Loosening the tech shackles: July(ish) challenge

This might be one of my loftiest challenges yet, and even though I have been toying with it for months, I have not yet felt like I have figured out how to embed it into my life without complete and total upheaval.

I know I am addicted to my devices. If I head out the door sans iPhone, I am immediately distressed, and generally rush back home to grab it. Anytime I wait for but a moment, I flick through Facebook or scroll through Instagram. I have even camped out in Staples for uncomfortably long to get precious precious juice for my phone (although never quite reached this low). Even though technology is supposed to make life easier and better (and it does in so many ways, like connecting me to people who I care about scattered throughout the world, or helping me find my way), I feel like there are so many times that I am shackled to my tech, serving it in some strange way.

Why am I this way? I KNOW I spend a lot of time mindlessly perusing the internet. I know that it is not great for me, and I know I am more prone to be on social media when I am feeling bored, tired, frustrated, or isolated. However, research has shown that Facebook may, in fact, UNDERMINE social connectedness, the very thing it is designed to facilitate, and predicts decline in well-being and satisfaction with life (Kross et al, 2013). This might be partially explained by the tenancy to social comparison, and how passive consumption of social media may increase feelings of envy (Haferkamp & Kramer, 2011). I have noticed this first-hand, when sometimes, I feel like I am losing a race I never signed up for! Why do I feel envious of the various triumphs and milestones of FB friends that are not goals I have for my own life? As Teddy Roosevelt eloquently explained (and my friend Ktucks parroted ad nauseum this weekend):

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Making comparisons to the perfectly curated social media versions of peoples lives can make you feel rather low about your own life.

I am craving a reprieve. I spend so much of my time consuming, consuming, consuming, that I have noticed that I struggled to maintain attention to one task, as my mind is programmed to flit between many tabs, skim news articles – to sip and sample my way through massive amounts of media each day.

*Yes, I understand the irony of discussing my dependence on technology by sharing a video clip, but I can’t resist. Broad City is perfection.

The other thing that I fear may be atrophying in my consumption-based media life is that I think I am much less creative – both because my spare time is sucked into the mindless abyss of constantly streaming media, and because I am so used to having answers and ideas at my fingertips, I don’t need to exercise that creative muscle to create new things, recombine ideas in my own way.

When I think of the idea of a TECH CLEANSE, the whirling FOMO fears start spinning and I become convinced that I will be completely cut out of social activities if I don’t have access to the up-to-the-minute social media feeds.

SO, is there a way for me to get loosen the chains my technology has on my life without becoming a complete Luddite?

This brings me to the hard part. I am going to attempt to establish a balanced relationship with technology this month. The reason this is so difficult, is that I find it easy to ban something outright for a short period of time, but what I am hoping for is a more enduring shift, where I am aware of my tech usage and not constantly connected to screens, where I can cut back on some of the more toxic practices but still stay connected. This is what I have come up with:

1. Target the mindless checking. I have a two-pronged approach to this. First, by keeping my phone out of sight at work and on a docking station at home, I don’t have it right beside me to constantly remind myself to check. The second is simply to wear a watch! I have a lovely watch, but never bothered to replace the battery when it died 6 months ago. Have you don’t this? You pick up your phone to check the time, only to wander through social media for 20 minutes and forget completely that the original goal was to check the time? Just me? oh…

2. Get it out of the bedroom. It is pretty widely acknowledged that sleeping with technology is not great for getting a restful night sleep – that the tantalizing glows and beeps make it hard to wind down at night. I also think that spooning your iPhone may detrimentally affect relationships.The temptation with having my iPad or iPhone as my wake-up call is that the last thing I do before I go to bed and the first thing I do when I wake up is plug in. As I have an adorable, old-timey, alarm clock which is completely able to wake me up, this should be a relatively simple switch.

3. Single-tasking and focusing on what I am doing right now. The idea of being mindfully aware of what I am currently doing has been something I have been grappling with for a while now (see thoughts on finding focus from 7 months ago). I have decided that watching TV is not the problem, but “watching” a show out of one eye, while scrolling through my phone, or split screening my laptop so I can stream the Bachelorette while reading Facebook updates is exactly the split concentration problem. If I am interested enough to watch a show, just watch it! This aligns with research by Eastwood et al (2012) who conducted a meta-analysis of boredom, arguing that  boredom can be defined in terms of attention.

[B]oredom is the aversive state that occurs when we (a) are not able to successfully engage attention with internal (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external (e.g., environmental stimuli) information required for participating in satisfying activity, (b) are focused on the fact that we are not able to engage attention and participate in satisfying activity, and (c) attribute the cause of our aversive state to the environment.

Boredom can lead to unhappiness, but if we are actively engaged, we can avoid boredom. Thus, it seems that being able to actively engage with a single task is critical to happiness and well-being.

4. Newsfeed culling. This is my “information management” stage, where I will try to limit the amount of information that is delivered directly to me. Perhaps there are 1 or 2 or 14 people on your social media feeds that you just roll your eyes at whenever they post something. I have decided to hide them from my newsfeed in order to limit the amount of information I wade through. I also need to go through my RSS feed and be honest with myself about which sources I just never get a chance to read and I have started the unsubscribe process for the numerous email lists I am part of (I found Unroll Me to be a useful place to start).

5. Schedule social media time. For the duration of my challenge, I am limited to a morning, noon, after work, night scroll through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I am allowed to ‘gram things at other times, but will try to limit myself to these windows of time. I am sure I will have withdrawal syndrome…

6. Schedule creative time. I need to protect time in my week to be creative – to play music, to take pictures, to write. These are things that make my life better and more interesting. They make me better and more interesting.

I took the first couple steps yesterday. I WENT OUTSIDE and played the uke for an hour after work, and then spent the evening READING A BOOK and listening to Billy Joel on my record player. It was pretty great.

Today I will attempt to implement my reduced social media schedule, and see if I get the shakes and cries. Wish me luck!

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