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How I Use Fortune Cookies to Create Tech-Life Balance

by Sara Badrani, Co-founder of Challenge Cookies Growing up, I was never fond of technology. To be quite frank, the only “technology” I enjoyed was watching reruns of the Saturday morning cartoons with my sister. It wasn’t until middle school that I was introduced to the idea of ubiquitous and constant connectivity. As I watched my classmates fall deeper and deeper in love with technology, I strayed away from it, focusing on my overread books. This distance was hard for me to maintain as I noticed everyone around me hop on the technology bandwagon. Although I was trying to enhance my real-life relationships by maintaining boundaries with technology, I actually felt isolated and excluded from my community. By high school, I began to give into the trend. Once immersed in technology myself, I understood why everyone was so addicted, specifically with social media. It was an obsessive habit: constantly thinking about what people had posted, what people had commented, and how people were going to view your post. To be honest, it was quite exhausting. There was all this unneeded pressure to be perfect, when in reality I was falling apart! High school was already a stressful time for me, and social media was only exacerbating that stress. As I was introduced to this Lookup Startup competition during my junior year of college, these traumatic experiences from my high school past came back to haunt me. I realized that the issue of balancing technology was still (if not more) pertinent today, and I wanted to help. I wanted students to get the support that I never had the opportunity to find. As a result, my friend Nikta and I created one of the winning ideas known as “Challenge Cookies.” Through this idea, our goal is to help students in coming up with different ways to foster tech-life balance. Initially, we were very skeptical of our idea due to fear of negative criticism. We weren’t sure how students were going to react to such a unique and different idea. However, Nikta and I had such great passion for this idea that we decided to move forward. We began to order fortune cookies with customized messages, as well as flyers in an attempt to spread this important message to the USD community. While the journey was challenging due to the unpredictable pandemic, we were very proud of the work done, and look forward to spreading the message in the fall. As I look at various educational institutions, I realize that this problem is evident everywhere, and the only way we can improve is if we go out and make the effort to change. Individuals of all ages, whether from middle school, high school, or college have struggled with maintaining tech-life balance, and while there have been admirable efforts, they remain ineffective. Of course, not all technology is bad, especially when used in moderation. Ultimately, a healthy tech-life balance comes down to being able to maintain your use of technology. Having the ability to know when enough is enough is so crucial because it prevents you from missing out on the wonders and beauty of the real, non-digital world. While technology has helped us progress tremendously as a society, it has also prevented us from truly living our lives. It has instilled in us a mental toxicity that has forced us to question ourselves and who we are. A key source of this self-doubt is social media. As we look at all these “perfect” and “flawless” pictures, we start thinking this is the way we’re supposed to be, that this is the true definition of beauty. As a result, we strive to be like them and degrade ourselves if we aren’t able to meet those impossible, idealistic standards. Through Challenge Cookies, I hope students from around all campuses are able to become inspired and maintain a better tech life balance. When looking at future graduating classes, there is much advice I have when it comes to managing tech-life balance in college; however, the main piece I hope to offer has to do with appreciating the world around you. In college, you will have so many wonderful opportunities to branch out and try new things, things that are actually real. And these experiences are what ultimately shape who you are. I strongly advise you to look up from your phone screen and take in the amazing opportunities given to you because, unlike technology, you can’t restart your life. Once the moment passes, it’s gone.

