On my radar: Digital burnout

2014-08-31 15:00

Tomorrow is Spring Day, the official start of the summer season, but I bet many of you reading this don’t feel frisky at all. The year is flying by and, if you feel this one seems faster and is harder, read on?–?your are not alone. A lot more people are feeling the effects of digital burnout.

Working long hours, and the stress and strain that usually accompany a challenging job, traditionally cause people to burn out.

However, digital burnout is something entirely new and, therefore, not clearly understood.

Nevertheless, it’s on the rise. Because it stems from our virtual existence, we don’t see it coming and the result is devastating.

Once it hits, taking some time off does not solve the problem. Some people end up in hospital; others fall into a dark hole for months. It is a new threat to human resources and for all businesses.

Each year, everyone senses that time is moving faster, but this year has been exceptional?–?the word ‘punishing’ gets most people nodding their heads in agreement when I use it to describe this year.

A few wise souls have already taken a midyear break and are coping better than the rest of us.

Others are snatching an odd long weekend away and bush breaks are popular because of their non-digital nature. The interesting thing is that when someone takes a midyear break or a long weekend, it’s no longer seen as an indulgence as it might have been five years ago. In a digital age, a midyear holiday is a necessity and “digital detox” is the new buzz word.

We have reached an interesting tipping point.

For years, there has been a growing friction between our online and offline worlds. This has been a major source of domestic conflict?–?between spouses, or parents and their children?–?as one party is inevitably glued to an electronic device during mealtimes or in bed.

This conflict between the online and offline worlds has not diminished, but we are finally coming to terms with the fact that we now have to exist in two parallel universes: a physical realm in which we are less present and a virtual world where we spend most of our time.

Recent research has found that we now spend more time on our devices (on average, eight hours and 41 minutes) than we do sleeping.

This “always on, always connected” lifestyle is what is fuelling digital burnout. It has rewired our brains to be in a permanent multitasking mode.

Our new default reaction to any spare time is to delve into cyberspace. Just watch people at an airport, or any place where they are required to wait for any length of time: they will, no doubt, be locked into their mobile devices. No one simply stares into space any more.

What this sort of behaviour does is to keep our minds hyperactive. Once you’re on your smartphone, you get tunnel vision. As soon as you’ve checked your emails, you’ll probably move on to social media and if there is still time to kill, you’ll move on to reading something saved in an app or start playing a game.

This not only blurs the boundaries between work and play, but we become less aware of the physical world around us. And therein lies the problem. When we come back to our physical world, we discover there are still things to do.

Living in two worlds means that we actually work doubly hard – if not physically then mentally. We now, in essence, work the equivalent of 24 months in just 12, which is why a midyear break is so crucial.

In California’s Silicon Valley (where one could say our digital lives stem from) a new cyber, self-help industry is rising to curb digital burnout. Unusual conferences like Wisdom 2.0 and The Rise of the Buddhist Geek are springing up to help people not only cope with their dual existence, but also to maintain a balance.

It’s also no coincidence that more articles are being published about a “new” Mindfulness Movement that helps people to stay present.

Mindfulness is not new. It is a Buddhist practice that is thousands of years old, but is ironically becoming an important life skill in the digital age.

One of the most popular mindfulness exercises is eating a single raisin in six slow steps?–?from observing it (as you would if you were an alien visitor), to smelling it, feeling its contours, rolling it in your mouth, and only then biting and tasting it.

This may sound absurd to many, but for those who have tried it, they will tell you how surprisingly difficult it has become to focus on a single task. It is the lost art of omnitasking.

Test yourself. Try focusing intently on just one activity for a few minutes. If you can’t, you’re probably a candidate for digital burnout.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit: www.fluxtrends.com

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