Has technology made us addicted to stress?
Awards season is in full swing, and the holidays are coming up. Which means people are busier than ever.But what does “busy” mean any more? We are all accessible 24/7. This is a good thing, in case of emergency. In practically every other case, I’m not so sure. A few years ago, I would have described myself as a BlackBerry addict, but now I think that phrase is redundant: To own any smart phone is to become an addict. I read emails when I’m in the car (but only at red lights, of course!). If I get up in the middle of the night, I check to see if the red light is flashing, with a mixture of pleasure (someone may have exciting news for me!) and resentment (leave me alone!). When I email someone, I expect an immediate reply, and my impatience grows every minute (“Where are they?”). This all-access anytime-anywhere outlook extends from the highest boss to the lowliest worker. In this economy, you’re either overworked or unemployed. I am, knock wood, happy to be in the former group. But everyone has been traumatized by the last two years, and those of us who are employed feel obliged to remind our bosses that we are indispensable. Which means we won’t shut off the phone/email for a meal, much less for a longer period. Who takes vacations without checking in to work? I certainly don’t. And even the idea of vacation has become vexing: You can take time off, but you will be punished by having to pile on extra work ahead of time and after the fact. Wasn’t technology supposed to make our lives easier? I will pause now, while you either laugh or weep. It’s life in the 21st century. There are some things “The Jetsons” didn’t warn us about. Some may assume this affliction is unique to showbiz, but I suspect it’s true for the insurance business, for retail goods, for the aerospace industry. In October, hundreds of first-year students at Bournemouth U. participated in an experiment called Unplugged, in which they agreed to stop use of TVs, mobile phones and the Internet for 24 hours. The students offered personal reflections on the university website: one lasted 12 hours; another, 10 hours; one person, 90 minutes. One laddie said it was extremely difficult, even though he admitted having slept through 12 of the 24 hours. Typical comments: “I felt bored, isolated…” and ” I was surprised at how tough the experiment was.” One said she wouldn’t do it again: “How anyone ever coped without the technology we have now baffles me.” It may be nice to think that we could all go back to simpler times, but that’s not gonna happen. Besides, we weren’t stress-free in the past: It was just a different kind of stress. So what’s the solution? Eat pray love, I guess. But don’t overeat — and don’t pray out loud at work and don’t be lovin’ your co-workers, or else HR will be all over you. Maybe meditation or charity work would help us see things from a larger perspective. I think the key is to set limits for yourself. Don’t check your email first thing in the morning. Take a block of time (15 minutes? Half-hour?) every afternoon and again in the evening with no emails and no calls. Actually, I don’t do any of these things, but I think it’s a good idea if you do — unless I’m trying to reach you at that point, because then I would become really, really tense. At Bournemouth, one student said, “To be without media is to be free of worries. … however, we are all addicted to stress.” It’s a terrible thought: Me, addicted to stress? I hate to admit it, but maybe she’s right. So to relieve stress, go to the movies (or anyplace else where you are instructed to shut off your phone for two hours). I love Danny Boyle, so I knew I had to see his latest movie, though I was a little unnerved by tales of folks fainting. However, I am proud to announce that I’m getting myself a T-shirt that says “I kept my eyes open during ‘127 Hours.’?” Listen, I’m the world’s biggest wuss, so if I can do it, you can do it. The film puts the main character’s action in context: When Aron Ralston had to choose between certain death or life without an arm, he chose life. I totally get it. However, as the end credits rolled, I wondered: What if it happened to me — and the arm in question was holding my BlackBerry? That’s when I nearly fainted. firstname.lastname@example.org Read previous columns at Variety.com/Gray