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Information Overload: Strategies for Achieving Balance in a Digital World

As technology continues to blur the line between work and personal life, setting aside our devices to connect with others and our environment may be the healthiest decision we make.

12/01/2017 By Robert Nieminen

Stop for a moment. Put down your smartphone or tablet. Power off or walk away from your laptop. Relax.Breathe.

If the content of the text above causes feelings of anxiousness or incites an inner monologue—What if I miss a text? Who’s that Snapchat from? What’s happening on Twitter? My e-mails are piling up!— you’re not alone. In fact, if you’re like most typical smartphone users today, by the time the day is over, you’ll have picked up and touched your phone 2,617 times, spent 145 minutes browsing it, and engaged in 76 interactions or sessions with it, according to a 2016 Business Insider report. (If that seems low, perhaps you’re in the top 10 percent who touch their phones more than 5,400 times daily.)

Wherever you find yourself on the mobile-interaction spectrum, one thing is for certain: good or bad, the Information Age has changed the way we interact with others and the world around us. No longer tethered to cords or desks, people can work 24/7 in any space with a Wi-Fi connection (including airplanes), and the line between work and home has virtually been erased. Without a doubt, advancements in technology have afforded more opportunity for productivity than ever before, but are we truly more industrious or successful than we were before the Digital Revolution? With more information at our fingertips than at any moment in history, have we leveraged it to the greatest advantage? While technology has made it easier for us to connect with others, has our interpersonal communication really improved?

While there’s no definitive answer to these questions, it’s worth pausing to consider the effects that technology has on our daily lives and what, if anything, we should do in response. This CEU aims to do just that: to review briefly the evolution of technology and its impact on our personal lives; to provide an overview of how technology has emerged in commercial interiors and changed the way we work; to examine both positive and negative consequences relating to digital immersion; and to offer simple strategies for finding balance in a hyperconnected world. For all the talk about environmental sustainability in which we as a design community engage, the speed at which we live and the volume of information we consume via technology is difficult to maintain for the long term. Functioning at such a frantic pace bids us to establish equilibrium between our lives, devices, and work to ensure a sense of personal sustainability for our health and well-being.

The Digital Era: A Revolution Through Evolution

By definition, the Digital Revolution refers to “the change from mechanical and analogue electronic technology to digital electronics which began anywhere from the late 1950s to the late 1970s with the adoption and proliferation of digital computers and digital record keeping that continues to the present day,” according to Wikipedia. Implicitly, the term also refers to the sweeping changes brought about by digital computing and communication technology during (and after) the latter half of the 20th century. Analogous to the Agricultural Revolution and Industrial Revolution, the Digital Revolution marked the beginning of the Information Age.

While many regard the Digital Revolution as a singular event, PC Mag notes that, in fact, there have been four computer revolutions, the first of which began in the 1960s when computers started to proliferate and were adopted by businesses around the world. A decade later, the second revolution was born when computers were made available to consumers for the first time, which laid the foundation for the third computer revolution, the internet. Currently, we’re amid a fourth revolution that includes smartphones and tablets that benefit from the advent of wireless technology. Each evolutionary phase of technology has changed society in myriad ways, and as technology continues to advance toward augmented and virtual realities, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s safe to assume that existing technological paradigms will shift yet again.

Today, mobile technology has placed the web into our pockets, and half of the world’s 7.4 billion total population is connected to the internet—a 10-percent increase over last year, according to a 2017 study by creative agency We Are Social. Notably, the report found that social media penetration has reached 37 percent, with a growth rate of 8 percent year-on-year, with 2.5 out of 2.7 billion social media users originating from mobile devices. Further, web browsing is now largely a function people perform more frequently on mobile devices than ever before. We Are Social found that mobile browsing currently accounts for half of the world’s web traffic, noting a 30-percent increase in mobile usage year-on-year.

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Learning Objectives

interiors+sources’ Continuing Education Series articles allow design practitioners to earn continuing education unit credits through the pages of the magazine. Use the following learning objectives to focus your study while reading this issue’s article. To earn 1 learning unit (LU) as approved by AIA, read the article, then log in to take the corresponding exam.

