The Wellness Beat: Are We TECHing Our Way To Despair?

By , Nancy Colier
As a psychotherapist and interfaith minister, my specialty is helping clients uncover a state of deep well-being, and most importantly, one that is deeper and more reliable than the likability of their current circumstances.  

Ironically, deep well-being is not a state we need to create but rather one that we need to rediscover within ourselves.  It is a state of being that is here when we are born and is indeed always here, and yet it is a state that we lose touch with as we "grow up."  

Sadly, we are taught to believe that well-being lives outside of us, in other people and other things.  In truth, well-being is always inside us, patiently awaiting our own attention.  Deep well-being comes from being able to meet this moment, as it is, even as it is constantly changing.  Well-being means being able to ask "what is here?" rather than to demand that this moment give us something that we want.  The often overlooked fact however is that we need to spend time nurturing and nourishing our inherent well-being.  Simply put, we need to pay attention to our own well-being.  Well-being will not fall out of a tree and into our lap.  We need to practice returning home, to what is right here, right now, in this moment.  When we focus on what is here, we find the state of being which is eternally okay, content and well.  We find ourselves.
Setting out into the world as an investigator of well-being, I have begun to examine our current culture and ask: What in our society is eroding our attention to and relationship with this deeper sense of well-being?  What is obstructing our access to the well-being within us, deterring us from our inherent spiritual, emotional, and physical health.  What are the poisons to our state of deep well-being?  And what are the nutrients, those elements that reacquaint us with how well we really are?  This question brings me (quickly) to a discussion of technology...
So what does technology have to do with well-being or UN-well-being?    The human mind is a miraculous instrument and can accomplish amazing feats.
It is also an unsettled and frantic instrument.  Its basic state is agitation. The mind is in a state of constant craving; it desperately seeks distraction, entertainment, problems to fix, and really anything.  It needs constant food to keep it fed.  The mind has a very hard time landing and being here.  As a result, the mind seeks to keep us focused anywhere but here.  In Buddhist literature, the mind is often likened to a monkey that has been stung by a bee and simultaneously polished off a bottle of wine. Technology as we are using it now in our culture is like shooting that monkey with 500 CCs of adrenaline.  The monkey is thrilled, but is this what is best for us as a species?   When I ask my clients what makes them feel well in their lives, I hear one of three things:
  1. connection with other people
  2. creativity
  3. spirit-oriented activities. 
In all my years asking this question, I have never heard someone say that playing games on their iPhone leads to a feeling of deep well-being, nor does checking their Facebook page and Twitter account.  Technology is breeding distraction into the human species, just as you would breed long ears into a dog.  

It is breeding out the capacity to be with ourselves or anyone else, and worst of all, simply to be here.  Technology is radically increasing our opportunity to be distracted, and legitimizing distraction as an acceptable way to spend our lives.  We take pride in our digital pacifiers, bonding over our shared addiction.

The mind thrives on technology, more information, more games, more ways to tinker, more things to do to keep us busily not present. If you ask a crack addict what will make him well, he will tell you more crack, and he will be sure of it.  If you ask the mind what it needs to be well, it will tell you more information, more ways to stay busy, more problems to solve.  The crack addict is the wrong one to ask what he needs.  His answer is incorrect.  More crack will not make him feel well, but will only calm his shakes and get him high... for a short time.  And then the problem will return, only with more ferocity.  He will wake up with a little more tolerance, needing a little bit more crack to escape his feelings, and to get away from here.  The part of him that might still be able to function without escaping will be a little bit weaker, the light in him a little bit dimmer.  Similarly, the mind is the wrong part of ourselves to ask what we need to be well.  In truth, people that spend all day texting, surfing, gaming, checking, checking, checking and then checking again… checking for what they do not even know… in fact, do not feel well at the end of the day.  They feel depleted, empty and depressed.  They are vacuumed out but needing ever more stimulation.  Worst of all, they are convinced that they need to start searching all over again, for something that will satisfy them and leave them feeling whole. Their addiction has grown a little bit stronger, their capacity to soothe their own suffering a little bit withered, and their belief that distraction is what they want and need, a little bit invigorated. They have fed the monkey all day, successfully outrun the moment, successfully avoided their here.  And remarkably, at the end of all that action, that frantic ingesting, they are left spiritually and emotionally ravenous. They have not landed anywhere, all day, not gotten into anything, spent any quality time anywhere or with anyone.
The carrot that technology dangles is that more communication, more bits of information, more choices, more entertainment, more of everything will invigorate and satisfy us, and lead us to a better experience of life.  This is a false belief, like the addict who takes another hit to make himself okay.  We do not need more frequent communication, we need deeper connections.  We do not need more bits of useless information, we need more meaningful dialogue.  We do not need more entertainment, we need to engage our own imagination and creativity.  We do not need to get away from ourselves and now, we need to meet ourselves and land in this moment. We do not need more ways to get to there, we need to learn how to get to here.  Well-being can only live in this now and if we are not in it, we cannot experience it.

