When I was a child I lived in a rural area in Wyoming. We had a post office, but no grocery store or gas station – those were 50 miles away in the nearest town. I vividly remember when got our first telephone. It was a party-line, which meant that three families shared the phone line – each family having their own distinctive ring pattern. Having a phone was such a novelty that we all jumped whenever we heard our ring pattern – regardless of what we were doing at the time. Except for my father – who never jumped up to answer the phone. He believed that the phone was there for his convenience – and if someone really wanted to talk to him, they would call back at another time if he didn’t answer the phone. And this was before voicemail.
Today, we seem to jump, and check it, whenever our mobile device dings – it could be a text message specifically for us with something important, or it could just be an alert that someone else ‘liked’ the same minion post on Facebook that you liked. For many people, there are no distinctions. Are the alerts that you have set up conscious and beneficial – to you? Or, are they just the default set up when the app was installed?
It is clear why the connectedness and notification is set for ‘full on’ when an app is installed. Companies want to sell to you – and by knowing where you are, how often you are posting messages, what you like/don’t like – they can better tailor the message specifically for you. This increases the buying behavior. This isn’t good or bad – it just depends upon what you want. It can be positive that a vendor knows your buying patterns and presents products to you that their algorithm thinks you might like. But do you want them to push notifications to you whenever they want to? And, if you do receive push notifications, do you want an alert ding that interrupts whatever you are doing or saying in that moment?
The other area where boundaries on technology are needed is in human relationships. The consequence of being so connected through the technology is frequently less touch in relationships with other people. Dr. Gary Small, a neuroscientist and professor at UCLA says, “The downside of such immersion in technological devices, is that people are not having conversations, looking people in the eye, or noticing verbal cues.” Have you ever seen two people having an argument via instant messaging? Teenagers will break up using texting. There is a need for communication skills and practice that the technology can’t replace. While my college-age children are now out of the house, they still occasionally come to dinner. They know that the boundary for dinner is, ‘no phones or texting during dinner’. The family dinner, around the table, is a time for conversation and connecting – with the humans at the table. During your next dinner, ask yourself, are people in relationship with each other – or with their cell phones?
For most careers, communication skills are not provided as part of the standard education. These skills – listening, conflict resolution, acknowledgement, etc. – can be learned. They are needed more than ever – especially when technology is involved and especially with technically trained people. Technology enables us to do things faster. But if the communication is junky or incomplete, then the technology just lets than happen faster as well.
What boundaries do you have, or want, on the technology you use? Have you thought about it consciously? Do you have boundaries for when you let it intrude on, and interrupt, your life? Do you put more emphasis on the person sitting in front of you than on your mobile device? As my Dad would have asked – ‘Is it there for your convenience or benefit?’ If your answer is no – might be time for some thought. Time to make sure that you are benefitting from your technology and not letting it drive you.