After reading this article, you should be able to:

  • Discuss the origins of the Digital Revolution and define “digital overload.”
  • Explain how technology has reshaped the nature of work and the workplace.
  • Name three design trends that have emerged to counterbalance digitaloverload.
  • Identify six steps to help achieve a sense of balance from digital exposure.

Smart devices are not limited to mobile phones and tablets, however. Whether it’s door locks or lighting, HVAC controls or security cameras (or that Amazon Alexa everyone loves to chat with), every day more objects are designed for connectivity to the internet, commonly known as IoT. To the uninitiated, IoT refers to “a suite of technologies and applications that equip devices and locations to generate all kinds of information—and to connect those devices and locations for instant data analysis and, ideally, ‘smart’ action,’” as defined in a Deloitte study.

These smart, web-enabled devices are quickly capturing every conceivable market. In fact, “there isn’t a single area of our life that won’t be touched by IoT devices in the next decade,” one blogger from Vision Critical stated. A report by Allegion projects by the year 2020 there will be as many as 200 billion connected devices across the globe, which translates to roughly 26 smart objects per person. Wearable devices are also noticeably growing. From 28.3 million units sold in 2016, IDC forecasts an increase to 82.5 million units in 2020, a 31-percent growth.

In our digital era, there’s no doubt that millennials are the quickest to adopt these new technological platforms at a pace that other age groups can’t match, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report. These “digital natives” have never experienced life without the internet, and more than 80 percent of millennials are on Facebook, where their generation’s median friend count is 250, much higher than older age groups.

As such, millennials’ view of technology is very positive, but their relationship to it may best be characterized as dependence. According to a recent report from Lab42, more than 80 percent of respondents believe technology will positively change the world. It also uncovered that nearly 50 percent of millennials admitted they could not surrender their cell phones for a few days and 30 percent said they could only last a few hours to a single day at most without it. Further, more than a third of millennials noted the most upsetting aspect of losing their cell phone would be the loss of personal collections of data, photos, or music. (Editor’s Note: It’s fair to say that anyone who uses a smartphone daily would express similar sentiments, so millennials are not alone in this regard.)

Clearly, our relationship to technology has changed dramatically since the inception of the first computers more than 50 years ago, and it’s difficult to imagine doing something as simple as driving to an unfamiliar place without the help of GPS navigation these days. As the technological revolution has reshaped our personal lives, it also has changed both how and where we work.

Reshaping Work and the Workplace

Of the workplace trends that have emerged in the past several decades, none has potentially had more impact than the concept of mobility. Mobile devices allow us to go anywhere and do virtually anything while remaining connected—and nowhere is this more significant than in the workplace. In fact, the entire concept of the office has changed in response to mobility, including the way it’s used, the way it’s designed, and the way it embraces innovation. However, this new paradigm for work has also presented significant challenges that many companies struggle to overcome.

To better understand today’s workplace and how it is changing, it’s important to place it into context. In its 2016 U.S. Workplace Survey, global design firm Gensler noted:

The nature of work and the places in which work happens are both facing significant—and potentially volatile—paradigm shifts. Unemployment has fallen since our last survey in 2013, but despite overall job growth, workforce participation is at the lowest levels since 1978. Over two-thirds of the workforce is disengaged from their work, and workplace stress is on the rise, afflicting 8 out of 10 workers. Companies are struggling to attract and retain good talent, just as emerging technologies and coworking trends empower more workers to step out of the corporate structure and become freelance consultants—40 percent of the U.S. workforce is estimated to be independently employed by 2020.

For the majority of the U.S. workforce, disengagement and stress are compounded by the physical work environment, which continues to challenge productivity and innovation. Smaller desks and less privacy are the norms for many at work today, at a time when continued urban migration is forcing many into smaller living situations as well. Other workplace trends are also compounding the issue—in particular, a rise in virtual or technology-enabled collaboration requires new ways of working that many organizations still struggle to support.

Additionally, according to a recent Business News Daily article, the emerging model of innovation, creativity, and differentiation that’s dominating the business world is co-creation. Today, working both together and apart make a difference, and here’s why according to Kevin Kuske, the article’s author:

Creativity, innovation, and a strong sense of culture all build off of connections and trust. It is also important to ask, why do high performance mobile workers still come to the office? They come for very simple reasons: people need people, people need technology, and people need spaces that bring those two together in effective ways that help build bonds and trust. Innovation cannot exist without these.

