When is finally time to start focusing on the digital transformation that is going on inside of us and in the lives of each of us, individually? When did any of us make a conscious choice about how we want digital tech to add to our lives? A story about technology dependency, maximizing human potential and publishing a new book from a state of near-burnout.
My name is Erwin, and I am addicted to my smartphone.
And I finished a book about it near the end of last year, while I was climbing out of a state of burnout. Let’s figure out what the two have to do with each other exactly, and what that could mean for you.
I have been going through a very personal digital transformation. And I think in a sense we all are. Meanwhile, the world is talking about “digital transformation” as something external, something that happens to us, which is driven by tech companies and IT departments.
‘Covid-19 is speeding up the digital transformation’.
But what about the digital transformation that is going on in the life of every individual human on the planet right now?
Has tech been creeping up on us?
Tech seeped into our lives almost like a silent virus over the course of the last four or five decades. And it is changing us. For better or for worse.
I feel as though tech is something that dripped into our lives little by little, as human beings born before around 1990. The tech companies created these awesome functionalities. The nerds, the cool kids, the smart businessmen — they started using them. Our friends started using them. So we decided we’d give them a try as well.
For those of us born after 1990, using digital tech was the norm pretty much since the day they arrived on the planet. The process of cool kids and nerds using new stuff first is still a thing, mind you. Can you say TikTok?
Governments and major companies started expecting us to be digital. We started to expect each other to be digital.
It became the social norm to be online and connected at all times. It became the social norm to check work email at all times and to share whatever you’re doing or thinking on social networks. It even became a social norm to be almost compulsively catching up with people digitally, ignoring the people you were present with.
But when did any of us make a conscious choice?
A conscious choice for our use of our digital technology
When did any of us say: “Wow, these new tools and capabilities are really cool. I’m going to try my utmost to use these tools in such a way that I can…”?
I feel very strongly that we never did. I feel that we subconsciously chose to start using email, Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, SnapChat, AirBnB, Booking, Uber, Netflix, etc. until it got to a point where it’s no exception for a human being to unlock and check their smartphone 150 times a day.
To spend two to three hours of your waking day stroking a glass rectangle.
Do you reach for your lover 150 times a day? Do you reach for your children, your family, your loved ones 150 times a day? Do you reach for your dreams nearly that often? For the best possible version of you that you could ever hope to be? Do you reach for your maximum potential for happiness 150 times a day?
I know I don’t. I’m addicted. But I’m changing that as we speak.
I’d like to share my story with you.
My personal digital transformation and near-burnout
End of last year, I was climbing out of a near-burnout. And I think it started when I was in the middle of my five-year run with Motion10, the IT company that I work for as a digital marketing strategist.
Next to personal problems and stresses in my home life – my work and side projects and specifically the way that I approached them, were a strong contributing factor.
You see at the time, I was — obviously — working as many knowledge workers nowadays, behind a screen for large parts of the day. The main skill I use in my line of work is gathering information, analyzing and structuring that information using a thought process that is known to most of us like writing.
I would say that I was probably looking at a screen for at least four to five hours per workday, just to get my basic writing work done.
But then, I’d also write for me. You see I am obsessed with writing, marketing and digital tech — the latter especially in relation to maximizing human potential. I find these all incredibly interesting and loved putting work into them.
So I wrote blogs, or sometimes poems, at times two or three per week, often more.
And I wrote books. I published a book around two years ago, it was my debut novel, Face Value, and after that, I’ve written two more books and have started on another.
Two years ago, while I was writing for my work for about five hours a day, I guess I was probably writing somewhere between two to three hours per day for my own little side projects. And I don’t know how many hours I was reading online.
And then I had social media.
The social media tsunami
I had my own personal accounts. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, which I was reasonably active on at that time.
But then I was also the social media manager for my employer, as a natural part of my job. This meant managing a company account for LinkedIn, a LinkedIn group; a few Yammer (by Microsoft) accounts, two Facebook accounts, two Instagram accounts, and two Twitter accounts, all for my day job.
And then I published my book, so I was promoting that — you guessed it — on social media.
I was managing all of these social media accounts and campaigns, and at the time I was very active about it so that we wouldn’t miss any interaction on any of these platforms. I was checking my mail pretty much 24/7 in case someone was trying to contact me —
I don’t think I’m very special for checking my mail around the clock, but just to be sure — does anybody else here have the tendency to do that?
Someone from work or a client of my employer might be trying to get in touch with me. Anyone could be trying to contact me regarding my book and/or its promotion. I didn’t want to miss anything.
And lastly, I was checking stats. I don’t know if you know any digital marketers but checking web analytics can become like a plague to us, a mental disease that gets you hopped-up on dopamine and adrenaline, and that leaves you distracted and exhausted.
I was not a fun person to be around.
I honestly think that our smartphones or our digital tech are like a glass mirror, much like “Black Mirror”, that is reflecting or making visible the things that work underneath the surface; the things that drive us. I think digital tech and the way we use it can be a perfect mirror for our personal transformation. It can help us elevate our consciousness.
