How Much Tech Is Too Much?

Tech Support or Obstruction?

How we love to love our tech. But we also love to hate it.

I was born in the 70s and was lucky enough to have an Atari growing up. Parents were cautious: we weren’t allowed to spend hours a day on it, but getting a video game console was a big deal in the early 80s. Then my parents splurged one Christmas on a Tandy 1000HX from RadioShack. I typed my heart out on the word processing program and played SpaceQuest until bedtime every night. I printed these colorful banners on the papers that connected together and had to be ripped apart at the perforations. Wow, those were the days…thank you Wikipedia for the photos of my old systems with the dot matrix printer and all…

I guess we were the first generation to grow up on computers and video game systems. We learned everything “from scratch” because there was no other way. Pioneers!

Using BASIC programming in Junior High to draw stars and moons scored us an A as we shared the school’s five computers. My sophomore year in high school I took Word Processing (thank you Mrs. Williams!) and became a proficient typist (even though we navigated through the F-menu in WordPerfect because the computer mouse was not yet really a thing at our school…). When I went off to Syracuse I purchased my first laptop: an Intel Notebook. I still have it in my parents’ attic. The screen is smaller than an iPad mini, monochrome, and I paid hundreds of dollars for a 28.8 baud kbps dial-up modem (um…that’s HALF of 56k modem folks…). I used to call a long-distance NY number and pay by-the-minute to “check my email” and discuss things in chat rooms.

My first job after college required faxing 10x more material than emailing – and in PR we weren’t sure if email was an acceptable form of communication yet. Our media database was state-of-the-art and required a full-time IT guy checking the mail and taking the MediaMap CD-ROMs that arrived weekly and downloading them to a local server so we would have more up-to-date information than the Bacon’s directories published once a year.

My next job was better: they were just getting rid of the red light on the wall letting us know that SOMEONE was online and we couldn’t kick that person off by using that connection until we asked around the office first. That dial-up sound with the pops and crackles will never leave my memory. This firm had a client that deployed T1 lines and was bringing one to our office! That was huge!

Fast-forward twenty years: I’m sitting in my home office with 150 Mbps broadband service, no landline, no cable TV by choice. I rely on my smart phone for nearly everything to run my business. In our downtime, Netflix and Amazon Video give us 99% of the content on demand needed to make our TV and movie lives complete. My son has a Wii and an Xbox (because apparently one system isn’t enough) and a PS4 has been on his wishlist for Christmas and his birthday. He’s still waiting. I have two Macbooks, my husband has 2 Windows laptops, my son has a Chromebook for home and one for school, and we have two in-service iPhones (my son is begging for his own – not yet), 4 old iPhones, an iPad mini, an iPad, 3 Kindles and a tablet. My house is connected and somewhat automated, with two Amazon Echos (Alexas), a couple of Dots, 6 Nucleus devices, 2 smart TVs and 2 Rokus, and various other IoT things to make our lives easier. I’m even looking into getting one of those “find your dog” tags to keep track of him.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I think we are a pretty normal family when it comes to tech: we embrace the technology to make our lives better and easier if it’s at a price point we can comfortably afford and the ends justify the means.

But at what point does tech go beyond supporting our lives to obstructing our lives?

We’ve all seen the videos of people walking into poles or fountains because they are on their phone and not paying attention. Three years ago statistics said that more than 5,000 people a month were injured while walking and texting! Then there’s distracted driving (most often caused by device distraction). The CDC says that each day in the United States, approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver. These are major things: injuries, death. But what about just our social and personal lives?

I think these numbers are even higher, but studies show that 54 percent of kids think their parents check their devices too often. And 32 percent say they feel “unimportant” when their parents get distracted by their phones. Parents and adults have forgotten how to socialize without their phones, and we are setting a bad example for the next generation. In fact, kids are now being diagnosed with an addiction and sent to recovery programs with withdrawal symptoms when screentime is taken away. “Digital Heroin” has become a real thing in our lives. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that the typical 8- to 10 year-old spends 8 hours a day with various digital media while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens – and nearly one in five college students suffers from tech addiction.

So how can we change this?

Well, we rely on technology to work and live and play. So we don’t want to go cold turkey and eliminate all the good that tech has brought to our lives. A compromise is in order. Let’s start with the kids: Parents need to take a firmer stand on limits and offer kids alternative activities to keep them engaged, active and healthy. Virtually anything in moderation is OK but once it goes into excess it becomes a problem (a slice of cake or a bowl of ice cream once or twice a week should be fine but twice a day is not). Kids need to take responsibility for their own lives and fun and find things to do that are not tech-related! Climb a tree, talk a walk, plant a garden, play a board game, read a book, draw, sing, learn an instrument, perform a play, dress up the dog, visit a nursing home or preschool, take up a new hobby, figure out why the sky is blue, play a new sport, build a fire (ok don’t do that one), make a fort, ride your bike, cook, start a collection, plan a dream vacation, make a vision board, pick up your room (you’re welcome parents), volunteer, mow the neighbor’s lawn, start a small business…the list goes on and on! There is no way you can be bored. If you are bored, wait five minutes and read through this list, talk to an adult or another kid and you will think of something!

Adults, now I’m talking to you. I know, it’s hard. I’m guilty here. We get sucked into our phones, our screens and our work. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchap, the news, MPOG – you name it. But it’s important to remember who we are deep down. Don’t lose you when you are holding that device or playing that game. The list above is just as important for us as it is for the next generation. We need to set the example of how to socialize and be good citizens so they will know and pass it on. With Amazon Prime and self-checkouts, we barely need to interact with people anymore. Let’s not lose that personal touch that makes us human.

I’m the founder of Mainspire because I love marketing: it’s what I do. But I’m also the co-founder of Kid In Outdoors, LLC. My other co-founder is my now 10-year-old son “Casting Carter”. When he was six, he started KIO to get kids outdoors and off of video games. He was frustrated that every friend’s house he went over – all they wanted to do was play video games. Carter wanted to play outside: rain or shine, summer or winter. He put his passion for the outdoors to good use and today he’s a national advocate for getting kids outdoors. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or on his website. So we practice what we preach – or at least try to. We love our screens, but we also love the outdoors. Finding balance is key.

So what is your opinion: tech support or obstruction? Drop me a note at sarah@mainspire.com and let me know! I’d love to hear from you.