The Tech Revolution
Amidst the early wave of the tech revolution, macro patterns in society have begun to take shape. The focus of today’s generation is increasingly shifting away from the actual self — our bodies, spirits, and minds — and toward data about the self. Whether it be wearables that count our daily steps or iEverythings that meticulously capture our movements or sleeping patterns – we feel the need for devices to tell us how good (or bad) we’re doing.
This shift has made it so our pursuit of work-life balance has actually met the obsessive energy that we direct towards our careers. According to Statistics Canada, 30 percent of adults aged 35-54 consider most days as “extremely” stressful. We also know that work is the leading cause of stress for Canadians. Yet, despite this, we continue to glamorize being overworked, busy, and stressed. Studies, such as those done in the Journal of Consumer Research have revealed that people associate busyness and stress with prestige and status. This same ‘busyness’ might explain behavior of obsessively recording our exhales or counting our steps as satisfying ways to measure the success of our self-care routine once we leave the office. But then…isn’t it as much work to ‘take care’ of our anxiety and thus defeat the purpose? Adding another item to the list to obsessively tackle seems like it would only add to the stress load…not alleviate it.
Optimizing our health: at what cost?
By virtue of our workaholic tendencies, an interesting parallel can be drawn to our self-care approach. Namely, the values driving us to be overworked in the first place are leading habits to “optimize” ourselves by using metric-driven “hacks.” In more extreme cases of these ‘hacks’, self-improvement can become an obsession. In an era of constant optimization in EVERYTHING we do, it begs the question: is optimizing our health good for our mental health?
Wearable devices such as Fitbit, that track our steps and sleep cycles, are feeding perfectionist tendencies. A study was done in the UK by two marketing professors, Rikke Duus and Mike Cooray, analyzing the effects of wearing a Fitbit amongst a group of 200 women. The women revealed that the devices made them feel guilty whenever they fell short of their goals: 79% felt pressured to reach their daily targets, 59% said they felt “controlled” by their devices, and almost 30% suggested their Fitbits were “an enemy.”
While knowing our daily step count may convince us we have control in our lives, quantifying the “work” we are doing “for” ourselves once again feeds the idea that self-care should be work and also invites more opportunities for self-critique. These devices provide us a mobile progress report that’s available to us at all times. Think about it: The ability to constantly quantify our self-improvement encourages us to fixate on the moments we fall short of our expectations, and subsequently give ourselves ‘tough love’ when we fail. And while beating ourselves up often seems like the most effective way to crack the whip, self-criticism can preoccupy us with failure and contribute to symptoms of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and negative self-image.
Outside of these innovative (oppressive?) tech gadgets that have flooded the market, there are a number of opportunities for self-care, personal growth, and genuine stress relief that don’t require money or nausea-inducing to-do lists. Instead, they enable us to take a genuine break from goal-oriented and metric-driven way of thinking. What about good old-fashioned laughing – is there a better way of healing? Or even cutting ourselves some slack on those less productive days that we didn’t get done what we had planned. In a society that rewards us for every little optimization, whether that be in our job or our health, it may actually be beneficial for us to do less despite the fact that innovation is enabling us to do more.