Technostress: Rise Against The Machines

06 January 2013 by A.Cedilla

  • Advancements in computing have reinterpreted human limits of “just how much work you are supposed to do in a day” (productivity) and have increasingly infringed on our basic health requirement to be protected from constant overestimation brought about by connectivity.
  • Communication technology developments in the past 20 years have relentlessly pushed us to become more adept in navigating the world using these technologies — which touches on our adaptability, familiarity and mastery.

Technological advances gave us speed and power, but our biological hard-wiring is stressed out because we are not equipped to handle the exponential speed that these tools supposedly put into our control. What was intended to enhance our communication often renders us mostly disconnected from our deepest selves and from each other.

And we’re not machines. Unstructured or ‘off’ time is important because that’s when we rest and let our ideas percolate without ego, pressure or limits. The open spaces in our lives are are where — and when — new things can come into being unhindered. Things like reconnection, reflection, replenishment and rest. The problem is that the very things that were meant to make our lives run on an easier and more orderly level have basically taken over.

  • How long can you disconnect before you feel panicked that you’ll fall too far behind?
  • How long can you work offline when everything makes it so easy to stay on in the first place?

Technology is too fast for us to track and control, and the resulting technostress leaves us feeling we can’t measure up. And quite honestly, we really can’t keep pace, because human evolution and technological evolution don’t work on the same time-scale.

The results:

  • Information come in too fast, and we can’t deal with it in a timely, healthy manner. We scramble, we hustle, we stretch ourselves thin trying to stay on top and avoid being run over.
  • We get used to being “always-connected”, and are habituated to a constant inflow of data. Wake up, turn over, power-up the laptop…go to a dinner out with friends, then spend the evening fiddling with your smartphone, etc.
  • Time is distorted. When you work on an international team, or a company that promises 24/7 support, for example, whose time-zone is respected? Even with rules in place, who gets the most time, and in what sequence, when it seems everyone’s asking you for different things all at the same time?
  • With so many things to pay attention to, your attention of course, is split. An even better word would be ‘fractured’.
  • Aside from update-addiction, you’re also tasked to work faster to keep pace. Gerbil, meet exercise wheel. Your hear rate goes up even if you don’t get anywhere.
  • You’re left with little time to rest and recollect.

Biological constraints, physiological requirements, mental processing speeds –there is only so much we literally, biologically, and mentally can understand and ingest properly at any given time.

Think of it: when some new information comes in you need the time to do the following in sequence, before you make a decision:

  • Take in the new data – the facts, the background, the context and the open issue that needs to be addressed.
  • Re-frame it in a way you can understand the whole picture and use it accordingly.
  • Think of what to do with that data — how to answer it, how to handle it, who to give to, how to apply it best.
  • Deciding on a plan of action from a possible range of actions: act, hold, shelve, delegate, etc.

— again and again. And you can only decide so much before your brain gets exhausted, and your focus and energy runs out.

New information coming in every day, every hour, exposure to which can lead to an overstimulated mind. Think of eating: we need time to swallow properly or we choke on too big bites or too hurried gulps–and we also need time to digest properly. So, the only local course of action would be:

  • To protect oneself from being overstimulated – use filters, screens, barriers, or outright removing some sources of the problem, and making others accessible only at certain times. You use antiviruses and firewalls as a matter of course when you’re online, you can use discipline, apps and habits to ensure that distractions and interruptions have fewer chances to get to you.
  • To have enough time blocked off to deal with things in an orderly fashion. When you’re in that block, you deal with the issues in that block, and those issues alone. This takes old-fashioned tools like focus, being quiet, discipline and perseverance.

Log how you use your time. See where it’s being put to your best use, and what activities are the ones which aren’t fulfilling or, generative or restorative. Look at the parts of your life that been influenced by tech that have given you the most stress, and see how you can turn that around.

  • Things like not being familiar or comfortable enough with using social media or new tech (programs, apps), etc, for your job. Is there any extra training you can tap, or reference material you can study at home?
  • The belief that you’re too old to learn new things. Exorcise the voices telling you that. Your choices define you, not your perceived age.

Consider a Faraday hour — I just made this up — where you block out time where nothing from the outside world can bug you through electronic means, and you can just focus on just being: focusing, thinking, creating, pondering, and solving problems without all the demands.

Most manual labor has been mostly outsourced, so many of us are forced to work in our heads —all the time. Without strong habits, discipline and useful ways of filtering data, the onus is on us. Examine your biggest work loads and your most common time-wasters, and use your brains to rise to the challenge.

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