Is Your Family Overplugged? Time for Tech Balance

You can love technology while not giving in to overuse. The focus should be on embracing technology in a way that maximizes its value in your life.
Now famous photo of guy texting while a whale swims by. Photo by Eric J Smith.

You’ve probably seen this photo of a man sitting on a sailboat while a whale swims dangerously close.

The man, oblivious to the majestic whale, is busy texting.

Houston, we have a problem. Somewhere along the line we have gone from being attached to our tech to being detached from life. Instead of merely utilizing our devices, it seems as if we are being used by them. We may be snapping a lot of photos, but we seem to be absent in truly experiencing our own life.

Definition Of Overplugged

This is what Dr. David Greenfield and I refer to as being “overplugged.” Dr. Greenfield, a noted authority on our struggles with tech, is the founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. He is largely associated with popularizing the dopamine/tech use connection, the pleasurable chemical released in our brain each time we receive an email, text, or tweet.

Serving as the antithesis of being unplugged, someone who is overplugged is attached and overwhelmed with tech. A person might not always be aware of their overuse, but others around them often are. Someone who is overplugged is mentally fried. They are often attached so much to their devices and online persona that they are detached from those physically around them.

But instead of treating technology as the problem, we can focus on how we use technology in our lives. That’s where the true problem lies.

Technology Is Inherently Positive

The current discussion around tech balance often fall into an unfortunate either/or framework: either you are considered a Luddite who eschews emerging technology, or a tech fundamentalist who froths at the mouth waiting in line for the latest Apple release. The truth is more nuanced. You can love technology while also trying to lessen the negative aspects from overuse.

The focus should be on embracing technology in a way that maximizes its value in your life and for your family. That is going to be unique to each family, and the goal is not to live life unplugged (which may be impractical for most people), but to not be overplugged.

Setting a Good Example for Tech Balance

We often wrongly frame the problem of tech balance as a generational issue: kids these days! Struggles with appropriate tech use know no age. As your family is trying to better balance their tech use, you as the parent serve as a valuable role model towards acceptable behavior. Kids smell hypocrisy a mile away, so you’re legitimacy is eroded if you’re displaying poor tech habits.

A recent study in the journal Pediatrics offers a disturbing trend. Going undercover at fast-food restaurants, researchers at the Boston Medical Center set off to observe parent-child interactions during meals. What they found was that a third of the families used their devices during the entire meal.

In order to successfully balance our family’s tech use, we need to ensure that we aren’t the ones that are overplugged.

The Fear of Missing Out

What keeps us hooked to our devices even when we know we should put them down? One reason is that many of us have a fear of missing out, usually referred to as FOMO. The fear of missing out on what’s happening online is a source of both motivation and anxiety: it motivates us to try and stay abreast of every little update, tweet, or picture, and it causes us anxiety when we feel left out of the conversation.

Trying to keep up online is a losing battle. The irony of trying to keep up with the online world is that it often comes at the expense of our offline world. In order to keep the pangs of FOMO at bay, it is best to recognize the futility of trying to keep up and, more importantly, think about what you may be missing out in your immediate life with your loved ones.

We want to be plugged in, but not overplugged.

Is your family overplugged?

Published on: April 06, 2015
About the Author
Photo of David Ryan Polgar

David Ryan Polgar is trying to change our relationship with technology. He brings his background as an attorney and college professor to the task. He is a contributor to the Family Online Safety Institute, iKeepSafe, and The Good Men Project, along with Copilot Family —a startup offering parents better control of their child’s tech use.

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