With the mass proliferation of smartphones, many of us struggle with the obsessive urge to constantly check email and update our social media profiles.

The endless opportunity for distraction may have compelled you to wonder if you’ve acquired Attention Deficit Disorder…until you start checking for another IM.

Researchers are studying the myriad ways heavy technology use can affect your brain. Most of us know our behavior is changing, and so too our relationships with others. A few inventive folks are now proposing ways we can better control the role technology plays in our lives.

The National Day of Unplugging, brought to you by Sabbath Manifesto, starts Friday, March 23rd, at sundown…until March 24th at sundown. If you’re reeling from the effects of tech overload, you might consider taking the pledge to unplug for 24 hours.

Read on to learn more about this movement and some of the reasons people are trying to get control over their technology and win back their lives.

Multitaskers Falling Short

People have been weighing in on the effects of heavy technology use for years. Back in 2010, the New York Times documented the tech-obsessed behaviors of a Bay Area entrepreneur and his family, and the daily frustrations they faced as technology increasingly invaded their lives.

The story referenced what is now well-known research by Stanford Researcher Eyal Ophir which showed how self-professed multitaskers are often more inept than they think. Here’s a clip where Ophir talks about his research:

Since Ophir’s research was published, there’s been some intriguing early research on the ways internet use may affect memory. And, yet, our world is increasingly awash in more and more opportunities for technology immersion. What keeps us going back, if we know our grey matter and our lives may be paying a price?

Well, there’s your brain chemistry, for one.  You may be aware of the research that indicates it’s the chemical dopamine that leads us to seek out that perpetual ego-boost that comes with each new email, instant message, or Twitter post. Dopamine drives our endless seeking, checking and re-checking, and the chemical opioid gives us a brief, but evasive sensation of being satisfied, which in turn causes us to return to seeking. And so on, in an endless feedback loop.

But is it valid to claim “The dopamine made me do it”? While there are mixed opinions as to whether social media addiction or internet addiction deserve the status of behavioral addiction, anyone who learned about Pavlov’s dog in Psych 101 will recognize the behavior of salivation in response to external stimuli.

If you think you’re salivating every time your phone vibrates, maybe you’re a good candidate for reconditioning…or at least a day off from technology once in a while.

Technology That Enhances Your Humanity

In her recent keynote speech at the Women 2.0 Pitch Conference and Competition, Caterina Fake, well-known co-founder of Flickr and Hunch, seemed to be proposing a re-evaluation for our relationship with technology. She called for technology users and developers to start distinguishing between technology that makes us more vs. less human.

As Caterina pointed out, our memories may fade, but computers never forget, and so our digital footprints remain stamped in the mud of eternity. Yes, that means those photos of your kitten or those beer bong experiments are a matter of permanent record. Your descendents will be proud.

Caterina suggested the idea of assigning an expiration date to our online information (especially the personal sort), allowing our information to disappear with the passing of time. She also proposed we learn from the Amish, who pick and choose between technologies by differentiating between that which brings the community together and that which drives it apart.

Join the Movement and Take Control

Control Your Technology Use

Flickr Photo Credit: david_jones

It seems this effort to exert more control over technology (and it’s influence on your attention) is gaining traction. Sabbath Manifesto, a creative project launched by a group of Jewish artists, all members of the group Reboot, proposes we observe a weekly day of rest by avoiding technology or unplugging entirely.

To this effect, Sabbath Manifesto is promoting a National Day of Unplugging, which you can follow on Twitter at #unplug (until you unplug, that is). The event will take place on March 23-24, 2012. If you’re interested in participating, you can take the pledge here. The ten principles behind this are the following:

  1. Avoid technology
  2. Connect with loved ones
  3. Nurture your health
  4. Get outside
  5. Avoid commerce
  6. Light candles
  7. Drink wine
  8. Eat bread
  9. Find silence
  10. Give back

Books on How Technology Changes Your Brain

The topic of how technology changes your brain and your society is very much in the air these days. Bestseller lists seem chock full of books weighing in on the benefits and potential catastrophes of a society so immersed in technology. While some portend the devastation of human consciousness, others celebrate the ushering-in of a more connected, better-optimized age of humanity.

If you’re interested in learning more about how technology is altering your brain and your future, you should consider checking out some of these books:

You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier
Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis
Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? by John Brockman
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
Future Minds: How the Digital Age is Changing Our Minds, Why This Matters, and What We Can Do About It by Richard Watson
Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Eachother by Sherry Turkle
The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future by Mark Bauerlein
Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commandments for a Digital Age by Douglas Rushkoff

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