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Are We Using Technology to Avoid Ourselves?

Notes from the edge of addiction.

I had just spent two hours inside the online vacuum, shopping for shoes that I was never going to buy. I was on my way to becoming a technoholic, sliding seamlessly into the rabbit hole of addiction.

I was never a video game player or an app aficionado. I was not particularly interested in Facebook, Twitter, or its cousins. I never put my phone on the table when sharing a meal with a friend. And yet, I used technology as an addict uses her drug of choice—as an escape.

I used technology to fill the gaps between experiences, when I had nowhere specific to put my attention, nowhere to engage myself—nothing to do! I used the distraction of technology to avoid the silence and stillness inside myself. And it worked. I was able to outrun myself, until I got too tired to keep running. I knew that I didn’t want to spend my life successfully avoiding myself until I no longer had to because there was no longer a self to avoid. That felt like a life unlived, a true self unrealized, and abandoned.

And then the rubber hit the road. As a psychotherapist and someone who writes a lot about technology, people started to ask me for advice on how to recover from technology addiction, how to make use of technology in a balanced and healthy manner. I was being asked to provide light inside the darkness of our collective addiction.

The problem was that I was in the middle of my own unhealthy relationship with technology.

Oh yes I meditated every day, noticing as my technoholic mind spouted off its cravings. But when I got up from the cushion, I handed the controls back to that technoholic mind, which then convinced me that technology could fill the stillness that I didn’t want to meet.

But my integrity put an end to the game, thankfully. What I couldn’t do was talk the talk if I wasn’t going to walk the walk. I couldn’t pretend to be a source of wisdom, to counsel people on how to use technology mindfully if I myself was using it as a way to escape from what I didn’t know how to feel.

As it turned out, I could waste hours online, but I couldn’t be inauthentic, couldn’t offer something to people that I knew intellectually, but wasn’t living as my own truth. And so I made a decision to take ownership of my own behavior and transformation. I set the intention to stop using technology to avoid myself in what felt like the empty spaces of life.

Maintaining a healthy relationship with technology is a process and never a completed task. It requires my ongoing attention and intention. But the benefit of this effort is that I am in my life, not running from it. I stay with myself even when I don’t know what to do with myself. This brings me a sense of great confidence and courage. And, I get to discover that something is actually here, a presence, a different kind of self, even when the contents of life, the activities and experiences, are paused.

What we pay attention to and spend time with is what we are determining as important in our lives. That said, I didn’t want to spend my life simply being dragged around by habits and impulses. I wanted my attention and time to be in alignment with what actually matters to me.

When I open my laptop these days I still get a whoosh of excitement, and relief. And, there are still times when I allow myself to take pleasure in online shopping or researching vacations that I’m never going to take. But the difference is that when I do, it is done with awareness and not because I can’t not do it. I know that in order to feel fundamentally well, to live a conscious and nourishing life, I must be able to embrace my own un-supplemented presence. I also know that what I really want, more than another successful escape route, another way out, is a life that I’m actually in, which means that I have to take ownership of the choices I make, the actions I take. I know now that the connection I have with my life and myself, the fulfillment of what is truly important to me, is entirely mine to decide and create.

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