Pushing Back Against a Life Inside our Screens

I’m here today to talk to you about mindful engagement with technology.

I’m a millennial and a digital native. I fall in the unique age group that finds technology instinctive and natural yet still remembers life before technology as we know it today. I don’t mean that we remember being completely without technology. I mean that we are the young adults who grew up in real time with our technology.

We were in middle school when flip phones came out. We grew up as our phones grew up; we matured into high school as our phones advanced to Blackberries and then to the first touchscreen smartphones. Technology slowly occupied a larger and larger portion of our days and of our lives. It was happening to our parents and the rest of society too, but to us it just felt like this must be growing up.

One day I realized I was living my life inside the Internet.

I was connected every waking moment. It felt chaotic because it was chaotic. My brain never had a moment to just be. I was scrolling and skimming and consuming content, usually from multiple sources at a time. There’s endless content on the Internet. Anyone can write and publish their work, myself included. Everything is vying for our visual attention. (Thanks for giving me a few minutes of yours!) Every marketing blog with tips doubles as a list of thinks you aren’t doing but probably should be. Comparing yourself to other people and companies is easier than ever — and it’s also easier to miss the truth behind the scenes while you’re making those comparisons.

Just watching a movie while not simultaneously texting and surfing the Internet felt like a grand effort of focus. It was a 24/7 feed of information with scarcely time to even process it all. I was anxious. Frustrated. Angry. Scrolling through Facebook made me angry — I had “liked” a bunch of news pages thinking it would keep me informed but the news was hardly ever good news. It was constant, relentless streams of bad news. It was like watching the evening local news of two murders, an apocalypse, and maybe throw in a human interest feel-good story about a puppy but also we’re in a drought and there’s no rain in the forecast. All. Day. Long.

Now, living inside the Internet is not inherently a bad thing.

There are lots of ways in which technology actually enhances or increases human connection, providing supportive communities for angsty teenagers or enabling a grandparent to communicate with grandchildren who live out of town. But there are also ways in which technology sucks time and attention away from the humans right in front of us, or makes us feel as though our lives don’t measure up to everyone else’s social media highlight reel.

So that is why I am pushing back.

I am pushing back against a life inside the Internet. I am pushing back against a life inside of these glowing screens and blinking lights. I’m not rejecting it, I’m just pushing back. The world and our careers have gone digital and there’s no way for me to completely extricate myself without entirely giving up on personal and professional goals. The same is likely true for all of you.

If you want to be an active member of modern society, you have to engage with technology. If you want to reach large audiences, you have to engage with technology. The question becomes, can we make conscious choices to engage mindfully? In a way that nourishes our mental health and our relationships with other humans? Can we actively shy away from automatically defaulting to the digital? There might be an app for that, but that doesn’t mean we have to use it.

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