Technology is often my lifeline. Especially recently (because I've been helping care for my dad through his cancer treatment), I have relied on it to keep up with friends, family, work, and the world at large. I also use it to read and listen to music, among other entertainment. Am I a technology addict?
A recent article in the New York Times, entitled "Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price", focuses on the technological habits of the Campbell family. I've noticed similar habits in myself. I have a hard time not answering my cell phone when it rings, and I compulsively check my numerous email accounts throughout the day. The Campbells do this to the extreme. Kord Campbell, the father of the family, sometimes sleeps with his laptop or iPhone on his chest. I may have slept next to my computer a few times when I was on a tight deadline for school, but I have never slept with my computer on top of me.
I admit that I spend a lot of time on my computer more days than not. But I have reasons. My job requires that I write and run computer programs, write papers, and communicate with colleagues across the country. Some of my best friends live several hundred miles from me and are very busy. I use email and occasionally instant messaging to keep up with them, and I don't receive a paper newspaper, so I read my news online. Of course, I also use my computer to write these posts. All those add up to a lot of screen time.
They are also excuses. A lot of my computer time does not work toward any of them. A certain amount of time for non-productive entertainment is permissible, if I can keep it under control and realize how much time I'm really devoting to it. When I catch myself spending several hours on my computer with nothing to show for it, not only do I feel apathetic from having my eyes adhered to the screen for so long, but I also feel terrible for wasting so much time. I usually can't name anything I enjoyed during that time. It was mindless. On the other hand, some of my best days are the ones devoid of technological gadgets. Are you seeing a trend?
That's not even when it started. Growing up, I waged a second-hand battle with the TV. My dad watched it a lot. When I tried to talk to him, he frequently shushed me because I was interrupting--that is, if he heard me at all. I missed going on bike rides and talking with him like we did when I was younger. I was angry with him for that, but I was also angry at the TV. I swore I would not do the same to my friends and family. I would not let TV rule that much of my life.
Now I barely watch TV, so it certainly is not ruling my life. It still drives me nuts when someone reflexively turns on the TV. I wonder, though: have I have simply supplanted one technology for another? One of the first things I do when I wake up in the morning or get home is open my laptop to check the latest of everything online. Will I let my computer and cell phone distract me from my friend sitting next to me or my family sitting around the table? I ask myself these questions nearly every day.
I am certainly not claiming that technology is inherently evil. It provides many benefits. The way people interact with it is what causes a problem. I fervently hope that, by noticing and questioning my tech-related habits, they will not become a problem.