As such, when technology and mobility come together in thoughtfully designed spaces, they result in a number of positive benefits that help foster these new modes of work. For example, a telecommuter who is in the office only 50 percent of the time doesn’t need a designated space to work but rather a well-designed space that can be shared by a number of mobile workers as they come in and out of the office. This then frees up square footage that can be used for tech-enabled public areas like break rooms, lounges, and touchdown spaces where other workers can “collide,” interact, collaborate, and engage in creative thinking using mobile devices as needed. Thanks to a variety of new seating products on the market with embedded power and data options—from lounge furniture with optional tablets to flexible and mobile guest seating—people can utilize these casual spaces to get their creative juices flowing.

To that point, Kuske noted that choice and control are equally important when it comes to designing effective workplaces. “Different types of work are best done in different settings, and all of that flexibility can't be delivered by one desk and chair,” he observed. “Is that how you work at home? Serendipity does not only happen sitting next to the same person every day.”

Indeed, data from Gensler’s research uncovers a statistical link between the quality and functional makeup of the workplace, and the level of innovation employees ascribe to their companies. The study concludes that employees at the most innovative organizations share several common characteristics:

  • They have better-designed workspaces.
  • They leverage the whole office to greater effect.
  • They spend less time at their desks, choosing instead to collaborate and socialize in conference rooms, open meeting areas, and café spaces.
  • The spend more time working away from the office—averaging just 74 percent of the week in the office.
  • They have more choice in where they work.
  • They have greater access to amenities in or near their office locations.

“The new workplace is a moving target—as organizations flatten, collaboration increases, and technology frees workers from their desks,” the Gensler report stated. “The innovative workplace is a platform for creativity and performance, with features like flexibility, choice, transparency, and connectivity.”

As technology has essentially eliminated the physical barriers of where work takes place, making the distinction between work and home life has become more difficult. The ripple effect from technological saturation has resulted in a phenomenon best described as “digital overload” on the one hand but also in a number of interesting design trends to help counterbalance the virtual world, which we’ll examine in the next section.

The Pros and Cons of Digital Immersion

Let’s get the bad news out of the way: Among the downsides to living in a world where 24/7 connectivity is the norm is that we may experience “digital overload.” Bombarded with a deluge of constantly streaming information through social media, newsfeeds, instant messages, mobile alerts, and app notifications—the list goes on—many may begin to feel like they are literally drowning in information. And for all the “connectivity” that technology offers, many wind up feeling stressed, distracted, and possibly even depressed.

“It’s an onslaught of information coming in today,” Times technology journalist Matt Richtel told NPR in a recent article. “At one time a screen meant maybe something in your living room. But now it’s something in your pocket so it goes everywhere—it can be behind the wheel, it can be at the dinner table, it can be in the bathroom. We see it everywhere today.”

Richtel’s series, “Your Brain On Computers,” examines the toll technology and information juggling have taken on our ability to process information, as well as how easily we can become distracted as a result. Citing a Stanford University study in which heavy multimedia users were found to have difficulty filtering out irrelevant information and trouble staying focused on tasks, Richtel explained that there’s a point at which technology no longer provides value, or “nourishment,” and actually impedes our productivity. “There’s growing evidence that the line is closer than we’ve imagined or acknowledged,” he told NPR.

More alarming is the research linking heavy social media usage to negative mental health outcomes. A 2016 study revealed that depression and anxiety were strongly associated with young adults using multiple social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, and LinkedIn, Psychiatric News reported.

“The analysis showed that people who reported using the most platforms (seven to 11) had more than three times the risk of depression and anxiety (odds ratio of 3.08 and 3.27, respectively) than people who used the least amount (zero to 2 platforms),” the study concluded. Possible reasons for these findings could be multitasking, which studies have shown to be linked to lesser attention, cognition, and mood, as well as increased anxiety by trying to keeping up with social norms in online platforms. (Editor’s Note: The Psychiatric News article indicated that more research is needed to determine if those who already suffer from depression and anxiety have a propensity to use multiple social media platforms and that the results represent a “one-time snapshot” of respondents’ moods.)

Further, a recent #StatusOfMind survey, published by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health, pointed out: “Seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life. These feelings can promote a ‘compare and despair’ attitude.” Social media posts can also set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, the authors wrote. 

