Technology is supposed to make our lives easier but it can aggravate the heck out of us. Think how frustrating it is when your Internet connection is down. Consider the ubiquitous smartphone. You can’t avoid noticing that the human body has grown a new appendage!  It’s the first thing we boomers grab going out the door in the morning and the last thing we check at night. We take it with us everywhere to plan schedules, check the news, find entertainment and manage our social networks. More and more our mobile lives live in our hands. We constantly check for a new text, e-mail, Tweet, Facebook message, or missed call. We play games and use apps. Smartphones are changing work routines, social standards and possibly how our brains function. The pairing of content people want with a platform that triggers a powerful reward pathway – the “dopamine squirt”- could be trouble. Ask around and you’ll probably hear iPhone owners say they couldn’t be without them in this hyperconnected world. We keep our iPhone on at all times out of a compulsive fear our lives will go out of kilter otherwise. In a survey of 200 students at Stanford University, 34% rated themselves as being addicted to their phones, and 32% of the remaining participants worried they someday would be addicted.

We’re on technology overload, but can we tune out and turn off our always-connected lifestyle cold turkey?  Doubtful!  Technology is too deeply embedded into our lives. College campuses have experimented with taking vacations from media and ended up with a bunch of qualitative data, and lots of complaining students. Instant connectedness to our parallel universe feels good.

Apparently, we have to want to unplug. Earlier this year, the New York Times ran an article suggesting everyone take an iPhone Sabbath. And New York Times technology journalist, Matt Richtel, accompanied several neuroscientists on a retreat to Utah to see what happened when they got off the grid. The rules of the vacation?  No cell phones, no Internet access and no technological distractions. The result was the scientists were prepared to recommend some downtime as a conduit to uncluttered thinking.

Some experts suggest curtailing the amount of time you spend with your devices. Set limits for how often you check e-mail or force yourself to leave your cell phone at home occasionally. Try these simple ideas for taking a timeout:

  • Make a conscious effort to separate work life from home life.
  • Make weekends Internet free.
  • No digital technology or gadgets during the dinner hour.
  • Try exercising without all the gizmos.
  • Take a real vacation free from technology or start by weaning yourself and the family off the technology teat. Set basic ground rules. Do and see things completely tech free from an always plugged in existence. Loaf!  Play!  What a concept!

We’re interested in hearing what you and your families do to balance your cognitive life and virtual life to live well.