By Kimine Mayuzumi
Email is a great human innovation. It’s quick, easy, and cheap. We used to send our hard-copy manuscripts to journals by snail mail, which was costly, slow, and tedious compared to our current system. Yet, we still suffer from our online activities including emails (Holmes, 2014; Seal, 2017).
The below table shows the comparison between the benefits of using technology we intend to receive and the actual consequences that we often face these days.
By using technology….
If any of the actual consequences above resonate with you, it may be time to reconsider a healthier relationship with your technology use. Summer is a great time to do so before another busy academic year begins. I myself often get trapped in the negative consequences of digital activities unless I become mindful of how to use technology.
- Reflect on your digital habits
Habits are hard to change unless we make determined efforts. One of my habits was to open Facebook without thinking before or after my intended task with my computer (e.g. writing on Google doc). It’s okay if such practices makes me feel good about myself and the time I spent. But oftentimes, I don’t feel good because: 1) I spend too much time with the device; 2) I may ignore people around me including my kids; and 3) the after-taste is often bitter (especially after seeing sad news).
To help me slow down before jumping online, I have generated some questions to reflect on my digital habits:
When do I look at Facebook?
How often do I look at it?
How do I react to it?
How do I feel when I initially see all the new posts?
How do these feelings impact me regarding my body posture, breathing, and thinking?
These questions are also relevant to those who feel drained by emails. This awareness allows me to control my reactive behaviors that cause hyperarousal and stress. Reflecting on habits also leads me to become more conscious of what I intend to do (Levy, 2016).
- Center mindfulness
In his book, Mindful Tech, Levy (2016) claims that our online activities are effective and healthy when we are more attentive, relaxed, and emotionally balanced. Centering mindfulness is probably the most critical for being attentive, relaxed and emotionally balanced because it brings us focus and allows us to be attuned to our physical states that always remind us of the present moment.
Mindfulness means “intentional cultivation of attention” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p.283) – being in the present moment with what we are doing. Centering mindfulness is like creating an anchor. It prevents us from floating away and (over)reacting to something but allows us to stay grounded.
On the other hand, when we are distracted and worried about something, we may ignore the pain in our body and take the negative energy with us into the digital world. The situation makes our way of being fragile and keeps our physical needs secondary because the digital world is filled with sources of distractions, addiction, and agitation that occupy our mind.
Centering mindfulness requires us to focus on single-tasking. The more tasks we try to do at a time, the more scattered our mind can become. In the digital world, we encounter numerous easy clicks, advertisements, and attractive visuals that sidetrack us into something else other than what we intended to do. We also try to do other things during waiting times online (e.g., wait for a file to be downloaded). While we wait, we can choose to breathe a few times deeply or ask our body how it’s doing instead of surfing the internet. Multitasking would more likely to drag us to impulsive and reactive action, which causes emotional imbalance.
- Practice a ritual before and after
To have a smooth transition to or away from a digital activity, we need a ritual. The point of a ritual is to transition into a mindful mode before a (possibly difficult) task. Before diving into the online landscape where we find a lot of distractions along the way, we need the intention to focus on the task. The ritual can be a breathing exercise, meditation, or journaling for two minutes. Even after our digital task, we can practice a closing ritual so that we can transition onto the next activity without dragging the issues/emotions attached to the former task.
- Make time & space boundaries
For us to be attentive to our digital activities, we need to set boundaries of space and time. For me to minimize impulsive clicking, I like to have a clear idea about the time range for working on a task because it allows me to focus on the single task. So I set a timer for 15 minutes to read Facebook posts. Another 15 minutes for email. And so on. For a space boundary, I shut the door to engage with my online task with no visitors or interruptions. I also disable/block all kinds of notifications on my smartphone and computer. A software like Freedom may help us have such boundaries.
- Try unplugging
Unplugging, or being away from our digital devices, also helps us feel attentive, energized, and motivated in our next occasion of being online. When I went camping with my family last summer, we were all device-free for two entire days. When I came back home, I was so efficient and fast in my emailing tasks because the online activity was almost new to me once again. I got a different kind of energy by unplugging. It allowed me to be more mindful and focused when I went back to my digital activity.
It is easy to forget all these strategies and logics behind them in our tech-savvy lifestyle. The bottom line is that we all need to work on ourselves at the same time as we go into different tech lives. Technology can easily become a tool for us to get distracted from facing ourselves, neighbors, friends and families and what is important in our lives. While I write this, it is a reminder for myself too. Thank you for holding me accountable by reading this piece.
Image credit to: pixabay