Introducing: Kara’s thoughts

Happier and healthier: with, or without, New Technology?

To avoid smart solutions… or embrace them? That is the question!

In the last year I, like many others in the UK, have used technology more than ever before. With the Covid-19 pandemic restricting our everyday activities, so many of our interactions are now online.

I have been making daily video calls for work; our children’s schools use various internet-based homeschooling services; we connect with friends and celebrate birthdays using video calls, and I shop almost exclusively online, to avoid mixing in crowds.

I am lucky that I was already familiar with some of the tools, so although I’ve had to learn some new stuff, it wasn’t such a steep learning curve. Even so, it has still been a tremendous challenge. However, some of my friends and relatives were not in the same boat, they were still very wary of new technology and concerned that it could expose them to con artists, identity theft and health issues. With concerns like that, they didn’t want even to try.

I understand how they feel, and I have my own concerns too: Tech consumes resources; it threatens our security and mental health. It’s so much simpler (and more peaceful) to live tech-free, away from irritating, beeping interruptions, the problem is that it’s so hard to function right now without using tech.

Learning to use the equipment is challenging enough, but understanding how to organise the settings and features in a way that works with our lifestyle is often confusing and perplexing. We all have more pressing things to do with our time.

The whole world seems to be embracing new technology
(or being hypnotised by it)

People glued to their phones on the 'drain'
Pre-covid commuters on The Waterloo & City line

Must we join them?

We are pulled from all sides, but traditional ways of doing things, which are simple and familiar, aren’t possible now. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we either have to rely on others to support us or get to grips with our tech ourselves to maintain our independence.

I actually feel quite happy about embracing new technology, but finding the time to do it is a huge challenge! Intellectually I know that small amount of time regularly would gradually make a big difference; still, with two school-age children and running my own business – I panic at the thought of squeezing anything more in!

Some good has come of all this though; I have been enjoying the updates from my neighbours on our street’s ‘WhatsApp chat’, it’s so good to see it bring our community closer together. Most of the gossip I glean these days may be via ‘WhatsApp’, ‘FaceBook’ or ‘Instagram’, but we can all dip into it at our own pace when we have time. Groups can meet up on ‘Zoom’, ‘MS Teams’ or ‘Google Meets’ so people from all over the country can get together without leaving their living room. Many friends follow online fitness classes on ‘YouTube’ or using smartphones to train for the ‘Couch-to-5K’ challenge to keep fit. I’ve enjoyed relaxing with a Netflix or iPlayer series; an indulgent treat, as long as I don’t end up binge-watching.

Those who aren’t using new technology are blissfully unaware of all of the rapid learning and stress abound… but they are also missing out, and it is a waste of resources. While computers are gathering dust, phones and tablets are tucked away in drawers, in need of a charge, they are becoming obsolete before being used to their full potential.

I’ve been telling my inlaw’s how easy online shopping is for years, but only recently have they tried it because they have had no choice.

For years I have enjoyed learning how to use shiny new tech, I have always been one of those quirky people who actually like reading instruction manuals and learning to use hidden features). But it takes time and dedication – the learning curve can be steep, and even for me, it can feel frustrating and tiring.

I’ve read that the frustration felt when learning new skills is the process of laying down new neural pathways – and once they’re established, it gets easier – which makes sense. Practise making perfect and all that.

The struggle of learning is certainly good for my self-esteem. I personally get an enormous sense of accomplishment and pride whenever I learn to use new tech tools. Even so, it is daunting. I really have to convince myself to do it. I understand reluctance to try new things. Learning new skills no longer comes to me as easily as it once did. To convince myself, I first allay any fears, mitigate potential dangers and remind myself of all the good this new skill could provide.

I am absolutely rubbish at keeping on top of my notifications and I’m floundering under all the messages from school, work and friends… but my intention is to make the time to maintain strong connections with the people and communities I care about. I’m learning to do the best I can with the tech I have and when I figure out how, I am sharing my approach with others.

Using my tech the way I find acceptable

(and dodging the pitfalls)

I am easily distracted, and my brain loves to play games and consume programmes, articles and social media… but it’s not a great use of my time. I am determined that my tech should be more than a distraction or a comforter; it’s an amazing tool to support real-life activities and priorities. So, instead of my phone relieving boredom, exhaustion and other negative moments, I want it to provide me with the following:

  • Allow me to stay connected: bridging ‘Lockdown’ restrictions and distances between friends, relatives and work. Overcoming time zone problems and language differences (through video calls, sending and electronic messages like email and sending photos)
    • Used as s a transaction tool: to buy and sell things, pay for goods online, donate to charity and send money to people
    • By helping me discover: knowledge, hobbies, friends and interests
    • By keeping me informed: when it will rain, which route will be best, what time do places close and what is the latest news?
    • By helping me create and share: art and music, ideas, information, and stories.
    • By acting as my personal assistant: be organised and productive with contacts, calendars, reminders and alarms.