Our heart and spirit need something very different than what our mind craves.  Right now, as a society, we are living entirely out of sync with that which really nourishes and makes us well.  The drunken, feverish monkey within us has taken over the controls.  The result is that we are sailing into despair, an entertaining, lightning-paced, glittery and bespangled despair for sure, but despair nonetheless.  It is up to us and well within our power to wrestle this life back from the misinformed (and suffering) monkey.  As human beings who, unlike other species, have the incredible gift of awareness, it is our responsibility to stop feeding ourselves with that which is ultimately starving us.  It is our mandatory and inescapable charge now, as individuals and a species, to get off the frantic wheel of distraction, and to deliberately turn our attention to those experiences that truly nourish us, that lead us back to our natural well-being and reacquaint us with our inherent wholeness.

What does "well-being" mean to you?

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We must be mindful of healthy use of technology. Report
Not to disagree with the article at all, but for some people (for a huge variety of reasons), facebook can sometimes be the only option for human connection. In addition, probably due to my age, I have found facebook helpful to recconnect with people who mean a lot to me but we have somehow lost touch.

Like others have said, technology in moderation is probably the answer. Report
Which is why I still have a "dumb phone", am only on facebook when someone sends me a message, use the computer 90% of the time for SparkPeople, and would rather be reading with a cat on my lap, or out with friends and family! Report
THAT'S why I no longer have a cell phone. Report
This is a very timely article - and many of the comments show a good deal of insight, too. Thanks to all of you. Report
I'm living with my iPad (we have become inseparable since I found Sparkpeople: it hooks me into the game of becoming healthy and fit.)
But in truth, so long as I can get in my garden, or out in nature, I have wellbeing. Report
I must agree with your blog. Everyday I am seeing people become more and more consumed with technology. It even got to the point where people I know are so fixated on these "things" that we no longer see each othe as often. I often remind those around me that in ten years, we are not going to remember any good memories from visiting websites or playing games online. It is up to us to get out and live our lives while we have them. Report
All of that technology is also a conduit for marketing. The main purpose of marketing is to make us feel that something outside of ourselves will make us feel better. As for the information junkie, the vast majority of information out there is marketing of one kind of another as well. Report
Great post and so very wise. Thank you! Report
I learned a long time ago that I have to monitor the monkey mind and keep it in control. When I first went online, it was almost impossible to get offline! I wanted to look at one more site, read on more comment. It made me feel paniced and empty, just as you write about. Nowadays, I work to keep it in check, even on a site like Spark People. I have a FB account, primarily because almost everyone is on it. I rarely even look at it - usually once or twice a week for a few minutes. It amazes me how many people spend so much time posting and checking in. It is important to get our faces out of the screen! Report
Unfortunately Social Networking is here to stay and we need to develop the skills to switch off. Nancy presents many insights to think about. I often long for the days of my youth when there was no voice mail, email, messaging, call cable cell phones, Ipads, Ipods....stimulation had to come from within or from socializing with people in the flesh. One had time to be....not doing al the time...but times have changed and Nancy's focus will hopefully help us to get back to basic of living. Report
You really make some great points. I think we all know people who can't go anywhere without their phone in their hand, and that's really sad, especially when it is a parent. What are we teaching our kids? I truly appreciate your blog. Thanks for writing! Report
The timing of this article couldn't be more perfect. Yesterday, BLACKBERRY's server went down, the big server - out there in the great unknown world of cyber-space. All of a sudden I wasn't receiving my messages on my hand-held, I started to panic. Not that I was expecting any really important messages or invitations for tea with the Queen of England, but, nonetheless, I was in a state of PANIC. I didn't yet know that it wasn't my phone or Blackberry device but was the entire system, so I high-tailed it over to AT&T, always a fun experience. Even when I discovered it was something bigger than me, I was still in a state of upset. I am not even a technical person, so, your article is very good and a lesson to all. Well said Nance! Report
As with other matters, I believe moderation is the key. I check Facebook a couple of times a week. It is the best way for me to share photos of grandchildren, to view pics of my out-of-state grandsons and their parents, to follow my niece's pregnancy (twins expected next Wednesday), and communicate with folks with lives as busy as mine. I can touch base with far-flung cousins and share issues I feel strongly about. I send paper cards for birthdays but have no time for written correspondence. I spend a lot of time on public transportation 7 days a week, and although I do socialize with other passengers and some drivers, many times I read or play word games instead. So perhaps some need to rely on technology less, but others, especially those who live alone, may need technology to maintain social connections.

