Real Life

Conscious uncoupling with technology

In a world of high intensity living, a war is raging between plugging in and switching off.
Kyla Carlier quit facebook

Never before have we been so connected to so many other human beings at one time. Before the digital age we saw our families or flatmates every day, maybe some friends once or twice a week and perhaps communicated by letter – remember those? – with further flung folks every so often.

Now we can be in contact with hundreds of people from the moment we sleepily grab that smartphone first thing in the morning to the time we try to switch our buzzing brains off late at night.

Social media has been a revolution in the way we communicate and many amazing things have occurred in its name – momentum for good causes has never been so easy to garner, people have been reunited, love stories have blossomed, lonely people have found a place to belong, families have been able to share news and images across continents. It has changed life as we know it forever.

But the issue that has arisen is how to enjoy all these benefits without overload. Many modern health experts talk about how being connected almost 24/7 is upsetting our cortisol and adrenal hormones and in some cases making us physically unwell. People are now considering whether they are sacrificing real relationships for virtual ones.

Social media gives a false impression of life, says Solange Juillard.

Return to reality

Kyla Carlier is one such woman. She ditched social media in order to pursue real connections with fewer people. “I felt like I was witness to the billboards of people’s lives rather than engaging with them.”

Solange Juillard agrees. “I had stopped living in the moment and instead of spending precious time with my young daughter I was more focused on scrolling. It wasn’t right, so I decided to disconnect.”

Both women speak of the false impressions social media gives. People focus on the highlights of their lives rather than the days when their boss was horrid to them or they broke up with their boyfriend.

Juillard says, “As a single mum it was tough seeing everyone’s supposedly amazing partners, fabulous holidays and exciting adventures. Being confronted with those images day in and day out was a reminder of how I wasn’t quite in the best place of my life.”

Elissa Albany also ended her addictive relationship – with Facebook in particular – a few months ago. “My boyfriend bet me I couldn’t live without it for 30 days but once that 30 days ended I found I had no desire to get back on it. My life seemed calmer, there was much less drama and my partner and I got on much better. Our relationship improved so much.”

Juillard and Carlier had similar experiences. Juillard says, “I felt lighter and happier. I was actually experiencing things with my child, rather than framing them for others. I’ve always wanted to be able to move to a rural setting, and this digital switch-off gave me that feeling of space I’d been craving.”

Carlier says a sense of calm descended on her too. “It was only my life in my head now, not everyone else’s. I found myself visiting people more and asking people about their lives, rather than just projecting mine.”

The joy of disconnect

So how hard is it to disconnect? All three say it wasn’t easy initially but that none of them have really had any desire to go back.

“I do miss seeing pics of my friends’ kids, especially the ones that live in the UK, but ultimately it’s not impossible for us to stay in touch if we really want to,” Carlier says. “I’m always surprised at how many people say to me ‘I wish I could do that too.’ I don’t understand why they think they can’t.”

There are now – ironically – lots of technology-based aids to help wean you off. If you use Chrome as your browser, you can use Chrome Nanny to block sites for periods of time defined by you. There are also apps like Moment that will track your time on your phone – often enough to give you a jolt on its own – and enable you to set limits on your usage.

“It really does free you when you set  some limits on your technology use,” says Albany. “And the best part is how much more time you have in your day!”

The onus is on us as individuals to switch off, says Professor Tim Bentley of AUT Business School.

Boundaries breached

Switching off social media is one thing, but what about when your job requires you to be attached to your phone? This open-all-hours attitude has created what one expert refers to as ‘a digital leash’.

“Some 13% of the New Zealand workforce work in excess of 50 hours per week,” says Professor Tim Bentley, director of the NZ Work Research Institute at AUT Business School. “As sociologist Arlie Hochschild identified, ‘workplaces are greedy institutions and technology has allowed them by stealth to expand the boundary line and encroach on our personal lives.’”

But one country is making changes. In 2013, German firms Volkswagen, BMW and Puma introduced company-wide policies that employees wouldn’t be penalised for switching off their mobiles or failing to answer messages after hours. German Labour Minister Andrea Nahles commissioned a study into workplace stress and its economic cost, with the results due out in 2016. It’s believed this will result in similar ‘anti-stress’ policies being implemented by the government.

Bentley thinks organisations here need to take the lead, as burnout is bad for not only employees but companies in general, but says the onus also falls on us as individuals not to give in to the instant access technology provides. “Why do we need to check our messages on the beach? The answer – smartphones are addictive, giving continual feedback and reinforcement, and we can’t help ourselves.”

Taking it to the extreme…going off the grid

Dutch national Miriam Lancewood has always loved having a connection with the great outdoors, but her life in Holland was quite a regular middle-class existence. It wasn’t until she travelled around Africa and India and met her Kiwi husband that she started to entertain the idea of actually living in nature without technology and modern comforts.

For the past six years the couple has lived nomadically in remote parts of the Southern Alps. They take a basic amount of food and hunt and forage for the rest. In years gone by they’ve lived in huts but more recently it’s been in a tent.

While what she does is probably not for everyone, Lancewood’s observations on the effects of technology apply to us all.

“When I come out of the Alps I realise how good being in sync with nature is. There we go to sleep when it’s dark rather than late and I get 12 hours’ sleep most nights. Without screens and distractions and lots of other people, I’m really healthy. I never ever get sick and not going through the daily routine of going to work and being stressed and busy is so good for my general wellbeing.”

Lancewood struggles a bit in general when she comes back to ‘civilisation’. “The different food makes me bloated, I don’t sleep as well and I’m definitely not as naturally happy as when we live remotely. I can only put it down to the fact our bodies and emotions function best when we work with nature, not against it. This disharmony really affects the way I feel. I think technology speeds your brain up and many people are living in a constantly overwhelmed state every day without even realising it.”

Words by: Alexia Santamaria

Photos: Supplied, Tony Nyberg

Solange’s hair and makeup by: Luisa Petch for Glam Squad Ltd.

Kyla’s hair by: Cindy Whitelaw

Kyla’s makeup by: Sandy Jeffery

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