We are back after two weeks of –what I tried to be– a complete disconnect from technology. It was not easy! The first two days I felt in withdrawal of one of the worst addictions I have ever experienced: technology addiction.
Yes, in 1989 I quit smoking “cold turkey” and never looked back. To this day, cigarette smoke and smell feels repulsive to me and I wonder how I could ever smoked –despite remembering it was very pleasurable at the time.
Work has always been a good addiction for me, a way to deal with problems I did not want to face, the solace of the compulsive mind, the entertainment of my solitude and a way to feel good about myself when other aspects of my life were not working as well –especially love relationships.
Migrating to a country where people work compulsively was an excellent match for me, as I put long hours in the office, commuting, getting ready for the next step in the corporate ladder, and competing with myself –and others– to make professional gains.
Needless to say, having my own business has been the perfect game to my “workaholic-ism”: long hours, no vacation time or restful weekends, or other life activities. Little by little, now that I look back, everything that left me some free time –my children leaving for college, breaking up my last relationship, or finding time to do the things I love like dancing and or/traveling– was replaced with good ol’ work, always there to fill a blank in my life.
Launching a digital initiative, however, has been by far the most addictive activity of all and I’m not alone. According to an article from Knowledge@Wharton, our lives have become so intertwined with technology that it is hard to distinguish when we are working and when we are living –not for nothing, the Blackberry is also known as the “crackberry.”
In this article, Carolyn Marvin, a researcher professor on the social impact of communication technologies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, says: “Technology is just a very efficient way of implementing a view we already have of ourselves. That’s the notion that who we are is our ability to produce in the marketplace and constantly show that we are producing.”
Moreover, the view we have of ourselves is not only related to productivity but deeply intertwined with the ideology of a society that has made the so-called American work ethics the center of its national ethos, the “American Dream.” No wonder why millions of immigrants find it fascinating to land in the “purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!”
In the ideals that freedom is the opportunity for prosperity, success and upward mobility achieved through hard work, we have been told that we can do and become anything and everything we want as long as we apply ourselves to it. However, less and less Americans find these principles to be truth these days. In fact, our American Dream has become the daily nightmare of device slavery, forcing us to be constantly “connected” to our jobs, businesses, social media channels, and networks in the fear that something catastrophic might happen if we fall short of digital presence.
And something catastrophic is happening: not only is our workforce losing productivity but also we are losing the opportunity to live in the real world, with real people, doing real things and regaining control of our lives.
A couple of years ago, my daughter –who lives in Argentina– came to visit. Even with Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, and all the digital ways in which we connect, it is hard for me to not have a present relationship experience with her. I tried to raise my children in a close family environment, and the family for many years were just the three of us, so when she decided to go back to her country of birth, it was a big punch.
One day, we had planned a special sushi lunch just the two of us to catch up. I was waiting for the confirmation of an article I had pitched to a publication at that time, and had my phone on. In truth, I was a little anxious about getting it for that was a well-paid gig. Of course the confirmation came in the middle of our long-awaited time together, and it distracted me from the conversation.
My daughter was truly upset, and she was right –although I did not acknowledge it at the time. “Can you turn off your cell phone for one hour?” she asked. I felt she was not fair and maybe she didn’t have to. All she was asking was my undivided attention after one year of not seeing each other. Do you think it was much to ask?
So there I was, not having a real boss –I have been my own boss for many years now– being enslaved by the need to be constantly present in a world that only exists in the imagination of all we agree to participate in, a world where real emotions and real people are not always present.
I have been on Facebook and other social media channels long enough now to experience the damage that the wrong use of these tools can cause in our lives. I’m not a technology basher, on the opposite, I love using and learning it, and when used to our advantage, it can provide a very fulfilling experience.
What I’m not buying anymore –neither should you– is the invariable bombardment of success stories, the “be all you can be” barrage, and the “work your passion and everything else will follow” stories that berate us on a regular basis. Yes, I’ve used the right verb because… what happens then if you don’t achieve? What if you don’t find your passion? What if “everything else” does not follow? Then you feel like the big LOSER, the one that “doesn’t make it happen” because you don’t apply yourself, you don’t work hard enough or simply “doesn’t have it.”
And here we go again, in this merry go round of lies and pressures, letting the good moments in life pass us by, seeing our children leave home before we were really there for them, and allowing this obsessive need to feel important and powerful in a world that only exists in our willingness to take part in it, and will still exist even when we disconnect from it for a two-week vacation.