the annoying symptoms (just ask my family) of an addict gone cold turkey.

However, this left me with time to think, a challenge without the aid of Google to be sure, but possible nonetheless. I began to wonder when my relationship with technology had become so complicated. How had I gotten to this place where I couldn't live without it? Did I really need such speedy access to all the open windows cluttering my desktop... even with a functional iPhone and iPad? Would too much information, I wondered, ever be enough?

After a long spell of this thinking, easily three minutes, I started getting a headache, so I turned to Tech Ethicist and Digital Lifestyle Expert David Ryan Polgar for his assessment of the issue. According to David, "Striking a healthy balance with technology allows us to gain the most of our internal thinking and the external world around us. While the issue of tech balance may seem trivial to some, at its core it is about how we relate to the world." He believes that finding this "balance" is one of the greatest challenges of our day.

I agreed.

David then introduced me to Raefer Gabriel whose company, Delvv, is meeting this challenge head on. Delvv is a free mobile app that offers its users personalized recommendations of apps, articles, events, and more. By learning about a user's particular interests, Delvv is able to cut through the information clutter to deliver content that's personally relevant and useful.

Raefer, formerly the founder and chief scientist of Reputation.com, believes people today are "engaging with their devices rather than with the people or content that really matters to them." Like David he thinks the problem of information overload, or what Raefer calls the "interruptive nature of technology," is getting worse... especially with people (like me) eager for faster, better, and more powerful devices that are readily supplied by the marketplace. While we think we need a better mousetrap, like a faster smart phone or tablet, the basic hard wiring of our brains, according to Raefer, renders us incapable of effectively processing all the information the new device is capable of throwing at us. That's why we need technology to manage our technology.

Even media scholar Henry Jenkins agrees, at last week's Digital Hollywood gathering he told industry insiders, "Simply providing access to information is useless if nobody can find it - that new information has to be easily discoverable."

I mulled all this over and still had time to do other things, like watch my teenager do her homework. Jeez, I wondered, how in the heck could she concentrate while her iPhone chirped with texts, Snapchats, and various other notifications of things she was missing?

Adults struggling with "information-overload" are one thing, but what about kids? They're additionally disadvantaged because the brain center where judgment takes place, the frontal lobe, is under construction until about age 25. Without its help, how in the world can a teenager judge when enough is enough?

The answer, of course, is that they can't. Studies show that kids are more overwhelmed than ever, and frankly most of us have been too preoccupied with our email to notice.

With my own email trapped in the iCloud, I was able to spend time on the phone with Spring Hollis of Copilot Family, who told me how her company was addressing this "kids and info overload" problem. As we spoke I became fascinated by this free app that lets parents (and schools) manage, or "copilot," a child's relationship with technology because, as the company's other co-founder Paul Blackstone explains it, "You'd never give a 12-year-old keys to the car, so why would you ever give them the keys to the whole world of unfiltered information?".

Spring told me about a 14-year-old boy who was distracted in school by a classmate who'd taken his picture, applied a bunch of goofy filters to it and messaged to the rest class without the teacher even noticing. I could totally relate to this story because as a digital literacy teacher myself I often struggle with how to keep students working on iPads from being easily and understandably distracted by the features of the device (usually the camera). I'm eager to try Copilot Family not only to manage how much, but also what, students can access in class. I figure they could use a little help while learning to achieve focus on their own.

So today, after a complete erase and reinstall (thank you Jackson at Apple), my computer is back in business. While certainly frustrating, this "time-out" did force me to reevaluate my relationship with tech. Frankly, it demands too much of my time and attention, it overshares, and doesn't give space to think. While I take full responsibility for letting our relationship get to this unhealthy place, I'm going set some boundaries, possibly with the aid of products like the ones above.

Yes, things are going to be different. I'm sorry tech. But that's just the way it goes.