Digital technology, like any tool, is inherently neutral. It’s not until we use it that it becomes beneficial or harmful.
As a hammer can either create or destroy, depending on the person wielding it, digital technology can connect or isolate, inspire or discourage.
Much like a craftsman can learn to use a hammer skillfully, we can learn to use technology wisely through practice and reflection.
In his book, Mindful Tech: How to Bring Balance to our Digital Lives, David Levy suggests applying mindfulness techniques to our use of digital tools in order to improve our experiences with those technologies.
Levy takes us through a variety of exercises designed to help us examine our emotional and physical reactions to various technology tasks, along with their effects on our focus and attention. Levy is very careful to avoid dictating answers, but rather encourages us to be honest and intentional about our own evaluations of the usefulness and health of our interactions with and through digital tools. To maintain the integrity of those observations, Levy recommends immediately recording reactions in text form for later reflection. Based on that analysis, we might choose to change certain aspects of our technology use.
I recently went through the series of exercises in Mindful Tech myself. I chose to focus on my use of my smartphone. As I recorded my reactions to reading emails, Tweets, or news on my phone, I noticed that stressful or frustrating messages often negatively affected my mood long after I put down the device.
I also observed that during the evenings, that stress and frustration was compromising the quality of the time I was spending with my daughters. As a result of my observations, I made a new rule for myself. I now put down my phone when I get home and unplug from the digital world. I devote that time to eating dinner, playing dolls, and reading bedtime stories. Once the girls are asleep, I allow myself to pick up my phone and deal with any IT emergencies or troublesome emails. Those couple of disconnected hours have vastly reduced my stress and led to some wonderful, worry-free moments during my workweek evenings. I can’t always dismiss my device, but I decided on appropriate boundaries, given my own personal priorities.
I believe Levy’s approach in Mindful Tech could be particularly effective for parents of older children struggling with questions about appropriate use of digital technology. One of the most common concerns I hear from parents is whether social media, video games, or smart phones are harmful for their children. I can’t give them a blanket answer. However, Mindful Tech might be useful in addressing those concerns.
Levy presents his exercises as a series of open-ended, non-judgmental questions, which allow each of us to find the best answers for our particular set of needs and circumstances. It also recognizes that those needs and circumstances will evolve throughout the stages of our lives. What is wise use of technology for an Upper School student might be very different from that of a Middle School student. Mindful Tech recognizes and respects the uniqueness of each person’s best digital practices.
Parents can start encouraging mindful use of technology by giving their children some basic techniques to examine their use of digital tools. Here is a beginning exercise from Levy’s website focusing on observation of smartphone use. This exercise could easily be modified to apply to a social media platform, such as Instagram or Snapchat, or to a video game console.
How do you find digital balance? How do you help your child find that balance? That looks different for each person, but through intentional examination, purposeful reflection, and ongoing conversations, you might find some of those answers.
Finding a healthy balance is an issue for all ages. Middle School Head Clay Elliott gave a talk about how digital technology affects younger students. You can request a copy of his presentation notes, Phones and Social Media for Middle School, by clicking the green button below. Head of School Jay Rainey writes about the importance of being fully present during the school day, especially as it pertains to our Upper School.