Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. -Arthur C. Clarke

It started to become a real problem when I was eleven or twelve.

I would stay up late thinking, writing in my journal, listening to the sounds our old, creaky house made when the wind blew strongly. The more I thought, the more stimulated I became—it was exciting. But then the next day, when I slumped in my chair and struggled to focus on the chalkboard, I regretted the sleeplessness of the night before.

I didn’t connect the dots then, but now, looking back, my insomnia seemed particularly problematic when I would allow technology to infringe on my last waking hours. My bed time was 9:30, so I watched TV until 9:15 and then rushed to get into bed. Later, when I was sixteen and no longer had a bed time, I would stay up late writing on my computer, reading about reptiles on forums, and exploring other various interests (such as religion, cute puppies, popular bands, and later, friends’ Facebook and MySpace pages).

It was a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, I was inspired by the potential technology, and in particular the Internet, unlocked in me. I explored the depths of any subject that interested me, and felt my mind opening to worlds far beyond what I had seen growing up in Indiana. On the other hand, I felt possessed by technology.

I struggled to sleep when I knew that I had the world available at the click of a mouse. If I didn’t check my email or Facebook or cell phone for a couple of hours, I started to feel that I was somehow “missing out.”

Obviously, I didn’t have a healthy relationship with technology.

But how can we? Today’s world is often described as fast-paced, and if that’s the case, how can we afford to slow down?

Technology (in this post, I am referring mainly to Internet—email, Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc., and not medical, industrial, or other applications of technology) gives us the opportunity to connect and share with those that we love, and to meet new people who share our interests and values. But it also allows us to find information and teachers that can greatly benefit us.

Through my work with Weaving Influence, I have begun to understand the difference between absorbing information through technology and engaging with it.

And though I have not yet reached my ideal balance (sometimes I still get excited and rush to “Google” something late at night), I have a few ideas and practices that help me stay grounded.

  • Honoring the Sabbath – Though not everyone maintains a religious practice or community, I think everyone can benefit from picking a day or time to step back from technology. Athletes must rest between workouts, and similarly, taking a break from the computer or phone helps us use our communication tools more effectively and efficiently throughout the week.
  • Music – Its one thing to listen to Pandora (which I love) while working, but another to hear live music or play music yourself! I personally love to sing and play guitar, and even if I am the only one listening, it gives my brain a break from thinking, and lets me engage with myself and others on an emotional, non-sterile level.
  • Remember why we use technology at all –This is a tricky one. I try to keep in mind that technology (particularly gadgets) are supposed to make our lives easier and less stressful so we can put more energy towards what matters to us. In this way, I strive to focus on what technology can do to foster real relationships, and how it can serve as an educational tool. Whatever technology strategy I develop in my own life, I make sure that it serves those goals.

As a writer, technology can break me or make me.  I can allow myself to be distracted by the infinite possibilities the Internet offers and never finish what I started. Or I can sit down, focus on something, and utilize all of the tools my computer has to offer to make my piece as good as it can be. I can then use technology to share my art, request feedback, and read what others have written.

We have some powerful tools at our fingertips. We must use them carefully, and not allow them to use us.

And how about you? What values do you keep in mind when making decisions about your technology use? 

Photo (c) Molly Page