children-learning-888892_640A recent survey revealed that British holidaymakers spend more time sorting out their digital entertainment for a trip than they do on packing the rest of their suitcase. internet-1026472_640

Many of us check work emails and messages whilst away on holiday, too.

By contrast, an Ofcom report out last month about our obsession with being online found that more than a third of UK internet users felt the need to take a “digital detox” in the last year – ranging from just a few hours offline to taking an entirely web-free holiday.

In the Ofcom survey almost half of the people said they felt lost when they couldn’t access the web and a third said they found it difficult to disconnect.

Having some of our favourite games, music, books, films and TV programmes on hand would appear to be an essential part of how we relax nowadays – both at home and away.

I can’t help wondering if we have become over-anxious about the possibility of finding ourselves with nothing to do, to watch or listen to – nothing to occupy our minds, in other words – and whether we’re losing our ability to tolerate being at a loose end, allow our minds to ‘freewheel’, or just feel bored.

On the work front, do we really think it can’t carry on without us for a while – or are we afraid that it can?

What does it mean, now, to ‘unplug’ – to be, to feel ‘out of touch’? What are our expectations for response times? I understand the need for quick turnarounds in business – but what about our friends and family? Do they really expect (or need) an immediate response to everything? Isn’t it one of the key advantages of sending someone a message, text or email that we can send it when it occurs to us – and they can reply when it best suits them?

Do you have a notification sound on your phone, tablet or PC that tells you when you get a message? Do you always look at it straight away? Does this distract you from whatever else you might have been doing? Does it ever annoy the person or people you are with?

There are distinct advantages to making good use of technology – I find it helps me enormously in undertaking research on all sorts of things, organising my finances, my ‘to do’ list, my diary and my contacts. I use it to deliver training and to communicate more regularly and effectively with friends, family, colleagues and clients.

I enjoy an evening ‘binge-watching’ a few episodes of my favourite TV programmes and I’ve created music playlists for different moods and activities.

internet-1028794_640Technology is also at the heart of how I’ve expanded my business activities to provide 1:1 coaching and counselling via video, chat and email as well as face to face and by phone.

How we make use of technology can change our behaviour for better or worse – and, perhaps, change our brains, too. Next time you use your satnav you might like to reflect on an article in The Guardian recently by Greg Milner: ‘Death by GPS: are satnavs changing our brains?’:

Tragedies have occurred when people follow instructions that take them down unsuitable or abandoned roads, into lakes, off cliffs or into deserts. Milner refers to the work undertaken in 1948 by the Berkley psychology professor Edward Tolman: ‘Cognitive Maps in Rats and Men’ where he studied the way rats find their way around mazes. He came to the conclusion that the rats formed a “cognitive map”, a mental representation of their environment, to guide them and that the mental process that we humans use to navigate and orient ourselves in the physical world, may well be similar.

Milner also mentions a British study in 2006 of London taxi drivers who had to learn and recall 25,000 city streets plus landmarks and points of interest in order to get their licence. Their brains contained more grey matter in the region of the hippocampus (responsible for complex spatial representation) than the brains of London bus drivers. Brain scans of retired taxi drivers also suggested that this might decrease when the ability is no longer required – ‘use it or lose it’, in other words.

There might be some skills you wouldn’t mind losing. Opinion seems very divided, for example, as to the effect of spellcheck – does it matter if we can’t spell a word when our PC, tablet or phone checks it and corrects it for us? How much do we actually write now? Do we type pretty much everything? This year schools in Finland have followed the lead of many US states in teaching keyboard skills rather than handwriting.

Does it matter if we can’t do mental arithmetic when most of us have calculators – including the ones on our phones? But do we have a ‘ballpark’ sense of whether the answer the calculator gives us is correct, or whether we might have pushed a wrong button?

And what happens in a power cut or if we run out of battery – does life just stop until it’s restored?

I find it useful to reflect, every now and then, on how I’m using my own technology – being mindful of what I’m doing and why:

  • What’s working for me, and what against?
  • Is there anything I’m struggling to keep up with? Do I need it?
  • What enhances and enriches my life – and what doesn’t?
  • How much time am I wasting ‘playing’ with it?
  • Am I using it to do anything I can do just as well myself?
  • Or is it faster? If so, is speed important?
  • If I don’t use my own skills and I end up losing them, will I miss being able to do any of these things for myself?