My eyesight’s not what it once was, but many features make phones, computers etc. more accessible for those with specific requirements. It’s more fun when it’s not a struggle, so; I will:

  • Make using it as easy as possible:
    • Get the correct size to suit my hands/grip/eyesight a good fit: easy to hold, suitably large screen size and controls, or buttons that are easy for my fingers to press
    • Learn how to set it up for my specific needs: adjust the controls to work at my pace, increase the wording size on the screen and use on-screen descriptions to discover which control does what.

Too much tech is detrimental to our mental health. To keep it in check I will:

  • Impose limits to maintain my health and mental wellbeing
    • Ringfence ‘downtime’ to interact in person, with real-world things, people and nature
    • Time limits on individual apps and activities
    • Ban it (in certain situations) locked away if necessary: no phones at the table, or in bed.
    • Screen-time restrictions: a no-screen-time ban for an hour (or two!) before bed.

I want to set a good example to my children and others, so (though it may be inefficient and challenging at times)

  • I want to resist the impulse to check my phone in inappropriate situations:
    • Driving my car to make or receive phone calls and text messages, or make an adjustment to the sat-nav – I will pull over and stop first
    • Crossing the road, I will lock my phone and put it in a bag or a pocket.
    • Focussing on the people I am with: I’ve resolved not to take calls, listen to podcasts and check messages in front of others, as it can be rude and disrespectful.
  • To be courteous and polite I will:
    • Being courteous and polite: be cautious when interacting via emails and texts (it’s so easy for the intended meaning to be misconstrued).
    • Opt for a phone call, or live video chat, when it’s important, to ensure that the meaning of what I’m trying to say is clearly understood, it’s better to see the reaction and then clarify if needed . I can always follow up with an email for the record.
    • Be positive in online forums: Some people act out of character when they engage in discussions online, saying things they would not feel comfortable saying face-to-face. Follow grandma’s advice: if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all!

Rather than avoiding using my tech because of potential risks, or ignoring the dangers and being blasé about the way I use my tech, I’m looking for the middle line – to follow sensible precautions:

  • Defend against fraud:
    • Follow the rules know the type of calls, messages or links I will never respond to
    • Discover the details I don’t take email senders address and links at face value. I know they are sometimes named in a misleading way – by hovering over links and names I’ll check the actual detail to expose fraudulent ones
    • Check the internet address I’ll always check the website address is the one I’m expecting, especially when dealing with my bank or online shops
    • Be on the lookout for any suspicious activity, such as a supposed message from your builder asking you to pay the next instalment into a different bank account (best to double-check with a phone call first)
    • Keep updated about potential threats and recent scams; research using Google to read about other people’s experiences and checking with my friends and family.

I don’t want to let the engineers in Silicon Valley exploit my cognitive weaknesses – so, to prevent me from turning into a Zombie I will:

  • Keep distractions to a minimum:
    • Silence is golden: I don’t want to be constantly distracted, by reminders created by the apps on my phone, that I have messages; it would be better to check my them when I choose; so I turn off notifications, or switch my phone to ‘do not disturb.’
    • Exercise patience: when I travel, or when I’m waiting in a queue, I like to spend time just waiting – I don’t think it’s healthy to be constantly on the go, distracted and entertained. Being bored during downtime is actually a good opportunity to mentally switch off for a while and zone out.
    • Practise being comfortable with stillness: I like to try and meditate and I prefer to do it without tech to give me a break from it all.
    • Daily exercise and fitness routines help me with absolutely everything!

I am concerned about the impact our tech has on the world’s resources; to offset my tech footprint I am adjusting my personal consumption in the following ways:

  • Becoming eco friendly
    • Choose sustainable options whenever possible, regarding everything I consume
    • Recycle all that I can especially my tech! If it’s broken recycle it, but if not and I’ve stopped using it, I will pass it on before it becomes obsolete.
    • Consider every item I let into my life and whether I truly need it; judging the credentials of the manufacturing process, how effectively it can be recycled, the resources used and those that can be reclaimed at the end of its life.
    • Avoid cheap tech – I think it’s a false economy if it doesn’t last, and needs to be frequently replaced (generating the production of more.) I restrict myself to a select few, well-designed and pre-loved items.
    • Remember to turn it off when it’s not needed; I use reduced power settings, low light and sound levels whenever possible, I close apps that I’m not using and avoid charging beyond the point when the battery’s full
    • Switch to renewable energy; I purchase my energy from green energy suppliers to power my home. (These days there’s Solar, Wind, Hydro, Tidal, Geothermal and Biomass energies available.)

Start with simple steps

No crash courses are needed. Learning takes time. In my experience, the best learning comes from consistently taking small steps. It’s also useful to share your goal with someone who can encourage, support you (and if necessary to hold you accountable!) Working alongside others who want to learn the same thing can also be immensely valuable.

By beginning with the basics, learning becomes a gradual process we’re barely conscious of. By practising simple moves and through regular use, new technology will soon become familiar.

Technology is our Ally

There are so many compelling reasons for us to embrace these smart little tools.

I am determined to overcome my fears and strive to keep up, stay in touch and then share what I learn with others.

Let’s start now!

Join our community

Get more out of the process (of learning to use new technology) by joining others in the same boat.

Have fun using tech together.

The confidence gained from learning new skills allows us to see ourselves in a new light.