The Importance of Silence, Stillness, and Solitude

Quieting the noise of our digital world brings us back to our real one. by Susan Reynolds, Co-Founder of LookUp What would it be like to stop what you’re doing? Close your eyes. Feel your feet on the ground. Notice your heart rate. Go ahead and try it: you will become aware of your inner thoughts, feelings, and senses. Continue to be still and come back to your feet touching the earth. What about your heart rate? Has it slowed down? Have your thoughts changed in these moments of reprieve from external stimulation, whether from another person, book, or digital device? When was the last time you were in stillness, silence and solitude? What is solitude deprivation? In his bestselling book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Cal Newport talks about the dangers of solitude deprivation, which he defines as “a state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.” The ubiquitous nature of our phones and their availability 24/7 hinders many from taking the time to pause, reflect, and hear their own thoughts. Many think solitude means retreating by yourself to a remote cabin in the woods, but you can be in solitude in a coffee shop with noise, activity, and people around you as long as you are focused inward. A lack of solitude isn't due to simply being in the presence of other people; it’s about the consistent the stimulation of information, other people’s ideas, and dings from your digital devices. From 24/7 connectivity... Gen Z, the cohort of those born after 1995, is said to be the first generation who grew up with the ubiquitous nature of smartphone usage. In addition, teenagers today spend up to 9 hours a day consuming media, according to a recent Common Sense Media study. Humans are information foragers with a biological craving for new data, sensory input, and information. The portability of a mobile phone has made it very difficult to find time for not only solitude but stillness and silence. Solitude helps one clarify difficult problems, slow down reaction time, and moderate emotions and feelings. Closing the eyes and feeling the ground, creates a connection to the biological body as opposed to the digitally stimulated mind. It helps regulate an overstimulated nervous system. ...to tech/life balance The next time you feel out of balance with a little too much stimulation from your digital world, take a break. Drop into stillness, silence, and solitude, even for a moment or two, to come back into tech/life balance. Originally published on Thrive Global.

Finding the Good in COVID-19

by Julie Barrett O'Brien, Executive Director of LookUp I’m an eternal optimist. Always have been. So, it should come as no surprise that I've found a few good stories to share about these uncertain times. Being separated from friends can be unnerving, especially for teens and young adults who, on a good day, are not embarrassed to be seen in public with their parents. But here’s the good thing about this virus. The fact that everybody must spend time with their family makes it “almost” OK. It’s like being at summer camp without a cell phone. Just the other day, in fact, my 15-year-old son joined me for a run. Truth be told, he did negotiate running with the dog in the woods while listening to music, but at least we ran together. (A first!) Our dog, Bruin, is totally lucking out these days because being outdoors (in a safe distance from others) is incredibly good for our mental health – even for just 20 minutes. On one recent walk, we came upon more family units (loosely defined) than I’ve seen in quite some time. There was the mom, dad, and two little kids singing and riding bikes along the Rail Trail. At the park, two awkward adults were doing their best to play soccer with their two teens and tweens. Nearby, two more adults were teaching their tweens a thing or two about Pickleball. And more people were walking dogs than I’ve ever seen. Everyone was out and seemingly enjoying each other’s company. It felt different than a regular spring day. Our community had an air of Thanksgiving. I’ve also spoken to several parents of high school athletes who, like me, define “family vacation” as a tournament across state lines. They had the same thought as I when they heard that school was closing and absolutely no sports would take place: “Let’s go see the Grandparents!” Fearing weeks of endless gaming and Netflix binge-watching, they checked for deals on flights. Some even talked to their welcoming parents who still felt invincible because a) they refuse to identify as “elderly” or b) the Coronavirus COVID-19 turmoil had not yet hit their state. But we soon admitted that our parents are elderly (sorry mom and dad) and at heightened risk, so we stayed put and set our vacation sights back on the tournament sideline. I love these stories because they emphasize the value people place on spending time together – face to face – and the unselfish decisions they’re making to keep everyone safe. They also underscore the joy of living in the present and cherishing those very real people sitting right next to them - be it family or the roommates you are sequestered with inside a tiny NYC apartment. At LookUp, we empower youth to find and lead lives with genuine tech-life balance - to embrace the “humanness of things” as much as the internet of things. Over these next few weeks and months, we encourage you to celebrate your time together – outdoors, building puzzles, or even in front of the TV. We are in uncharted territory. We need each other now more than ever. May we all choose wisely, be well, and stay healthy. Originally published on LinkedIn.

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