Unfortunately, poor cognitive performance and potentially adverse mental health perils aren’t the only causes for concern with digital overload. There are financial implications for businesses, as well. A Harvard Business Review article reported that “knowledge workers in the United States waste 25% of their time dealing with their huge and growing data streams, costing the economy $997 billion annually.” The HBR article concluded that digital overload may be the defining problem of today’s workplace.

Before you delete your Facebook account or toss your smartphone in the trash heap, there is, in fact, good news. Aside from the obvious benefits that technology offers, including advancements in science and medicine, access to vital information, e-commerce, and entertainment, to name a few, our oversaturation with technology has also resulted in several interesting design trends that are a clear expression of our collective desire to find balance and harmony in an increasingly digital world. The following are a few notable examples:

1. Authenticity, Craft & The Maker Movement

Among the more inspiring design trends to emerge in recent years that seems to run counter to our high-tech society is the move toward authenticity and craft, which has gained prominence in part through the Maker Movement. “We’re living in a time of renewed appreciation for craftsmanship,” explained Charrisse Johnston, ASID, LEED AP BD+C, Associate AIA, principal and firm-wide interior design practice leader at Steinberg Architects. “The same thing occurred at the turn of the 20th century in Britain, when the Arts and Crafts movement began as a backlash to industrialism. Today we seem to crave handmade, one-of-a-kind, imperfect products with charm that cannot be recreated by mass production. Just as the Slow Food movement began in opposition to the unhealthy fast food culture, artisanal products take us back to their makers, introduce us to a specific time and place, and feed our collective desire for something personal and authentic.”

Stroll down the halls of any contract-furniture-design trade show these days, and the influence of the handcrafting is hard to miss. The raw, industrial look and feel is prevalent from maker tables on casters to textiles with handwoven looks, rustic lighting (Edison bulb, anyone?) to hand-scraped wood flooring that has taken the industry by storm.

Case in point: In a blog post shared earlier this year from a leading commercial carpet manufacturer, this systematic shift away from the overly perfected or curated design toward the handcrafted isn’t a phenomenon that’s simply about design, but about life and business too:

It’s a reaction against a whole slew of things, including our hyper-fast society, proliferation of consumer culture, and increasing reliance on digital technology. Handcrafted design offers a balance that counteracts these things with calmer processes, originality, and creativity. As consumers and humans, we’re hungry for more personal, comforting, and simple connections. We’re stripping back and placing more value on quality over quantity. And products that give us the sense that we’re being touched by the hand seem to resonate even more in an age that many believe technology has rendered invasive and anonymous. The handcrafted look and feel is perceived as relatable and real.”

In terms of physical space design, one needs to look no further for the perfect example of this trend than Etsy’s new 200,000-square-foot headquarters in Brooklyn. The interior reflects the vibrancy of the surrounding community, celebrates small and local artisans, and supports employees’ innovative working styles and overall well-being—all while adhering to some of the highest sustainability standards in the world. Etsy’s new space is currently the only Living Building Challenge project that’s largely furnished with handmade and micro-manufactured furniture made by local artists and the website’s sellers. Approximately 750 unique pieces—roughly half of the furnishings and the art in the space—were created by Etsy’s partners. Whether typing on desks made by Craig Montoro and Bryan Mesenbourg of First Third, sitting at tables made by Jason Hernandez of HENDO, or working underneath the light fixtures crafted by Ashira Israel of In.Sek Design, every day Etsy’s employees are able to physically engage with the community through their work.

2. The ‘Resi-mercial’ Takover

The shift to residential-inspired workplace interiors is nothing new; however, with more products now boasting the anti-corporate look while still maintaining commercial quality, achieving “resimercial” balance is quickly becoming the norm—and it’s a positive trend that offers a needed counterweight to our highly digitized workplaces.

This trend began with an increase in workplaces dedicating more square footage to amenity and common spaces. Senior Project Designer Raul Baeza from interior architecture firm lauckgroup noted, “At one point large corporations were the leading examples of utilizing amenities to attract and retain employees; it’s now become an industry standard to provide informal areas for relaxation and collaboration, which align closer to a hospitality aesthetic and residential comfort.”

