We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us
– Marshall McLuhan
Have you ever felt like quietly unplugging your monitor or notebook and hurling it out of an open window and watching with grim satisfaction as it smashes all over the pavement?
Maybe you haven’t. But a lot of people have. Office computer rage videos are even a thing on Youtube. I discourage watching them because they might give you ideas.
But seriously, who hasn’t felt overwhelmed by the number of emails we’re bombarded with, or the number of hours you spend desk-jockeying in front of screens, and the absolutely maddening volume of information out there? Most of us have exchanged harsh words with a computer at one time or another.
As you are reading this, I invite you to turn your awareness inwards and watch your inner landscape for a moment. How does your posture feel? Are you breathing fully and steadily? How does being bound to your device impact your body, mind and imagination? Stop for a moment and check in.
All of us, human society as a whole, are still in the early childhood development phase of our digital way of life, particularly with regard to our physical relationship with technology. Some studies suggest our use of technology is changing the way our brains work, while others predict it could even change our bodies, for example resulting in changes to our hands.
The key point is this: our adaption of digital technology into our everyday lives, and the rate at which new technology is coming onto the market is happening faster than our ability to understand it, and the psycho-physical-social impacts it is having. The genie is out the bottle, however, and there’s no putting it back in. It’s up to each of us to use our agency to question our relationship with technology.
Unfortunately, rather than a healthy amount of questioning, we instead see a lot of blind acceptance. The amount of time we spend in front of one screen or another adds up to more than eight hours per day by some counts. A new set of skills is needed to help us use technology consciously, so it doesn’t consume us.
Here some steps toward a more mindful use of technology.
Using them will improve both your user experience AND your general well-being.
Take a Digital Sabbath on a regular basis and switch off all your devices for a day. Reset your mind, body and soul and give yourself a fresh start. Choose one day a week, or even half a day, and focus on yoga, walking in the forest, meditation, whatever brings you out of the virtual world and into the three dimensional one. The use of technology become habitual and having these regular Digital Sabbath’s will help you get perspective on your relationship to it.
The problem with being busy is that it is based on ignorance—not realizing that by keeping your mind occupied constantly you are actually not giving yourself a chance. We even put an activity in our life, called meditation, where you practice not being busy. Think about it. It’s actually genius. – Reggie Ray
When texting or emailing on your smartphone, laptop or iPad, do you breathe smoothly or do you hold your breath? Be aware of what researchers call email apnea – spontaneous breath-holding in anticipation of news. It turns out that 80 percent of people experience it! Be mindful of your body and breath while in front of the screen.
For one week keep a diary of your use of technology, how long you used it, and when you noticed it generated stress or other negative states of mind. Then, after the week, analyse the diary to find out how long you can safely use technology before requiring a break. Calculate 80 per cent of that and you have found a kind and sustainable baseline. You might find you can only work at your desktop for 30 minutes before requiring a break. Honour that and you will find your baselines might increase over time.
Somatic meditation teacher Reggie Ray wrote that being busy all the time is actually a form of laziness. This is relevant because most technology was designed to save us time, yet most of us are busier than ever before. Rather than saving us time, in some ways technology results in perpetual activity, engagement and thinking. Scrolling through our Instagram feed can become a way of checking out of our lives, of avoiding relating with ourselves. We need to push back on this because this busyness becomes an excuse to avoid what is really important.
People today are dazzled by advances in science and technology and take human progress to be identical with scientific discovery. This is the fundamental group stupidity of our modern times. We must clearly distinguish between scientific advancement and human progress. – Kosho Uchiyama, Japanese Zen teacher
Do you really need all of those apps? Is it essential to have email access on your smartphone? How about Facebook messenger? Just because a new app is released doesn’t mean we automatically need to use it. Spend 10 minutes reflecting on what apps you really need and what apps can be deleted.
You are smarter than your smartphone. Yet, we become dependent on them in so many ways. And, in some cases, when people are suddenly deprived of their phone, they experience a type of trauma. They freak out, as if life can’t go on. Human beings designed technology like smart phones as tools, not as new limbs. When we put them down and connect with ourselves our intuition and intelligence eventually kicks in. Trust your instinct and imagination instead of becoming a smombie (smart phone zombie).
Are you choosing other people’s priorities over your own by responding to “urgent” emails? Responding to emails provides instant gratification and a sense of accomplishment at “getting things done”. But are these emails always that urgent and important? Distinguish between what is urgent and what is important. Take time to think, reflect and imagine and the time to develop new creative projects instead of leaving them on the back burner while responding to the constant flow of digital communication.
It’s not easy sustaining your focus in a chronically distracted world. In some ways the odds are stacked against us – it seems humans are designing more and more things that cause chronic distraction and lead us to checking out. A mindful use of technology, however, will help to equip you for the chalenge