It has become impossible nowadays for some people to switch off and actively recognise that we are supposed to set boundaries for ourselves when it comes to the use of technology,” says Imran Rashid. “It is really transforming our lives.”
A doctor and specialist in general medicine, Rashid has worked as an IT entrepreneur for a number of different startups. As innovation manager at Aleris-Hamlet Hospitals, Denmark’s biggest network of private hospitals, he started to explore the relationship between patients and their tech habits.
“It was the combination of humans and technology that made me wonder about the effects of digitalisation on our lives, especially when hearing about recurring problems such as stress and sleep disorders,” Rashid explained.
Rashid is the author of Offline – the art of survival in a digital world, (a bestseller currently only available in Danish: ‘SLUK‘) that explores the impact of ever-present technology on our everyday lives. The idea arose after his seven-year-old daughter asked for an iPhone, which led Rashid to wonder about the long-term consequences of the ubiquity of this type of technology.
“I think we have a problem here. The push toward digitalisation has primarily focussed on what technology can do, but we have never focussed on what, as humans, we actually need,” he observes.
He argues that popular interest in technology has driven companies toward the constant development of incredible new features, be it vast data storage, finding a date wherever you might be in the world, or unlocking your device with a fingerprint.
But what tech companies have failed to deliver is technology that meets real human needs.
“My question is: does technology make you a better human being, or are we simply helping tech companies get bigger? That’s what I would like people to consciously think about.”
Cult of instant gratification
Our smartphones distract us even when we are not using them. Researchers at the University of Texas divided 800 smartphone users into two different groups and discovered that those who did not have their smartphone in sight performed significantly better at mental tasks.
“The brain is constantly busy fighting the urge to take the phone and use it. Sleeping with your phone next to you, for example, just destroys your sleep,” says Rashid.
“What we lack is an understanding of the depth to which digital technology is transforming us, especially in terms of its impact on our self-control.”
Notifications are largely to blame, he argues. Whether it’s for a like on an Instagram photo or to let you know someone has sent a message on Snapchat, our inability to say ‘no’ and postpone the instant gratification is what makes technology so disruptive to our focus, sleep and relationships.
“Technology is unconsciously turning our approach into ‘why wait?’ Why work on a relationship when there’s always Tinder?” Rashid observes.
Interrupting our focus
The fact is that most people had a hard enough time trying to focus before smartphones came along. The concept of multitasking is mostly myth – the human brain isn’t able to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. Rather, what most people understand as multitasking is actually task switching, and each switch from one task to another costs time.
“When you divide your focus, you miss out on details, because data loss is higher when switching back and forth. This means that you put less focus on one activity because you are forcing your brain to do two or more tasks at once,” he says.
This is bad, according to Rashid, because when our focus is divided between more than one activity, our performance on each individual task is worsened.
“We are getting to the point where technology is constantly breaking into our conscious thoughts and forcing us to do what it wants. And when that happens, we are no longer in control of our own lives. We are not fully living our lives when we get distracted every 5 minutes by a screen lighting up.”
Ultimately, Rashid argues that time we spend on technology is time taken from our friends, families and lovers. So minimising the time we spend on our mobile devices can translate into a richer and more connected life with the people we surround ourselves with.
“My suggestion is to reflect on what we have gone through in the last ten years, a time dominated by a focus on the possibilities of technology. Over the next ten years, I would like to see a digitalisation of society in which we primarily focus on what people need and want. This is what it means to put the focus on human beings, which is exactly what we have consistently been missing out on in the past decade.” M
TOP TIPS FOR TAKING BACK CONTROL FROM TECHNOLOGY
Charge your phone outside the bedroom
Sleeping without the phone in the room can do wonders for your sex life.
Delete apps that give you a dopamine kick, such as games, social media, and news.
Place your phone completely out of range
When mobile devices are in visible distance, our brains are constantly fighting the urge to pick it up. Put your phone in another room if you need to focus.
Leave your phone at home when you go on a trip with your family
If you need it to take photos, put it on either ‘do not disturb’ or ‘flight mode’.
Turn off notifications
Apps are cleverly designed to keep us returning to them, but doing so means constantly interrupting our attention on the moment. Turning off notifications restores your control over when you choose to use your mobile device.