The coming together of what were traditionally two very different markets can largely be credited to contract furniture manufacturers taking cues from crafted hospitality and residential furniture. Baeza explained the Maker Movement has been influential in clients seeking one-of-a-kind pieces that do not feel corporate. “Residential furniture provides softer lines and a combination of materials that have a more handcrafted feel,” he said. “In contrast, commercial furniture has historically been more bulky and monolithic in order to satisfy the functional requirements of high traffic wear and tear.”

Fortunately for the design community, manufacturers have done a great job at answering that call and thinking outside the box. “They’re producing furniture that looks more like art, while still being functional and durable,” said Caro Wilbanks, director of furniture services for lauckgroup. “The availability of those decorative yet functional pieces at any price point has allowed us as furniture specifiers far more freedom and flexibility in creating interesting spaces than we had before.”

When blending residential and commercial aesthetics, Ajay Chopra, founding principal of Echo Design + Architecture, specifies soft seating in subdued colors, such as browns and grays. “The darker palette offers the ‘homey’ contrast to the sterile white of many corporate spaces,” he said. “Additionally, lighting and wall treatments play a critical role in creating that comfortable atmosphere.” 

Mark Daniel, creative director at m.a.d., added, “Low lounge seating and the use of warmer, unexpected materials and finishes all contribute to making the space feel more intimate and less institutional.” Further, commercial fabric manufacturers have started to soften offerings that are exceedingly durable, incorporating more residential patterns. “Overall, this offers a far more inviting look and feel to the way contract furniture sits in a room,” Wilbanks explained. “Seating doesn’t appear to be as stiff or rigid through the use of both softer lines and softer cushions.”  

3. Nature-Inspired Design

Perhaps the most obvious offset to the high-tech world we live in is all around us: nature. For years, interior design has drawn inspiration from nature, but more recently, nature-inspired design has gained renewed relevance as concepts and strategies such as biophilia, Evidence-Based Design, and sustainable design have firmly taken root in the industry. Designers are increasingly integrating wood and natural materials, natural light, vegetation, nature views, and other experiences of the natural world, such as living walls and open-air office extensions, into the modern built environment.

Similarly, nature-inspired furniture, textiles, flooring, surfaces, finishes, and wallcoverings—whether manufactured from raw materials found in nature or designed to mimic them—are at the forefront of contemporary product design. This trend is dominated by organic forms, textures, and colors found outdoors that are often harmoniously combined with geometrical patterns.

The reasons for the trend toward the natural are many, but stated simply, “letting nature in leads to increased wellbeing,” said Chloe Woddruff, associate with the Urban Green Council.

“One key study of post-op patients found that a natural view through a window resulted in shorter hospital stays, fewer negative comments, and fewer requests for morphine or other strong analgesics,” she expalined. “Similar research has indicated that the ability to view nature, even through a window, lowered blood pressure and increased productivity. Even natural scenery in artwork has the ability to increase physical and psychological health, though participants could distinguish between biomimicry and ‘the real thing.’”

Interestingly, with this trend technology is not necessarily at odds with its goals and, in fact, can help interior designers support them. In a recent issue of Design Intelligence Quarterly, celebrated product designer David Oakey noted that in nature there is no monolithic uniformity or static conditions. Rather, natural environments are constantly changing from hour to hour and season to season as light, temperature, and even the shape of the world around us changes. As such, Oakey suggests the next step is to design environments that change with the passage of time, like nature—and technology can help enable that transition. He explained:

New technologies and materials are making it easier to create dynamic designs. For example, architects are using Dynamic Glass by View that gradually darkens to protect against direct sunlight, while maintaining the view and connection with the outdoors. Boeing recently imagined how the ceilings of aircrafts could virtually disappear with high definition images of sky, clouds and stars. Ultimately, the convergence of technology, nature, and people is the big trend to watch in the years ahead. With good design, increasing technology can enable greater respect for natural forms and functions, and greater expressions of human connection.

The Balancing Act

As this CEU has demonstrated, digital overload is a very real phenomenon that people encounter in the Information Age. While technology is not inherently bad or unhealthy in and of itself, “the truth is, to stay effective you need to stay focused,” wrote Tom Searcy, columnist for Inc. Noting the billions of dollars spent each year by companies in an attempt to reach people’s eyes, ears, and (ultimately) their minds, he concluded, “If you valued your own attention span as much as others do, I think you would be a bit more vigilant as to what you let in.”

