"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy." Brother David Steindl-Rast

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Pros and Pitfalls of Technology

Today I am grateful for reminders to slow down and enjoy the holiday season rather than be consumed by it. I am also grateful for easy recipes and all the writing avenues I have.

One of the opportunities that makes me a paid and published writer is the monthly column I write for our local newspaper. I get paid $30 per column and have been writing it for about four years. I am both proud and humbled when someone mentions to me that they enjoy reading my column. I truly appreciate the opportunity to keep fresh the idea of practicing gratitude.

The column is called "Gratitude Flow" and here is December's effort:

“The Pros and Pitfalls of Technology”
As part of the over-50 crowd, my comfort level with the various forms of technology at our disposal is mixed at best. Computers, cell phones, email, social media, blogs, flat-screen televisions, and more are regular parts of my life; some just personally, some as part of my job. We live in the “Information Age” driven by the “Digital Revolution.” It is amazing and mind-boggling and I appreciate it in numerous ways.
Sending a text to a friend or family member is a quick and easy way to connect or figure out details like where to meet for coffee. My writing pursuits are time-efficient and reach more readers on blogs. It’s nice to know my running mileage from a recent run with the convenient app on my phone. (I just discovered the other day that my “Health” app includes a mindfulness component. I will be using that more.) Google searches help me find answers to many questions almost instantly. I may be a digital immigrant, but I have embraced this new territory quite a bit.
On the other hand, all of this technology and easily accessible information makes it hard to keep pace with today’s world. Neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain and Hardwiring Happiness, refers to it as “being fire-hosed” by information; a fitting analogy for the overload of material at our fingertips. It can be overwhelming, exhausting, and drown out what really matters.
            If we are honest, much of the information we are inundated with isn’t that important, though the providers would like us to think otherwise. It comes down to our individual choices. Like all areas of life, balance is crucial. The time spent with and emphasis given to our high-tech gadgets is a key to our overall wellness. Is it too much? Not enough? Just right? These questions will be answered differently by each of us.
            Framing technology use in the context of gratitude helps me maintain balance. Facebook and blogging allow me to more easily connect or reconnect with family and friends, reading the gratitude lists and writings of others and sharing my own. I appreciate seeing pictures and getting updates on life events. Text messages and emails are both consistent inlets and outlets for my gratitude pursuits. A few words or lines back and forth and I have a good boost.
Yet, it can easily become a time trap, or what I refer to as “getting sucked into the vortex.”  Start reading emails or recent comments on social media and it is easy to lose track of time. It can also chip away at a grateful mindset. Seeing snippets of people’s lives and vacation pictures can make it seem like our own lives are lacking. Seeing the next best thing in terms of clothes, a recipe, or a must-see movie begins to erode our peace. We start to wonder if we should be doing and pursuing more, losing sight of our own priorities. To safeguard against this trap, I never stay too long on social media and I refrain from comparing my insides to other people’s outsides.
Besides being a potential time trap, technology use also steals our attention. How much are we missing when we are plugged in versus unplugged? If someone is always looking at a screen of one kind or another, what else are they missing around them?
Have you ever wondered what good we could do if we put even some of the time and energy that we give to our gadgets in to other pursuits?  Like cleaning a closet and donating items or going out and doing community service for others in need. Or putting our thought energy into finding solutions that will help contribute to the greater good. Gratitude tends to get us out of ourselves. Screen time tends to isolate us.
Technology is a tool, not an end-all. I try to set my own healthy boundaries. I encourage you to do the same. For my family and I, taking intentional breaks from technology includes tech-free sleep areas. As parents, we have a responsibility to set boundaries for our children and help them find a healthy balance. Our future, and theirs, depends on it. Where we put our time and energy determines the pace of our days and the type of impact we leave on the world around us. Simply ask yourself this question: Is my technology use impeding or aiding my gratitude flow?

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