Today I dared a class of students to turn their cell phones off for an entire weekend. The shock and horror that registered on their faces made them look as if the blood had just been drained from their bodies by evil vampires intent on destroying life as they knew it.
“The WHOLE weekend? Why? Why would anyone do that?!” wailed one particularly distraught young man, who looked as if I has asked him to eat live lizards. “That would suck! I’d be alone all weekend!”
I then asked him, “Do you dislike yourself so much that you think you’re bad company?”
He had not thought about it that way, and it gave him pause. But he still insisted that my dare, which I thought was fairly simple, had tripped upon a sacred principle of freedom held dear by many young people today. As Americans, they are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of unlimited text messaging.
This whole exchange grew from our discussion of the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant’s command, “Sapere Aude! [Dare to Know!] Have the courage to use your own understanding!” I asked the students if they truly were able to connect with themselves, or if they were so distracted by their constant interactions with technology that they never had the chance to really think, process information and interact with the world more directly. I asked them, “If you can’t break away from your phone, does that mean that you are really not in control of your own life—that you really don’t have any freedom? Are you a prisoner of the technology you think frees you?”
Does Technology Increase Stress?
The conflict I outlined above touches the heart of an issue that concerns many: In increasing our reliance on technology, have we inadvertently made our lives more difficult and stressful? This is an important issue for online students, many of whom work all day at computer-related jobs and then come home to sit in front of a computer to do coursework, all the while answering phone and text messages, watching TV, etc. Add to that the stress created by technology failures (i.e., computer crashes, error messages, lost calls and network connections), and you may have a recipe for a meltdown on your hands.
The research on how much stress technology creates is inconclusive. The Rogers Innovation Report, which measures the way Canadians interact with and value technology, was released last week and it reports that Canadians believe that “technology reduces stress and is vital for keeping in touch with family and friends.” This is largely because the ability to connect with family and friends through social media reduces the worries they have about them. However, another recent study, this from the United Kingdom, shows that one in three Brits are “overwhelmed by everything from email to Twitter,” and that “38 percent of study participants ages 10 to 18 felt overwhelmed by too much technology, compared to 34 percent of adults between the ages of 25 and 34.” Some also believe that the omnipresence of technology makes it more difficult to separate our work lives from our personal lives, increasing our stress levels because we can never truly disconnect and relax.
Tech stress can have a real impact on daily life, and this is something online students should pay attention to because of the technological demands of online education. Distractibility and fatigue can lead to poor work and study habits and poorer work results. To manage online coursework and not become overwhelmed, first determine if you show any of the signs of tech stress. Below you will find some tips on how to determine if you are suffering from tech stress and how to reduce that stress:
Signs of Tech Stress
- Loneliness: Texting with your friends all day but still feel empty inside. You’re lonely for real human connection. This is a form of tech stress.
- Low Frustration Threshold: Are you so impatient with people and their text messages, or with a problem with your phone, that you want to just throw the thing? You’ve got tech stress.
- Squinting, Headaches, Eye Strain: This one is simple. You are spending too much time looking at screens and it is causing health problems. That leads to more stress because you won’t be able to handle your responsibilities. The same goes for back/neck/leg pain from sitting at a desk for too long.
- Avoidance: Are you dragging your heels about responding to an email from your boss or a family member. There may be many reasons for this, but you also may be weary of the e-mail merry-go-round.
How to Combat Tech Stress
- Use Good Equipment: Make sure your equipment and technology is up-to-date and of good quality. This minimizes the potential for problems, and eliminates the anxiety that comes from incidents of malfunction.
- Use Technology: It may seem counterintuitive, but you can actually use your technology to address stress issues. There are a number of good applications for the iPhone, for example, which help you do things like monitor your emotional state and follow guided meditation paths. MyCalmBeat is a biofeedback sensor that monitors your breathing and heart rate on your smartphone.
- Watch Your Health: Check out this slideshow from Best Health about ways to reduce your tech stress, including everything from keeping a specific schedule to setting time limits on web surfing.
- Turn it Off: Back in the psychedelic 60s, the Beatles song “Tomorrow Never Knows” told listeners, “turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. It’s not dying.” They were right, trust me: You will not die and the world will also continue to spin on its axis if you turn off your smartphones, log off your computers, or switch off the television. The Beatles were heavily influenced by Eastern religions, and we could all borrow a page from some of those philosophies, many of which emphasize the importance of meditation and rejuvenation through quiet time.
For some people, these steps—especially the last one—will be difficult, given the demands of daily life. Use baby steps and try one approach at a time. Find what works for you. Some people may find it relaxing to play with their pets, while others may simply want to lie quietly and listen to the wind in the trees. You will be rewarded with more fruitful and productive interactions through technology, better academic work, and maybe even better health.