Because the reality is, although they may resist it initially, people need down time to mentally recharge and be at their best. In fact, researchers at Kansas State University discovered that while employees may have difficulty mentally distancing themselves from work during off-job time due to increasing use of communication technologies (e.g., email, cell phone, etc.), psychological detachment from work during non-work time is important for employee recovery and health. The study’s findings also indicate that segmenting work and non-work roles can help employees detach and recover from work demands.

In other words, finding balance between our work lives, with its constant technological demands, and the real world around us may sometimes be difficult but it can be done with intentionality. Just as we have been programmed to pick up our smartphones every time we receive a notification, we can also condition ourselves to set down our devices and disconnect. Remember, unplugging is a choice.

Following are a few suggestions for getting “un-tethered” from electronic devices and, hopefully, finding a bit more harmony in daily life:

1. Unplug as part of your daily routine. If you take your smartphone or tablet with you everywhere you go (including the restroom), it may be time to start planning to leave it somewhere secure for small increments of time throughout the day—even if it’s only for 15 minutes. If need be, schedule the time in your calendar or set reminders on your devices, as counterintuitive as that may seem. The urge to pick up a device and check email, social media feeds, or other apps may simply be too much if it’s within arm’s reach. If you’re the type of person who picks up the phone the moment you awake in the morning, consider moving your devices off the nightstand to another location that will give you the opportunity to pause for a few moments before getting connected.

If unplugging is not an option, Searcy suggests taking a “one thought at a time” approach to your life. “Do your email separately from your phone calls and meetings,” he added. “And whenever possible, turn off the digital devices and distractions when you are engaged in cognitive work. Also, consider turning off notifications on non-essential apps to help cut down on the interruptions that turn into distractions and reduce your productivity.”

Finally, avoid making comparisons on social media. As studies cited in this article confirm, constant exposure to the experiences of others via social media platforms can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. Remember, sites and apps like Facebook and Instagram are highly curated arenas that rarely depict an accurate or complete picture of reality.

2. Take back the workday. “As it turns out, restricting our use of our gadgets in the evening hours is probably a pretty smart move, and makes sense on a bunch of different levels,” noted Forbes contributor Alice Walton in a recent article. “It may be time to take the workday back, at least in part, and when it comes to responding to a colleague at some ungodly hour, to just say ‘no.’ Or at least, ‘I’ll get back to you during business hours.’” Sage advice that’s easier said than done, of course, but one that will surely pay dividends in the long run in terms of your mental clarity and stress levels.

3. Find (or create) your sanctuary. It’s no coincidence that one of the biggest home design trends these days is about creating a spa-like master bathroom and other relaxing spaces that serve as an escape from the everyday and as a place to reenergize. In fact, this theme of creating a sanctuary is even seen in color trends for the upcoming year.

For example, according to Sherwin-Williams’ 2018 Colormix Color Forecast there is a growing need for minimalism, daily meditation, and the concept of lagom–“just enough.” “Less is more as we declutter and move possessions into the cloud,” noted Sue Wadden, director of color marketing. “Sincerity is about mindful living and creating an environment to disconnect and recharge. Soft, washed neutrals, greens, and sanctuary pinks work together to create harmony.”

What does this mean in practical terms? It suggests finding or creating a space in the home (and perhaps even at work) where you can hit pause, get comfortable, and relax. Grab a book or a cup of coffee and leave the devices in another room. If so inclined, spend some time in prayer, meditation, or practicing mindfulness.

4. Connect … in person (and turn the devices off). The next time you grab a cup of coffee with a coworker, drinks with friends, or have dinner with a significant other, try playing the “phone stack” game: place your phones in the middle of the table, and the first person to grab their device before the check arrives picks up the tab. Whatever method you use, the point is to create one-on-one interaction without the distraction of technology.

“Whether it’s a physical barrier (no iPads at the dinner table) or a conceptual one (turn off devices by 11 p.m.), users say these weaning techniques are improving their relationships—and their sanity,” according to the New York Times article, “Step Away From the Phone!” New York-based writer Lesley M. M. Blume told the Times, “Disconnecting is a luxury that we all need. The expectation that we must always be available to employers, colleagues, family: it creates a real obstacle in trying to set aside private time. But that private time is more important than ever.”

