The other day I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across a link to a great piece in the New York Times. I jumped across to the lengthy article and had a read. Once I’d finished I returned to Facebook, pausing to read some things in more depth, skimming over others, and leaving comments here and there.
Sound familiar? I am sure this is a typical snapshot of all of our social media interactions. We flit seamlessly from one thing to another. This is true of most of our online activity. Social media aside, web-surfing lures us from one interesting site to another and I even find just answering emails takes me into the maze.
It is called a web for a reason and without some mindful awareness of its entrapment it is not just our time that gets tangled up but also our minds.
A single interaction can agitate the mind enough to cause an entire avalanche. You find yourself snowed under with streams of open tabs to come back to and a mind that has travelled far and wide and has lost track of where it was.
The risk here is that our minds are becoming conditioned to being constantly stimulated and eternally engaged. Our minds are presented with fewer and fewer inbuilt opportunities to sit still and be quiet. The previously uninhabited spaces in our lives are now filled in, filled up and filled out. The mobile nature of the devices we carry make sure of that. The quiet little windows of time that spontaneously presented themselves – standing in line, sitting in the waiting room, stopped at the lights, waiting at school pick-up time, are fast becoming non-existent. These little gaps left time for us to ponder, daydream, reflect, notice and people watch. These are not activities that we schedule into our day and so by filling this time we go without them. These incidental activities, shall we call them, reward us without warning or fanfare. They provide mental relaxation, some down-time for the mind, and when they are absent from our lives our mental-hygiene suffers and can leave us feeling constantly distracted and overwhelmed.
Our minds are moving from one thing to another in such quick succession that we don’t have time to digest the information let alone process our emotional responses to it.
Knowing when it’s time for a digital detox.
Our need to constantly ‘check in’ agitates the mind. We struggle to rest in stillness as there is always a task at hand (or more literally in hand). Our minds begin to scan the device-driven to-do list (emails, social media updates, follow-up phone calls etc.) for anything that can occupy our time. Eventually it becomes an unconscious time filler that we reach for in our spare moments. As soon as it becomes an unconscious habit it sits very close to an addiction pattern. This is perhaps a good indication that it is time to switch off and break the cycle.
I took the opportunity over the weekend to turn off all devices and experience life without distraction for a couple of days. I was starting to feel wired and the monkey mind had become a hyped-up beast that was difficult to settle, even during meditation. In the absence of any undue stress or tension I could feel the restlessness building from technology constantly tugging at my skirt tails. I felt that it was time to switch off in order to restore balance and create more space and time. My instinct was to go back to the simplicity I once knew before devices were the norm.
Unplugging was a hugely rewarding way to take a breather. Almost immediately there was a sense of calm that came with feeling there was more time and space for things, not to mention the relief of not being constantly interrupted by a smartphone. Each time the temptation arose to check a device or look something up (like where to eat in a new part of town we were visiting) I refocused my attention on how calm and quiet my mind felt, and how grateful I was to recalibrate in this way.
Taking a little (or a lot) of time away from devices helps to raise awareness around the behaviours that agitate our mind. This experience made me aware of small ways that I can adjust my day-to-day use of technology so as to minimize some of its effects on my mental wellbeing and I have been implementing them ever since.
I highly recommend that you try it for yourself. Once you resist the initial temptation to reach for a device you will be well on your way to discovering a whole new (old) world that leaves you feeling renewed, relaxed and recharged and very much more connected to yourself and the world around you.
Let me know how you go.
Perhaps you have already done a digital detox. What did you discover?
Leave a comment below.
May your week be a centred one.