Hung up on technology?

Technology has taken huge leaps in upgrades and improvements in the last few years, and new gadgets and ideas continually flood the market. But with more people being ever dependent on smartphones, tablets and social networks, is the connectivity between individuals suffering?

Dr. Ted Stiger is a clinical psychologist who believes there is a fine line between having and using technology, and being addicted to it on an unhealthy level.

“People can easily get caught up in technology,” Stiger said. “If someone values a gadget more than a person, it then becomes a problem.”

All the reliance on gadgets and social networking has changed some perspecitve on the meaning of friendship and the importance of actual social interaction.

“It’s a sign of the times seeing how relationships and friendships are defined on social networks,” Stiger said. “The question that needs to be asked is if friends are designated for quality or quantity?”

Some people would merit that technology faciliates relationships, Stiger said, which can be true, and sometimes a relationship can form with the help of technology. Friendships in social networks can be a different area of needs altogether in a relationship aspect.

“What is the gratification in having hundreds of friends on a social network, but not knowing any of them personally or on a deeper level?” Stiger said. “With that many friends but no quality friendships, all you get is an artificial or superficial sense of self esteem. Is the connection through technology going to facilitate further deeper connections, or is it a matter of having more friends than someone else?”

Not only can technology be used to facilitate friendships, it also can be used to avoid actual human interaction.

“I can use technology to protect myself from the risk of close relationships,” Stiger said. “Those type of relationships can lead to feelings of loss or rejection, and can be avoided through technology.”

So why the need to be engaged in a device or gadget 24-7? Stiger said people have been trying to get ahead in the rat race, and leaps in technology have made the race even quicker.

“Technology has added to the race, therefore making a more competitive rat,” Stiger said. “The problem is if you’re just involved in technology and racing along with the other rats, that isn’t a very good or exciting existence.”

When it comes to the usefulness of gadgets, one device can often take the place of many, with Internet access, phone capabilities and even cameras built into a handheld connect-all.

“The key is to reach a balance with your devices and the other aspects of your life,” Stiger said. “Be self aware. Take notice of when you should be on your device, and when it shouldn’t be out. Understanding that technology is a given and needed for most occupations is common, but being able to see there are more important things then checking for email or sending messages or playing games all the time is very important.”

Dependency on gadgets can lead to health issues and have negative effects on relationships, Stiger said. The culture today is stressed, and in this fast-paced world it is important to keep up, but peopler need to realize life is more than trying to reach the next level on Angry Birds or Candy Crush.

“I challenge people to be able to put away the phone or computer and take a deep breath and look around,” Stiger said. “Disconnect yourself and look out a window, meet with friends and leave your phone at home, have human interactions.”

Stiger also warned of the negative effects overuse of technology and games can have on children.

“Make sure children aren’t more interested in games and technology than an actual person,” Stiger said. “There are distractions everywhere 24 hours a day. Set limits for your children. It’s great for them to keep up with technology and advancements, but communication without technology has to occur.”

Parents need to make sure they aren’t using technology as a “babysitter” for their kids, and Stiger explained why personal interaction without devices is so important for developing youngsters.

“Children need to learn how to read body language and how to engage with another person,” Stiger said. “They learn to read expressions through human interaction and playing games with friends and parents, not through phones or video games or even television.

“I think technology use is something that needs to be monitored closely by all parents. Another disconnect occurs when parents have their own technology, like cell phones, and children have their own such as video games, and each are disconnected from each other by not being involved in their own type of technology and not paying attention to one another.”

Stiger recommends setting limits to technology time and increasing personal interaction with children as much as possible.

“Technology keeps developing, and we try to keep up with it, but it’s important to notice the things in life that are all around you by turning off the cell phone and focusing on people,” Stiger said. “Notice how you feel when you leave your phone at home. If it’s effecting emotional responses, sleep, or relationships with others, it’s time to put the gadgets away and focus on what’s around you.”

These gadgets won’t be disappearing any time soon, so finding a happy balance between life and technology use will most likely continue to be a struggle as devices become faster and more connected every day. Remember to stop and enjoy what is actually happening in the moment, without having to check or update a Facebook or Twitter account.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at ngrulke@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.