But for that to happen, we first need to become aware of the impact digital tech is already having in our lives. And then make a conscious decision.
What I started noticing about myself
It was around this time that I began noticing some things. In random order;
- I was starting to get really, really tired. Where I’d been used to not needing much more than 7,5 hours of sleep and feeling quite energetic, around this time I started having ‘exhaustion’ as a baseline energy level. Was I taking good enough care of myself?
- I was distracted all of the time. I was not present at all when I was supposedly present with my fiancé, my children, my family, or friends. My son who was about eight or nine at the time would routinely ask me or sometimes tell me to put the phone down when I was talking to him. Was I getting my priorities in life straight?
- I was unhappy, maybe due to the lack of clear focus but definitely also because of the lack of rest. I think there might be a limit to how much information a human being can naturally process over the course of a set amount of time. I think I may well have been exceeding my limit.
- I was lonely. Or I felt lonely. I had halfway chosen, consciously, to kind of scale down my social life as I realized working a full-time job, promoting a self-published book and being a husband and father was already probably a pretty heavy load. But my social life took a much more serious hit than I was expecting. What is the link between social connection and addiction?
- I started feeling less and less motivated, focused, and concentrated. First at work, then in doing my own projects, and then in pretty much everything I did in life. I kind of lost my spark. What do I really need to be happy?
Is There Life Beyond the Touch Screen?
It was around this time that I started writing my new book “Is There Life Beyond the Touch Screen?”
Because apart from noticing these things in myself, I started really noticing them in people around me as well. Digital distraction, in my fiancé or my own children; friends — the screen distracts from the conversation we are having right now, doesn’t it? Research indicates it even distracts when it’s just near you, even lying on a table, face down.
I started seeing the effects of digital tech addiction everywhere. On the train, on the sidewalk, in cars, restaurants, bars, family get-togethers, meetings at work. I remember having conversations with people about it and they wouldn’t understand what I was saying — then check their smartwatch for messages.
My whole working life revolved around the relationship people had with tech at that time, and my own natural curiosity coupled with what I had started to notice in myself, had got me thinking. This is when I started writing the aphorisms, in social post-format;
“Is there Life Beyond The Touch Screen?”
“Work mail can wait.”
“Touch Humans, not Screens.”
This, coupled with some fragments of blog articles and a few poems together was the start of my newest book.
Publishing and promoting a new book from a half-a-burnout
Fast forward to a little over a half a year ago.
I was sitting at the kitchen table with my fiancé, having coffee the morning after I had taken sick leave due to a splitting headache. We got to talking, and she cornered me. In a good way.
Hadn’t I been incredibly tired over the last two years? So much so that I had been saying for about two years now that I should go to the doctor’s for a check-up, to see if there wasn’t anything weird going on physically?
And hadn’t I been kind of gloomy, maybe almost slightly depressed, for a long time already? And wasn’t I also a bit edgy, easily irritated — with her, with the kids? Wasn’t I experiencing a lot of stress due to work and everything I expected myself to do? When was I really taking any rest?
Was it possible that I, even though I studied psychology myself (…), and even though I wrote so much about focus and digital distraction and maximizing of human potential — was it possible that I was headed towards a burn-out?
The doctor agreed with my fiancé. And so did the psychologist he referred me to. My blood tests all came back perfectly fine. And so I stayed home for three weeks trying to get some rest and really thinking things over, hard. And then slowly, I gradually started going back to work and building up to the point where I could work full-on again. Although I never quite approached work exactly the same way as before, and luckily so.
I’ve been working on a framework, a method for maximizing potential in humans, workers, and organizations for the last year and a half. What was missing in my entire framework — although meditation and focused contemplation were key elements — was rest. Funny, right?
And that’s how it came to be that I published and pre-released a book from a state of near burn-out. A book about digital distraction, and more so about bringing balance in the way we deal with our digital technologies, and really anything in our lives — our work, our relationships, entertainment, you name it.
A book meant to help myself and others to keep the balance in order, starting with the mirror of digital technology.
Now, don’t get me wrong. All of this is very much not meant to make you doubt whether you yourself are a “smartphone addict”, or to make you wonder whether you’re headed towards a burnout. Although it can never hurt to check yourself every now and then. I just hope my story can serve as hopefully an early warning to you, or maybe somebody you know.
This is what’s at the core of my new book: When did any of us make a conscious choice for the use of our digital technologies?
And if we never really made that choice before, then what do we choose?
What do you choose?
The only time is now.
I truly hope you take really good care of yourself in this strange year and any year after that. In terms of the choices you make, how much you rest and also how you manage your relationship with the people around you and with tech. I hope the same for myself. A better world starts with more self-love.
If you’re interested, check out my website www.lifebeyond.one and get yourself a copy of my book. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
This story was originally posted at www.hackernoon.com.