I’ve recently had several conversations with clients and friends about how to work with technology. We are connected to everyone around us constantly through our phones, tablets, and computers. We have little pinging noises interrupting our conversations, meetings, recreation and quiet time. And we don’t feel like we can turn them off because the kids might call or we’ll miss the big news or not get a message that is of utmost importance.
A very few years ago none of this technology was available. If someone wanted to contact us, they would have to leave a message on our answering machine or voicemail. If they sent us an e-mail, we might get to it the next time we sat at a computer. And there was no such thing as an IM or text message. We got the information we needed when we need it, and there was no expectation that we were available to respond at any time of day or night. We had boundaries around our contact with others, and they were usually respected.
Because of this information overload, I run across more and more people who are exhausted and overwhelmed by having no down time, no peace and quiet, no time without an external expectation. This leads to higher stress levels and the inability to ever feel truly relaxed. I’ve even heard about phantom phone symptoms when you feel your device vibrating even when it isn’t in your pocket! However, when I suggest setting boundaries around communication and using this great technology, it’s usually inconceivable at first. We don’t know how to function without being plugged in. We feel lost leaving the house without our phone in the same way we would without our keys. I do think it’s time to give technology some boundaries so that we can own it instead of it owning us.
People who know me well know that I don’t answer my cell phone after a certain time of night, so if they want to talk to me, they’ll call me at home or have to wait until the next day to get a return call. I also don’t respond to e-mails when I’m tired or look at work e-mails in the evening. When I am not working, I turn work off. That is my boundary. At the same time, I’m also very good at responding to anyone who calls or texts or e-mails me. I take my time deciding how to respond and then I do it because I am giving my full attention to my communication, and things rarely slip through the cracks. I think this is a direct result of having boundaries around communication and technology.
Your boundaries may not be as strict as mine, but experiment with them. Tell people that you don’t take calls and texts after a certain time of night and turn your phone off or put it in a drawer. Turn off the sound on your messaging system so you don’t get every e-mail notification interrupting you in the middle of dinner. Don’t answer the phone during dinner. Set a day to be technology free once a month and hold yourself to it. Play with your boundaries and see what works for you. You won’t regret it!