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Book Interview: Nancy Colier | The Power of Off

We can all agree technology has many advantages.

To list a few, technology promotes education, helps keep us safe, provides a closer reach to those who were once out of reach, saves lives, keeps us connected with instantaneous communications, and most importantly, allows a virtual window for some (you know who you are) to peek in on an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend…just in case you find yourself curious as to how they’re doing.

We can all agree the world is a better place thanks to technology.

However, in light of all of the advancements, “Houston, we have problem.”

According to Nancy Colier, author of The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World, the way we use technology is negatively affecting the relationship we have with ourselves.

“Our lives are filled with more possibilities than ever before to connect, consume, and discover-all good things-but in the face of these possibilities, we are also feeling less connected, less centered and less satisfied. The digital age is both an age of too much and not enough.”

“The average person checks their smartphone 190 times per day or every 5 minutes. We are bingeing on technology as if we were at a cruise ship buffet, using it to maintain a constant state of distraction and entertainment, and ultimately, to escape the present moment, and ourselves.”

“Technology is a powerful tool for communication, and yet the way we are using it and the authority we are giving it are also making it into a powerful impediment to our sense of presence and awareness.”

“We’re using it as an addiction. The only difference between technology addiction and other addictions is that we have all drunk the Kool-Aid; we’re all in on this one.”

The Power of Off offers compelling insights as to how we can “raise consciousness at a time when our society is undergoing an epidemic of unconsciousness.”

With the myriad of possibilities now available as a result of this technology, Colier imparts there is an opportunity for all users to begin to “nurture depth even as shallowness threatens to become the norm.”

BJB: Where can we begin to change the relationship with how we use technology?

NC: We want to start to shift our response.

When a thought or an impulse arises that says, “Oh, I have ten minutes. I could shop for shoes or search the internet,” rather than giving into the thought and following the impulse, we can flip the impulse. We can ask the questions, “What would I have to feel if I didn’t follow this thought or impulse? What is happening right here in my experience that I want to get away from?”

Rather than giving into impulsive driven aspects of ourselves, which take us deeper into unconsciousness, the impulses can become “red flags” which asks, “What’s happening here that’s making me want to go there?” Once we flip these impulses, they become opportunities and pointers to our own awareness.

The important thing is to identify the thought as something separate from the behavior.

Once we realize that we can question if that thought is a habit, or if that thought is taking me away from discomfort, we start to get curious about the thought itself.

That’s the practice of mindfulness.

BJB: What is “technical anesthesia”?

NC: The way we’re living with our technology is creating a kind of anesthetized life where we’re not present.

We’ve taken on mindfulness as this really interesting concept, and we’re using it to build our brand. It’s more about our identity. What we’re actually doing is leaving the moment.

We’re literally staring at a screen and not feeling our feet on ground, not tasting the apple we’re eating, or not joining the friend we’re with in company.

Either we’re directly leaving the moment as we stare at our screen, or we’re at the art museum taking selfies of ourselves looking at the art; only to then post on social media that we’re a cultural person.

The cost of the ways we are now using technology is the direct experience of our life as it’s happening.

I consider this a “technical anesthesia” when we’re not awake to what’s happening as it’s actually happening. We are so busy using life to prove we have a life or build our brand that we’re missing out on life itself.

Photo Credit: Gabriel Santiago

BJB: What is the importance of privately digesting an experience?

NC: Let’s say if you open the door for a woman with a stroller, for example, and you had a moment of sweetness that forms from simply being kind to another human being. In other times you might have walked down that street and spent some time alone owning that moment, and letting it steep inside.

Now we immediately post that along with hashtag gratitude. We then wait for the meaning of that event to come back to us as determined by the “likes” and external validation that tells us whether it mattered, and if we matter. We’re thinking we’re the most important thing in the universe but we’re also thinking we are of no validity unless we are publicly validated.

We’re relating to ourselves as if we were a vacuum. It’s a paradox.

What is also changing are our basic values. Our values used to respect mastery, or experience or brilliance. Now what we value in culture is popularity and fame. Given that fame is our most valuable asset everything revolves around that.

If I put something online that could make me an internet sensation for a moment, this makes me “valuable” if I don’t have an inner sense of what I value.

What’s happening with a lot of the millennials and younger generation is they are confusing this popularity or number of ‘likes’ with their inherent human value, and also I think with what will make a meaningful life.

Often times we’ll see before an idea has had time to bloom and fully develop into something of quality, we immediately go into, ‘How do I market it? What’s the elevator pitch? What’s the platform? What will it bring me?’ in a way like we’ve never seen before in history. The packaging of our message or who we are, or the valuable stuff is forced to happen so quickly that it happens at the expense of maturing to become something.

BJB: With “lottery brain” there is “the glaring disconnect between the real experience of email and the relentless desire to check it.” Why do we check email so often?

NC: We have this inner reptile, which is a very primitive part of ourselves. It loves the little hit of Dopamine or Oxycontin when we reach for email. It triggers a sense in us that something great could happen. The probability that this will happen is almost zero, but it’s that little bit of, ‘Oh, there could be a surprise in there.’ It’s like playing the lottery.

The immediate gratification and reward center in the brain gets a little “juice,” and we get addicted. It doesn’t even have to deliver, because if we were dependent on delivery the behavior would have stopped. It’s the possibility that it could deliver.

It comes down to awareness and discernment. In a place where it feels like there’s nothing, we can create a place of presence.

Use that moment to ask contemplative questions:

What can I use this impulse to check my email to know more about what I’m living in this moment?
What would be the ideal email I would receive right now?

The investigation into what you would really love to see, or what you need in that moment, is becoming more aware of yourself and really what you’re looking for in that email.

BJB: What should a healthy relationship with technology include?

NC: We’re talking about finding a way to have freedom in technology. Technology is a tool for information and it’s phenomenal. But it’s not a tool to spiritually nourish us, or to heart nourish us.

Paying attention to the curiosity of where you are in this moment is an act of kindness.

We are rich with ways in which we can take care of ourselves, but we have to know that we will never find a state of well-being if we can’t tolerate our own company.

The book is The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World and Nancy Colier, reminds us “technology is not going to start to make mindful choices on our behalf.

Change begins with each individual. We are the ones tasked to make mindful choices for ourselves to bring awareness to our relationship with our devices.

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