As machines get to be more and more like men, men will come to be more like machines – Joseph Wood Krutch

“I’ve been wanting to chat with you all day! Where were you?”
Translation: Whatever important things you need to do, I expect you to always be available to me for online chats.

“Didn’t you read my message about the meeting? I sent it so early – 8pm!”
Translation: Think you can just go home, enjoy yourself, and forget about work? Think again.

If your gut tells you that none of this feels healthy and that something needs to change, your gut would be right. The jury is in: Media multitasking – the condition of being engaged with two or more social media services even while performing other tasks – puts you at risk of developing mild forms of psychosocial dysfunction.

Despite rumours of widespread “Facebook depression” there isn’t significant evidence to substantiate that social networking in itself has harmful psychosocial effects. There is, however, evidence to indicate that social media use gets troublesome when it doubles up.

Researchers have found a clear correlation between psychosocial dysfunction and media multitasking. In this study the more participants engaged in media multitasking the more they exhibited depression and symptoms of social anxiety.

Although social media use per se doesn’t put mental health at risk, pressures from friends, colleagues, and bosses to always be available to them can make us vulnerable to social media addiction, i.e. excessive use of social media as an escape from anxieties generated by – you guessed it – social media multitasking.

In its milder form social media addiction can trigger depression and/or anxiety that only lift when you’re in front of a screen. It can make you lose track of time. In more severe forms it socially isolates you, makes you vulnerable to manipulation, and compels you to forget important responsibilities.

In one study, the more participants engaged in media multitasking the more they exhibited depression and symptoms of social anxiety

The consequences of media multitasking in the workplace are gloomy, to say the least. The communal interactivity that the Internet facilitates can lead us toward a more primitive state in which the needs of the group supersede those of the individual. If you feel you’ve lost sight of your true self to become just a cog in the machine, it may be because media multitasking demanded it and you thought you had to go along; bit by bit your individuality gave way to the demands of your work, resulting not only in a sabotage of the quality of your work but also in a compromise of who you are as a human being.

Luckily there are ways to turn this rig around. The following are some practices you can begin immediately, each with the goal of enabling you to regain personal territory you’ve lost to the “always on” button.

In order to succeed you do need to launch a kind of inner revolution that tears down the old order and lays down firm priorities. You don’t need to burn any bridges for this (i.e. you should recognise that communication technology is a gift, not an enemy, for those who use it mindfully), but you do need to take firm hold of the wheel, because you won’t get to the land of serenity unless you do.

10 things you can do today

1. Create a “singular mission plan”

Sit down with paper and pencil and figure out how to schedule your life so that you’re only dealing with one important thing at a time. At work, for example, you can be working toward several deadlines, but avoid working on two or more projects in the same day unless you finish one and are ready to begin another. You can include personal goals as well; instead of bunny-hopping back and forth from one thing to another, try finishing one task before moving on to the next.

2. Daily time-outs

Begin a practice that puts everything on hold at least once a day while you focus on the moment. Meditation is very effective, but you can also engage in periods of prayer, yoga, tai chi, or a quiet walk. Learn to breathe mindfully during these sessions. If you still find time pressure overwhelming, start with five minutes at a time.

3. Set a 20-minute alarm

If you sit at a desk all day, set a timer so that every 20 minutes you can get up and walk around or do a few exercises. There’s a mountain of evidence showing that after 20 minutes in a chair your body starts morphing into the similitude of a jelly doughnut, but that’s not the only reason to get up and shake your dough around: This habit enhances brain function, reduces stress, and sends a clear message that your mind, not Big Brother, is in charge. And be sure to choose an alarm sound that inspires tranquility!

4. Embrace deep news

We all like to stay informed, but instead of just keeping a headline news feed on while you’re supposed to be working, find a radio news program or podcast that offers in-depth analysis of current events from true experts. Make that your daily go-to information source for what’s happening in the world today. You can listen at home while cooking or doing chores. (Note: Multitasking is okay if you use edifying listening to facilitate boring activities.) You can also use audio to listen to classic books, which grant us more relevant information than does the news media.

When you need to do online research, resist the urge to click those links with scintillating titles that take you to articles written by celebrity gossips and barely literate pseudo-experts

5. Close those channels!

Don’t leave a single social media channel open on any of your devices while you’re working or playing, and set specific times for checking your messages. This isn’t rude or irresponsible any more than is locking your door when you leave your house. You’re not socially obligated to be available to everyone at every moment.

6. Discover the joy of deep discussion

Start making a habit of meeting people for coffee, agreeing to keep your cellphones off. Have a relaxed conversation in which you’re focussed only on each other. Don’t gossip or make fun of the other customers. Enjoy the weather. Look for a solution to a world problem. You’ll come away feeling refreshed and enthusiastic about life again.

7. Write real letters

Reduce the number of short, perky, repetitious texts you send and instead take the time to write a thoughtful letter to someone you care about. Be poetic and insightful. Share your experiences and epiphanies and invite them to share theirs.

8. Resist the idiocy

When you need to do online research, resist the urge to click those links with scintillating titles that take you to articles written by celebrity gossips and barely literate pseudo-experts. (Do you really need to see how awful Doris Day is looking these days? Or what terrible thing that father did to punish his daughter for her Facebook comments? Or how to know when someone is lying to you? Really?)

9. Never let technology sabotage your relationships

Don’t keep your smartphone or tablet with you in every room, and never take your smartphone to bed with you. Any humans with whom you share that bed are bound to feel jealous, and so they should. Taking control of the technology in our lives means never, ever, allowing it to interfere with our relationships.

10. Mindfully manage your workspace

Maintaining a tidy workspace can have a positive impact on your productivity and focus

If you have any control over the design of your workspace, ensure that it’s kept simple. Reduce visual clutter and arrange items so as to minimise the mental and physical energy required to start and maintain workflow. Make it easy to close the computer and devices and just work on paper, in peace, distraction-free. Some of the best ideas can be generated this way. A desk near a window, especially one that shows natural objects like trees, sky, flowers, water, or even passersby (or failing that, a screensaver with images from nature), is not only energizing, it reminds the brain that it’s part of an organic whole and not just another spoke in a wheel.

How do we use information technology mindfully? By seeing it as a tool rather than as a paradigm on which to base our own functions. Until machines manifest their own volition they’ll remain tools of the human mind, to be used but not imitated. When seen in this way information technology, including social networking, aids human freedom, well-being, and self-actualization. So let’s get started.

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