How Face-to-face Conversations Help Us Deal with Technostress

As I was sitting patiently waiting for my car to be repaired at the car shop the other day, I came across a great story in AARP Magazine titled, “Is Conversation Gone for Good?” It confirmed to me something I have been thinking about a lot lately — the missing element of face-to-face conversations and the level of stress we experience living in a high-tech world.

The article raises two important points I want to mention here:

  • Today, our talks are more results-oriented and less people-oriented. In person, we ask closed questions that can be answered by yes or no and we share brief exchanges. The author of the article remarked how his recent “conversations” were, in fact, Facebook postings.
  • The paradox of contemporary life—simultaneous connection and isolation. Think about it for a minute. We reach out to connect to others (many times strangers) through social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and yet, when we are in the same room with other people, we don’t have much to say to them.

We are bombarded by and bombard others with so much information that there is actually a term to describe this — technostress.

Technostress is stress resulting from our over-reliance on technology. According to Rebecca J. Donatelle, Ph.D., technostress is “a dependence on technology, the constant state of being “plugged in,” and the fear of technology failure” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 74).

She says that when technostress takes a hold of you, it sometimes interact with other forms of stress “to create a never-ending form of stimulation that keeps your stress response reverberating all day” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 74).

The power of technology allows us to be productive and encourages people to multitask, juggling many different things at once. We see this actually advertised and prized as a desired quality in an employee or person. However, research indicates that “people who multitask…are less efficient than those who focus on one project at a time” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 74).

A recent Harvard Business Review post says that multitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10% drop in IQ (Bergman, 2010).

Signs of technology overload (Donatelle, 2009):

  • Increasing heart rate and blood pressure
  • Irritability and memory disturbances
  • Inability to relax
  • Feeling nervous and anxious during times when you are supposed to be having fun
  • Headaches
  • Stomach, digestive problems, ulcers
  • Skin irritations
  • Frequent colds
  • Difficulty in wound healing
  • Difficulty sleeping or lack of sleep
  • Gaps in attentiveness and changes in ability to concentrate

TIPS FOR FIGHTING TECHNOSTRESS (Donatelle, 2009):

1. Become aware of what you are doing.
Log the time you spend online, on social networking sites, e-mail, voicemail, etc. Set up a schedule to limit your use of technology. For example, spend no more than a half-hour per day answering e-mails.

2. Give yourself more time.
If you are surfing the Web for resources for a paper or project, begin early rather than the night before it is due.

3. Manage the telephone—don’t let it manage you.
Rather than interrupting what you’re doing to answer the call, screen phone calls with an answering machine or caller ID. Eliminate call waiting because it forces you to juggle multiple calls, and instead, subscribe to a voicemail service that takes messages when you’re on the phone.

4. Take regular breaks.
Even when you’re working, every hour get up, walk around, stretch, do deep breathing, or get a drink of water.

5. If you are working on the computer, look away from the screen and focus on something far away every 30 minutes.
Stretch your shoulders and neck periodically as you work. Play relaxing background music.

6. Resist the urge to buy the newest and fastest technology.
Such purchases causes financial stress and adds to your stress levels, especially when dealing with the glitches that occur from installing and adjusting to new technology.

7. Do not take laptops, PDAs, or other technological gadgets on vacation.
If you must take a cell phone for emergencies, turn it and your voice messaging system off, and use the phone only in true emergencies.

8. Back up materials on your computer at regular intervals.
There’s nothing more frustrating and stressful than losing work because of a power outage. In college, I heard about a girl crying hysterically because she lost a paper she had spent hours writing. The culprit was a squirrel who sacrificed his life running into a power line. Poor girl and poor squirrel.

9. Expect technological change.
The only constant is change. Nowhere is this more true than with technology. We blink and what we purchased or become accustomed to will become yesterday’s news. No matter how comfortable you are with your current computer, cell phone, PDA, and so on, at some point you will need to move on to a new one.

10. Unplug or Disconnect, Step Away, and “Talk.” – this last tip is my own.
When I was in my teens and early twenties, I was quite impatient as I suppose some people are growing up. But the older I become, the more I slow down to soak life in. It was this epiphany that led me back home, from working overseas, to be with my aging parents.

Just like the author of the AARP article, I too am enjoying conversations (face-to-face ones that is) with others. In the past few years, those precious conversations have been with my mother. And, like the author, I am finding wonderment in the “transformative power of human contact,” one that offers glimpses into the lives of those with whom I hold face-to-face conversations.

When I talk and listen to my mom, it’s almost as if time stops. When I am truly engrossed in conversation with her, I feel as though I’m traveling back in time to years past, learning about her, about myself, and about life. With our manic society, hyperactive workplaces, and a 24-7 mindset about being plugged in, it is comforting to know that, sometimes, the most profound and yet easiest solution on “unplugging” is to simply “talk.”

References

Bergman, P. (May 2010). How (and why) to stop multitasking. Harvard Business Review, May 20, 2010. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2010/05/how-and-why-to-stop-multitaski.html

Donatelle, R. (2009). Health: The basics (8th ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Dudley, D. (Mar/Apr 2010). Is conversation gone for good? AARP Magazine, Mar/Apr 2010, 62-67.

Advertisements