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This article was published on November 19, 2013

Technology wants you as its slave: How much power do you have over your tech obsession?

Technology wants you as its slave: How much power do you have over your tech obsession?

Toby Daniels is the founder and Executive Director of Social Media Week and CEO of New York-based Crowdcentric. This post is part of The Future of Now series which will explore the societal implications of our technology obsession.

We all judge them. Out at dinner, the couple not interacting with each other but heads down focused on their phones. Then, we turn to Twitter and post our snarky comment about how sad it is. With our friends doing the same.

Admit it. You’ve done it. In fact, you’ve done both.

It’s this interaction that a recent viral video about forgetting your smartphone captures. In I Forgot My Phone, we see how being disconnected shows us just how connected we are and how much we can miss because of that.

Our phones are constantly buzzing. The red notification has permeated our lives – it’s on our laptops, on our phones – begging us to pay attention; begging us to drop everything and find out what it could possibly be. Inadvertently, technology has become our closest friend, the person we will do anything for, drop anything for, even break away from an important conversation to be with.

Without technology and our mobile phones in particular, we feel naked, stripped and alone. Vacations now include a laptop. What’s a trip without photos that we immediately upload to Facebook and Instagram? It’s like it didn’t happen, at least if we don’t share them in real-time.

Are we really that lonely, sad and desperate for attention? According to Louis CK we are:

“Pretty much 100% of people are texting while driving and they’re killing everyone with their cars. People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for 5 seconds.”

The obsession is not all bad… is it?

Technology has the remarkable ability to be a great tool for taking more control of our lives as well as the ability to control us. We see this in numerous ways.

On the positive side, we can now connect to friends around the globe, making distance a forgettable obstacle. There’s the Skype ad showing how Paige and Sarah bonded over the platform, becoming best friends without ever having met. Paige and Sarah aren’t alone. The average American moves every five years, so tech allows us to keep up, no matter where that might be.

Then, there are apps and technology focused on the quantified self to help us change our fitness habits. Nike+ connects more than 11 million users to their workouts in more meaningful ways. When we go out and get active, it invokes positive reinforcement from our communities, encouraging us to exercise more regularly. While we might grow tired of those check-ins and fitness posts and hate them for making us feel lazy, they are a powerful motivator.

But we mustn’t lose sight of the dark side. We see families who can’t put down their phones at dinner. Ads mock the breakup text, but we all know someone who has been on the receiving end.

Work is only an email away, making time off and vacations a distant reality. Phones buzz; emails alert; but we’re never satisfied with what we get. FOMO is ruining people’s lives.

We’re all slaves to technology

Tech is a dominant part of our daily lives for both good and bad, and we have become a slave to want it wants: it’s demanding, intrusive and in many ways regularly disappoints, yet we can’t live without it.

What if tech could be used to help us achieve balance? Last year, Arianna Huffington developed the GPS for the Soul to help us merge our physical, spiritual and mental lives, creating more peaceful moments. Then there’s the new mobile gifting service BOND, which helps us be more thoughtful by making it easy to send personalized, hand-written notes and gifts in seconds from your phone.

And there’s Headspace, an iPhone and Android App, which is on a mission to get as many people  in the world as possible to take 10 minutes out of their day, to practice a simple and easy-to-learn meditation techniques. Nokia launched [email protected] to share how to get the most out of your day and enhance your productivity with simple tips and tricks.

Technology can be unforgiving and uncompromising in terms of how much we are controlled by her, but we don’t have to let her treat us this way. We can still have control. If we want to harness the positives and admit that nothing is more important than how we engage in the present then we can start to focus more on the positive, productive and human-centric side of this wonderfully complex thing we’ve grown to love so much.

And with that, I’ll leave you with a quote from one of lifes great philosophers: Ferris Beuller.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you might miss it.”

How can we regain control, establish balance, and preserve what makes us human? This is what we will be exploring during this years Social Media Week, as part of The Future of Now, which kicks off February 17-21 in New York City.

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