To me, well-being is balance, and I am still working on that, but technology is not the problem for me. Report
I find Facebook and the like to be a "time filler" when I could be filling that time with something else - folding laundry, doing dishes, etc. My husband and I argue a lot over the amount of time we spend with our faces in our computers, so I closed my facebook account for two days. I missed it so I reactivated my account, read through some status(es) and then wondered what it was that I missed.

Like KMVOSS, I find myself not actively listening when I have my fingers on the keyboard or my eyes attached to the screen. I find myself wondering where office-mates wandered off to when I KNOW they told me where they were going, but I was "busy" and didn't pay attention.

Thank you for the reminder that there really was life before facebook! And it was free of the 'facebook fights' between my husband and I. I think I'll deactivate my account again and leave it that way.

Thank you so much! I can't wait to read more of your blogs. Report
Hear! hear! Well said... Report
I agree totally with your assessment of technology. Thanks for the insight. Report
Technology is a tool, true, but it seems like it can also be an excuse or a pacifier. Reading a status update and hitting the like button for it isn't the same as picking up the phone and congratulating someone for something good or offering the warmth of your voice and a shoulder to cry on for something bad. Looking at photos and cell phone videos isn't as satisifying as starring in your own. Seeing what other people are doing and possibly being inspired by those words and images is great, but actively participating next to them is so much better. Technology can force me to be more of a spectator than a participant, and while that may be all right some of the time, I don't want that to be my full-time role. Report
My kids get after me about not answering the phone. I tell them that I pay the bill and therefore am in charge of when I choose to answer it. Report
I love your quote "it is our responsibility to stop feeding ourselves with that which is ultimately starving us."
This is true on a spiritual and physical level. I appreciate the personal accountability of your statement. No one chooses what I put inside myself, so its up to me to plan for proper "nutrition"- food or spiritual. Report
This is Bruce Corwin, mentioned in the first paragraph. This is one of the most amazing blogs I've ever read. It is oh so tragically true. I'm afraid I'm one of those people who is addicted to technology, and I'm hoping it's not incurable!
.... which reminds me: Get thyself back into routine meditation, for it does a body (mind & spirit) so good! Thank you. Report
Key's in the term itself, isn't it...well-BEING (not doing, be-ing) Report
Whenever I forget my phone, I feel completely free!! Report
I feel that technology is a tool, and whether it is a distraction depends on how it's used. I check my facebook and I DO get "1. connection with other people 2.creativity 3. spirit-oriented activities. " I'm home alone all day with 2 cats and my only human interaction most days is a few hours in the evenings when my husband is home. Facebook lets me be aware of friends and family and what's going on in their lives and share a little of what's going on in mine. I'm friends with various artists on facebook and their posts sharing their art projects sometimes inspire me to do my own, so it brings creativity into my life. And when my friends and family share posts of bad things happening in their lives it leads me to pray. Report
So true. Sometimes "falling off the grid" and stepping away from the FB, twitter, texting is so refreshing. That blinking red light on my phone is truly the devil sometimes Report
awesome blog, with some really good points. I am challenged to use some of these in my life - turn off the distraction!!! Report
I've been feeling empty lately and feeling like something is missing, I've been depressed and searching for what will make me feel whole again. This blog spoke so much truth and really hit home with exactly what I'm doing wrong. Report
This is a wonderful reminder for peolpe to just people, to enjoy the more simpler things in life, being in good company is more satisfying then sending texts, or communicating on the computer. It reminds me of my childhood, growing up on my grandparents farm, enjoying my youth and living the moment :D thank you for this wonderful blog, to me alot of well-being comes from my family and freinds. Report
I guess the line that hit me the hardest was "legitimizing distraction as an acceptable way to spend our lives." I do not want to be guilty of this: 'going through the motions' is no way to live! Thanks Nancy, for the reality check! Report
Wonderfully put, Thanks! Report
Absolutely fantastic blog. Sparkpeople is the only site that I spend time on. Spending time with family and friends face to face is soooo satisfying. Report
Thank you for this blog. You have put words to thoughts that have been percolating in me for quite some time. Technology is a distracting and slippery slope. I am not REALLY a drunken monkey (I only play one on Social Networking Sites)! Report
This is for people that's on auto-tune. modern technology does that to some people. Report
Too true Nancy. I sleep with my Blackberry. I hardly find myself present and authentically listening. It is out of control really! Thanks for the reminder. Report
What an insightful and helpful blog. This is so spot on! We need more of this kind of thoughtful commentary on the state of our society. We do not need more quick-fixes, but rather, Nancy's kind of really SMART, in-depth advice on what will actually make us well. I so appreciate people who really offer something, not more nonsense and empty words but the real thing. I am so glad this woman will have her own blog on dailySpark. Maybe the powers that be are starting to understand that we the audience really do want substantive material and most importantly, material that can lead to real change... not just words that sound good! Looking forward to reading more from this very wise woman! Report
What a great reminder to turn the gadgets off and get back to being people, and being with people. Thanks for this post. Report
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