Technology used to be thought of as something that was going to make life less
stressful. In the fifties and sixties new technology was often promoted as labour
saving. Your new washing machine meant an end to laborious hand washing of
clothes. Ditto your new dish washer, your mixer, your vacuum cleaner. The
march of technological change was supposed to mean that we were going to win
back large swathes of time that had been lost on tedious and exhausting
Information technology has often seemed to offer a similar promise. No more
time-heavy trawling through directories or making phone calls in order to learn
the bits of information that you need. Online, you can do it in minutes. But there
are other aspects to information technology that make it much less
unequivocally wonderful. Aspects which in fact mean that modern technology
can make us more stressed than we would have been in the past.
One feature of modern technology that contributes to our stress is the way in
which it makes us endlessly available. Most people with a mobile phone will be
picking up scores, and possibly hundreds, of texts and emails every day. To put
this in another way, the demands on our attention have multiplied exponentially
thanks to the new digital media.
This is fine if you are someone who boxes clever with incoming communications.
Some people will only dip into text, email, facebook etc. when it suits them. This
is sensible because it means that you are controlling the new demands on your
time in a way which renders them fairly undemanding. The problem is that most
of us don’t respond to digital media in that way.
Another way in which emails et al. affect us is that many people feel that they
have to respond to them instantly. This, inevitably means that you have to put
aside whatever it was that you were doing in order to answer. The loss of
concentration on the task you were doing that follows can mean an overall loss
of time – and more stress as a consequence.
Unanswered emails, texts etc. can eat away at us in other ways as well. To many
people they can feel like a sign of failure – jobs on an unending to do list that you
haven’t yet got round to. When counselling people for stress problems one of the
things I am frequently telling them is that you don’t have to respond to all your
emails. Answer the ones that really need it, and let the others go. You will gain a
lot of time, and be less stressed, if this is the way you go.
Information technology is not the simple time saver that we can imagine it to be.
It can add to the stress that we face, making us feel more overwhelmed and more
dissatisfied with ourselves. It is for this reason that some hotels and holiday
destinations now advertise themselves pointedly as being places where you
cannot access wi-fi. The newly refurbished Lanesborough Hotel on Hyde Park
Corner will, apparently, offer a number of suites with a copper mesh implanted
into the walls that cuts off wi-fi completely. Some of the world’s richest clientele
it seems value unconnectivity just as much as others cherish its opposite.