Digital Mindfulness: 3 Ways To Consciously Connect With Technology

I was looking through my notes over this past year and stumbled on this one. I wrote this during a trip to India in May 2018 in a city called Dharamshala, known for its ancient monasteries, snow-capped mountains, and home to the Dalai Lama. Below are a few observations during my time there, specifically on our use of technology.

May 2018, sitting at a coffee shop in Dharamshala.

Have we have forgotten what boredom is?

Our connotation of it is a negative one. If you’re bored, then something is wrong. Do you have anything to do? Is your phone out of battery? Why are you looking at me weird?

I’m writing this as I sit in the hills of Himachal Pradesh, India’s mountainous state, where thousands of people flock to escape the heat of the country. Here you have beautiful mountain ranges, historic monasteries, and a culture that is hard to find anywhere else in the world. Here, I thought, would be a place where people can finally disconnect from their daily lives and enjoy what it means to be in a relaxed state of mind.

For the most part, that does not seem to be the case. Everyone is on their phones – from the vegetable vendors to the monks taking selfies in their orange robes. The influence of Western technology is prevalent here. Maybe I was just too naive to think that it wouldn’t be. Don’t get me wrong, technology has brought tons of benefits to India. They have one of the cheapest data plans in the world, mobile phones for even the poorest villagers, and the ability to send a message to a loved one in another part of the world. Small business can now succeed in the online world, and diversify their revenue streams from the storefront shops they’ve run for years.

Yet I question if it has a net positive or a negative impact on society. Extensive technology use has been linked to stress, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. The unsettling part is that most positive implications of these technologies, such as instant communication or the ability to access information anytime, leads to some of these bigger issues. Rarely will you see people look up to admire the beauty of the world, and if they do, it is to take a picture of it to upload to their Instagram stories.

As we progress into the future, we will not be able to completely get rid of our technologies, and to be honest, I think we’re just getting started. With new innovations in Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and others, we’re beginning to blur what is our digital reality and what is our normal reality. Then what do we do?

The answer is not to completely detach from our technologies, it is to use them more mindfully.

How can we create a better relationship with our technologies? The ideas below have been influenced by my own thinking, along with Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism.

Digital Minimalism is the philosophy of technology in which you focus your online time on a few carefully selected activities that support the things you value.

Cal Newport

1.) Seek solitude.

When was the last time that your phone was more than five feet away from you? Our phones are the first thing we see when we wake up in the morning and the last thing we see before we go to bed. When we start our days we take it to the bathroom. We catch up with friends on our daily commutes. Even at work, we’re always checking it, thinking that someone has texted you or liked your most recent post.

Trust me, I do this all the time. I may even be doing it right now as you’re reading this to see how many more people have engaged with this blog or read my newsletter. It’s a problem.

The biggest reason why is because we now are rarely left to our own thoughts. Cal calls this “solitude deprivation”, which is a state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and are free from input from other minds.

Solitude deprivation hinders you from understanding yourself, getting creative ideas, and being present when interacting with others.

A few things I do to mitigate solitude deprivation is to not check my phone for the first few hours of the day and the last few hours of the day. Meditation also helps. Even 5 to 10 minutes a day where you’re focused on your mind’s inputs, rather than that of others, can bring more peace at mind.

2.) Start the conversation online then aim to meet offline.

I recently became single and jumped on dating apps. One thing that has struck me is the amount of conversations that are staying on the dating apps, rather than transitioning to an in person conversation. This happens with our friends and family too. We give ourselves the false sense of connection when we send a few messages over Instagram or text, but are missing out on the real connective tissue that is built when meeting in person.

Do you no longer live in the same city as your friends and family? Then schedule time to connect via Facetime or on a call. Seeing a smile on your mom’s face is much more meaningful than sending her an emoji.

3.) Putting off notifications and put your phone on silent.

Sure, you may not get your message from your loved one or see what your friends have put on Twitter. That’s okay, you can check in on them later. Worried that people won’t be able to get a hold of you during an emergency? Tell those close to you to give you a call, and your phone can be on ringer in case some needs you urgently; which for me in the past few years has been only a handful of times.

Conclusion

Go look at the world, take it in, be “bored”. By letting your mind be free, it will calm down, get you back into reality, and lead to future productivity and well-being. Try it out, it amazing how such a simple act can lead to so much joy.

We need to be having more conversations about our use of technology, especially about our phones. It has given us an amazing amount of utility, but we should question what additional marginal benefit we receive from the hours of time we spend on our phones throughout our day.

Have any other thoughts on how to mindfully use technology? Please share below.

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