5. Take a walk/get outdoors. Perhaps the easiest and most convenient way to destress and unplug from digital overload is to simply step outside, even if only for a few moments every day. A recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology revealed that “proximity to greenspace has been associated with lower levels of stress and reduced symptomology for depression and anxiety, while interacting with nature can improve cognition for children with attention deficits and individuals with depression.”

Likewise, taking a brisk walk during the day can have tremendous benefits, according to the Mayo Clinic. These include maintaining a healthy weight; preventing or managing various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes; strengthening bones and muscles; improved mood; and improved balance and coordination. The faster, farther, and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefits. (And again, leave the smartphone behind or on silent for maximum effect.)

6. Take a (non-working) vacation. It seems ridiculous to even suggest it, but taking a vacation is actually good for your health—and too many Americans don’t take advantage of it. In fact, the average U.S. employee only takes half of their allotted vacation time, and among those who actually do use their vacation days, three in five admitted to doing some work, according to a recent survey published in Inc. Further, a quarter of respondents were contacted by a coworker while they were on vacation, and 20 percent were contacted by their supervisor about a work-related issue. “Unsurprisingly, they’re suffering from being overworked, overwhelmed, and overwrought,” the article pointed out.

Take advantage of the time off allotted to you by your employer and plan a vacation, even if it’s only for a few days. And, it goes without saying, limit your exposure to mobile devices. Further, communicate with coworkers and set the expectation that you will not be available for meetings, calls, or emails, as much as it’s in your power to do so.

The Post-Digital Age

Though it’s already been said once in this article, it bears repeating: technology isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s a good thing; however, too much of a good thing often ceases to be beneficial and instead can become tiresome and even burdensome. As this CEU has suggested, a sense of balance made possible through a sensible approach to technology and, in some cases, a deliberate disconnect from digital devices is sorely needed. And yet, the realization that the march of the Digital Revolution will continue to press on at a dizzying pace and encroach upon our limited time and attention spans looms over us like an approaching storm.

What does this all mean, and where is the Digital Revolution headed, anyway? The Guardian contributor Simon Jenkins summed it up neatly in an opinion piece he penned earlier this year:

Only fools would deny digital its recent and astonishing history, but that is different from how people feel about it. Many, I sense, have become exhausted by the sheer relentlessness of the digital revolution, by its endless boasts and by dark clouds on the horizon. […]

We are now heading for “post-digital,” the age of experience. It is one that employs new technology as the servant, not the master, of what is desired—as was rightly predicted by the first computing genius, Ada Lovelace, back in the 19th century. It is the new “economy of live,” from Ticketmaster to Tinder.

I find this hugely encouraging. It suggests we are able to digest a revolution without tearing ourselves apart, surely the ultimate test of a civilisation. [sic] It throws our other discontents into the shade.

In other words, for all of the headaches and stresses we impose by the technology we have become tethered to, we are still the “masters of our fate,’” to borrow from the poet William Ernest Henly. As such, hitting pause on the hectic pace of life isn’t optional; it’s absolutely vital if we want to remain sharp and engaged in the world around us. More than that, deliberately seeking out experiences that engage all of our senses, and cultivating a life of balance, beauty, and depth of soul will require intentionality.

In the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it.”

Life in the ‘Digital Now’

In the iconic movie “The Matrix,” actor Laurence Fishburne’s character Morpheus asks one of the most penetrating metaphysical questions of the film: “What is real?” As the lines between reality and the digital world become increasingly blurred, technology has in many ways altered the flow of time.

Several years ago, novelist Abha Dawesar was living in blacked-out Manhattan post-Hurricane Sandy, scrounging for power to connect. She was struck by this metaphor: Have our lives now become fixated on the drive to digitally connect, while we miss out on what’s real? In her compelling TED talk, Dawesar asked her audience (and us) to consider how to re-prioritize life in the “digital now.”

Watch Dawesar’s TED talk at the link below, and then return back to this page to answer the exam questions and complete this CEU course: https://www.ted.com/talks/abha_dawesar_life_in_the_digital_now

Take the Test


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