The Digital Self

Exploring the complications, conveniences, and conflicts that technology presents in personal and professional relationships.

Santa Got Run Over by an iPhone

Do you behave naughty or nice with technology during holidays?

The holidays bring out the best and the worst in us, and it is the time of year to evaluate whether or not we have been naughty or nice and make resolutions for the year ahead. Santa is lucky enough to have a list he can check twice to stay organized, but for those of us living south of the North Pole, how we can make better choices using (or not using) technology to maximize joy and minimize pain this holiday season. 


GREETINGS

A longstanding tradition for many during the holiday season (accompanied by longstanding disdain) is the annual holiday letter. The idea is to encapsulate the year in the life of your family and to share it with family and friends. Unfortunately, while convenient, the letter lacks a personal touch and usually fails to connect with the receiver. As social networking and texting have exploded into our culture, the annual holiday letter has pretty much become obsolete, even the sending of greeting cards has seen a significant decline in recent years. Since we are able to update our lives in "real time" more more easily through our social network, we nonetheless still risk communicating surface over substance if we choose to communicate holiday wishes en masse.

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This holiday season, if you reach out, really take the time to touch the people in your network. Make your holiday greeting personal and thoughtful so a text or Facebook post really stands out amongst the deluge of generic holiday well wishes. Remember that as our social networks expand through the ease of social networking sites, our collective group of Facebook friends embody family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. One-size-fits-all greetings do not apply! Don't be naughty and selfish and post indiscriminately. The gift of restraint may be appreciated more than you know. Be nice and take time to craft your responses thoughtfully and with the intention to connect rather than just to inform. Make it personal and appropriate to the recipient. The beauty of social networking is that it makes communication  easy; the downside is that it can fall flat like the annual holiday letter.

Consider too, Facebook is not face time. Technological advances have made it very easy to chat and communicate with friends and family more directly thorugh video conferencing (skype, facetime). Take advantage of seeing and hearing the people in your life and sharing a a real laugh or a cry rather than an "LOL"  or an " :(. "

GATHERINGS

The holiday season is a time people party and celebrate with one another. For many, this includes rituals of sharing and opening presents and communing with family. Besides a camera to capture those moments, these are wonderful opportunities to take a break from technology and participate in the moment and the experiences around you.

Of course, this is much easier said than done, but Rudolph managed a considerable challenge one foggy Christmas eve and so can you. Dr. Jim Taylor identifies a phenomenon he calls "disconnectivity anxiety" which he defines as "A persistent and unpleasant condition characterized by worry and unease caused by periods of technological disconnection from others." We have become so enmeshed with our technological gadgets and our tethers to multiple people at any given time through that gadget that we interrupt and distract ourselves from being fully present with those we are with live and in person. We do not need to muti-task relationships 24/7. Naughty partygoers text and email throughout conversations with one another. They avert eye contact to check Facebook updates and incoming text messages. Nice partygoers keep their phones out of sight and out of mind in social settings. If you must engage the smart phone at a party, use it to share photos or have some fun with Siri , Apple's IPhone's personal assistant—she is sure to bring a lot of laughter to the party.

Since the holidays are a time of giving, technology breaks can even pay off in more ways than just improving relationships. Digital Detox Holidays are now being offered in various hotels and spas that will reward you with discounts and freebies for your efforts to power off your technological devices.

GOALS

New Year's resolutions—you either love them or hate them, but with the support of technology, the opportunity to turn a resolution into a habit is easier than ever. With the advent of health and fitness apps for smart phones, you can easily set goals, monitor progress, and see results for everything from weight management, exercise, nutrition, organization, smoking cessation and anxiety/stress management.  Whatever New Year's resolutions you consider, there is probably "an app for that" and it may be worth looking into to maximize your success. Having an easily accessible and available tool for checking on your progress and getting support is an excellent way for you to turn technology into your own personal trainer for the goals you want to accomplish in 2012. For those struggling with internet or technology addictions which require you spend more time "off line," sophisticated time management and  "personal accountability" programs designed around principles of behavior modification are now available. You are not simply avoiding or blocking access to sites or activities but having the opportunity to learn better management of your behavior when engaging these activities.  New research shows it takes approximately 66 days to develop a "habit" of a new behavior; and with New Year's goals, it isn't about being naughty or nice, but staying the course. Pick a goal, build in the supports from family, friends and the technological resources in your life.   Commit 100% through February, and by March 2012,  you should see and feel the results of your hard work.

GLOOM

While the holidays are a festive time, for many they are fraught with sadness and the dreaded "winter blues."  Rather than reinvent the wheel, please visit our  Digital Self 2010 post Holiday Blues?  Click Them Away for some tried and true tips on how to make the holidays a bit brighter for yourself and suggestions for reaching out to loved ones who may be down this holiday season.  

As this year comes to a close, we want to wish all our readers, naughty or nice, a happy holiday season and a new year filled with better habits.

Brett P. Kennedy, Psy.D., has a private practice in New York where he provides psychotherapy to adults and couples.

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