May 20, 2017

Tech pressure: when do you say no to technology?

I hope you could've been open to solutions first before asking to be removed from Basecamp and declaring that it’s not for you.”

It was almost dawn and I was still in front of my desktop, staring at the note I just received… and slightly regretting – just for a second – that I was an introvert allergic to constant communication.

I was busy sifting through a multitude of messages that flooded my inbox while I was on vacation when I finally got to that one email that echoed the world’s reaction to people saying no to what I call “tech pressure.” It also reminded me that as someone whose work depended on the internet, I loved being online...

...And I also hated it.

My potentially pathologic, love-hate relationship with the internet isn’t unique. Ask the many people whose loved ones are addicted to Facebook and they’ll tell you how much social media is ruining their lives… while they type about their hatred for Facebook on the very platform they despise.

Yes, the irony is strong, but so is the need to resurface from the flood of technology, lest we drown in it.

tech pressure

I realized that learning to untangle myself from the web (pun not intended) started with one skill: the ability to say no. So, at four in the morning, I stuck to my “no”. And I had to live with the consequences, including a rather disappointed message that told me I wasn’t “open to solutions.”

Intuitive, not intrusive

I’m a social media advocate in health care. Last year, I went on a nationwide tour to talk about doctors in social media – more specifically, about why doctors should be part of the online conversation and why being online is part of protecting public health.

However, just like chocolate and coffee and about every other thing I love in life, the internet has a way of imposing itself as a sometimes-unwelcome, often-addictive element that made me feel both better and worse while I consumed it. (In a previous post, I asked whether tech was intrusive, necessary, or both. What do you think?)

A few months ago, I signed up for a project management tool called Basecamp to help one of our teams keep track of correspondence. It seemed convenient enough and did as promised.

Still, well-meaning as it was, it wasn’t as intuitive as it should have been. I wasn’t the first to criticize: For one, PC Mag thought Basecamp was “piece-y” and “feels more broken into component parts.”

It was also intrusive as hell. Using the platform meant having very little headspace, what with teammates adding you to lists where you had to tick your name off, tagging you in conversations you didn’t necessarily want to be part of, and including you in message threads that were, at best, tangential to your role.

“When tech succeeds, it becomes invisible, not invasive or intrusive.” – Kevin Kelly

Intrusive tech is problematic tech, which is something tech developers should keep in mind if they want their tech to be what it is meant to be.

Amber Case, a user experience designer and Cyborg anthropologist, wrote a book where she talked about “calm technology” and non-intrusive design. The book discusses how tech can be designed in a way that it becomes part of life without becoming a distraction, catching one’s attention only when necessary and remaining in the background when it's not.

Calm technology describes a state of technological maturity where a user’s primary task is not computing, but being human. Technology shouldn’t require all of our attention, just some of it, and only when necessary.” – Amber Case

For these reasons, I wanted to switch off the multiple email notifications I received each day. On the other hand, doing so – a decision tantamount to unsubscribing to the platform if I chose to no longer log on – did nothing to keep me off the message boards, to-do lists, and other collaborative apps I could be added to by other teammates in the platform.

Switching off the notifications kept me blind while activity simmered under the surface.

Knowing everything gave me no peace. Not knowing anything, however, wasn’t much different.

In this case, you could say ignorance was not bliss.

The “I” in team

After I voiced my objection to logging on at least three times a week to the platform that was like Facebook-slash-Instagram-slash-cloud-slash-email-slash-purgatory, I received the expected semi-irritated retort.

Should I have said yes at that time? Should I have ignored my needs, just to be able to cater to a tech whim?

Saying there is no “I” in team is double talk. Increasing job satisfaction and improving environmental pressures, for instance, are individual-centric ways to decrease employee turnover and improve team dynamics.

In effect, there could and should be an “I” in team – but you would have to count them in the word “inclusive”.

Tech pressure

It used to be that saying no was something we had to teach young girls who were pressured to have sex. It used to be something we taught teens who were pressured to do drugs. Today, it’s something we have to teach ourselves when we are pressured to use tech that we can do without.

Have you ever tried to persuade someone to sign up for Facebook, buy a new smartphone, or download an app, even after they have already said no? Have you ever been pressured to switch up to a newer phone model although there’s nothing wrong with the one you have?

Tech pressure and tech envy are real. Because all the tech we enjoy today is relatively new, we fumble with it, wondering how to manage it, struggling as we attempt to strike a balance between a life lived on- and offline, with and without gadgets.

Was saying no worth it for me? Maybe; maybe not. But with the internet lording over me like a tyrant, it mattered more that I was unafraid to say no.

Just say no

A teammate told me I was going to give others more work by not using the platform. Good point – but it was not a problem that couldn’t be solved outside of the platform using more intuitive, less intrusive applications. Besides, it sounded a lot like emotional blackmail, and what adult in their right mind would be pressured into doing something they didn’t like?

Tech is wonderful. That is, until it stops being so. And nobody should tell you where to draw the line.

I spend approximately six hours a day connected to the internet. For me, going off the grid even for just one day is both a dream and a nightmare. Meanwhile, as I play with the idea of a life assisted – and not dictated – by tech, I have at least one thing to celebrate: I exercised my freedom to choose and, tech be damned, found the strength to say no... for now.

Wait, am I actually happy that I was strong enough to say no? Boy, I must be back in high school.



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