Lost In Tech

For the past few months, I’ve been conducting sales and technology coaching part-time for a well-known tech company. Every day, I encounter accomplished people who have surrendered to devices and services on which they rely, don’t understand, and often feel powerless to master. I get it: life feels complicated and tech makes tasks seem easier. Modern technology is so embedded and seamless now that it resembles a mysterious island, compelling and comfortable, just don’t ask why everything seems so nice. Don’t peer beneath the surface; the magic may all come crashing down. We hide in our devices and services in order to avoid knowing our selves.

Here’s a story I encounter every week, fiction that is not an exaggeration. A client came rushing in one day, let’s call him Jason. His trimmed hair literally stood on end. “My phone stopped working!” he raged. “It just stopped! How can it do that?”

I offered my condolences and help to inspect his device. It was the most recent and expensive model. It looked fine at first glance, other than not responding to attempts to turn on or even show a low battery indicator. Then I noticed a short, deep crack where the edge-to-edge display met the camera lens and steel rim.

“You must fix this,” Jason growled in a way that made me wonder what would happen if I didn’t.

“Did you drop your phone?” I asked.

“Um, yeah,” he dismissed. “But it went black only later! You don’t understand: my whole life is on this phone. I run my business from it.”

“Have you backed up your data recently?” I asked.

His eyes grew dark and nostrils flared. “No! Why should I? It’s supposed to just work. Besides, I don’t know how. You guys say you make tech easy. I don’t have time—I’m leading a conference call in an hour! This is your fault! How can my phone just stop working?”

I explained how impact damage can take time to reveal itself. We talked through his repair options, including the steps our technicians could take to help. The possibility loomed that he would lose his unsaved data if they needed to reset or replace the device.

“No! That can’t happen! My customers! My family! They’re all in there. You have to fix this!”

I probed to explore his options. I asked about his cloud account, the key to not only data recovery but also the rich suite of protections for devices and the role they play in our lives. Jason didn’t know his account password nor how to retrieve it. He groaned when he learned that I couldn’t look it up. I heard instead about his teenage son, who used Jason’s account on his phone so that Jason could monitor the boy’s online activity. The son had probably changed the password.

“He knows more than I ever will about this stuff,” Jason sighed. “What do I do now? This phone is everything to me.”

I did what I could: I set up a technical appointment for him and showed him how to reset his password from a nearby computer. He hesitated to touch the mouse. “Can’t you do this for me?” he pleaded.

When our tech stops working, the magic does comes crashing down, if only for a few scary moments. I’ve been there with Jason: I once didn’t manage my data and eschewed new tech trends that began to resemble black magic. At some point I realized that I owed it to myself to shrug off ignorance and choose how to use these tools to enable my life rather than define it.

A lack of curiosity to understand tools we use every day suggests a reluctance to face deeper questions in our lives. These questions rush past how to integrate technology into our lives to quickly seize higher ground: who we want to be and what is the story of our lives. A better relationship with our selves opens up new possibilities for how we engage with everything outside us.

Here are three simple steps we can follow to redefine our relationship with technology. I’ll start with the hardest and most important step first.

  1. Be curious before you click, swipe, or tap.
    In the course of the day, when you feel the sudden urge to stop and check email, texts, or other service, pause to ask yourself three questions.
    What compels you to check your tech?
    What purpose does checking serve?
    What other activity are you avoiding or interrupting?
    Go deeper: Wait 10 minutes before giving in to distraction. How has the urge changed?

  2. Give your tech a time out.
    Schedule non-tech time every day.
    During those unplugged moments, ask yourself: what makes it hard to not check tech? What do you now have time for that doesn’t require a screen?
    Go deeper: Schedule a full day without tech.

  3. Back up your data. Seriously, it’s time.
    Our devices are mere tools; data is our treasure.
    If you don’t know how to back up, here’s advice for Android, iPhone, Mac, and Windows.
    Go deeper: Ask yourself what scares you about your favorite device or service. What could you learn or do to reduce this anxiety?

Stryk Thomas