Have you found yourself in the depths of an Internet hole, having searched and clicked to link after link, scrolling endlessly to find yourself on your friend’s, cousin’s, brother’s, niece’s page who posted a funny video about a dog wearing a raincoat? Or maybe you’ve found yourself with a spare 30 seconds whilst waiting for the bus and had an urge to unlock your smartphone and mindlessly scroll through Facebook? Or check your email 10 times before your first coffee of the day?
“Have you found yourself in the depths of an Internet hole?”
Yes, we are in the age of technology overload. The speed and ease which we can access a world of apps, websites, search engines, games and videos is immense and furthermore, they are marketed and strategically engineered to pull us in and keep us using them.
These digital experiences are visually pleasing and addictive and are designed to use your past searches and information to specifically appeal to you and your interests. Many top websites use an endless scroll function that keeps you engaged, which has been shown to have a similar effect as a slot machine on the user. Product companies also heavily use reward systems to keep the consumers coming back for more. The automatic behaviours we use everyday in the online community have become a part of our everyday routine and are trigged by situational events found everywhere, such as waiting for a bus, or having our breakfast.
“Websites use an endless scroll function that keeps you engaged, which has been shown to have a similar effect as a slot machine on the user”
It seems as though every spare moment that was once maybe a chance for reflection, boredom, awkwardness or just standing alone doing nothing now triggers an urge to take out our smartphone. These digital distractions can be incredibly addictive and distracting. According to Internet Trends, the average American checks their phone 150 times a day, which is quite a staggering statistic. Common signs of technology dependence include; physical or mental discomfort when separated from personal devices, increasing use, withdrawal from social interactions, irritability, sleep disruptions or absences from school or work.
Being more aware and connected with our physical environment helps our attention, focus and awareness of the people around us. Mindfulness practices help to improve our physical and mental health, relationships and help with challenging stress and difficult life events. Applying the principles of mindfulness can help to become more aware of our use of smart technology. Some examples where mindfulness can be applied include
- Paying attention – if you have been buried in your laptop or phone for long periods of time and lose track of time, pay attention to how you feel when you use these devices and think about how you spend your time every day
- Establish times of the day that you will engage with technology – only allow yourself to check your phone or emails in these periods – for example once per hour during work hours, not at all after 7pm or not before 9am
- Develop a 5-minute practise – use these minutes to focus on your breath and listen to your body. Focus on the sensations in your body, from the aches and pains to the small almost imperceptible. Focus on your breath or try counting to 10 as you breathe. Try to keep your mind from wandering as you do this and if you notice your attention going elsewhere, try and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
- Observe and explore your impulse to check your phone or email. When you feel an impulse, try and ride it out and know that the feeling will pass.
- Reduce your use gradually – set yourself a goal and gradually work towards it day by day. For example, not checking anything until you get to work, or only using Facebook once every 3 days
- Use your own knowledge and skills – try to limit your Google searches for everything you do – trust your abilities and instincts. Have an explore of your neighbourhood to find a great restaurant or try to memorise your shopping list instead of using your phone to remind you
Another way we can be mindful with our use of digital technology is to be mindful while using these devices. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang writes an interesting blog that provides innovative ideas about being mindful whilst using social media and technologies to help us be more attentive, focused and creative: http://www.contemplativecomputing.org