Earlier this month, I wrote about the subject of information overload and how it relates to my theme for the year, essential. Specifically, I shared about my difficulty in narrowing down the articles I want to read and my feeling overwhelmed by so much information. In today’s post, I delve deeper into my journey to get to a more peaceful place with technology and the Internet. I have taken further steps that may also be helpful to you if you struggle with similar issues.
An Update on the Articles
I will first give a bit of an update on how I’m doing with the articles. You may remember that my husband suggested that I create a new “articles to read” folder each month and only carry over ten articles to start off with. Doing this was difficult and took me over an hour, but I felt a good release after letting go of close to a hundred articles that I had been meaning to read “someday.” Over the course of this month, I have read some of the carried over articles and I’ve also saved additional articles to read. At the time of this writing, I have 23 articles in my February 2018 articles folder. I’ve decided that I’m not going to carry any of them forward into next month. Over the next three days, I will read the ones that most interest me and start with a clean slate in March.
A few readers suggested that I not maintain a “to read” folder at all and simply read articles when they come to my attention – or not. I think I’ll probably come around to such an approach in time, but what I’m doing now feels most comfortable for me. I can say, though, that I’m saving far fewer articles now that I know I will have a limited time frame in which to read them. That one shift is already bringing me peace and lightening my information load. I’m being a lot more selective and keeping my theme “essential” in mind when I consider the articles I’d like to read. To do so, I ask myself this key question from The Minimalists,
Will this add value to my life or bring me joy?
Some articles may fall more into the category of “fluff pieces” than lofty works, but if they make me laugh and add levity to my day, they’re worth reading. I love to learn new things, but I also like some of my reading to be just for fun. There’s a limit to how much new information I can absorb in a short period, anyway. As with pretty much everything else in life, it’s all about balance.
The Role of the Internet in Our Lives
This brings me to the main topic of this post: technology and the Internet. One of the articles I chose to read during February was “It’s Time to Put the Internet Back into a Box in the Basement,” from Raptitude. This article is well worth your taking time to read, but the gist of it is that the current practice of being online and connected virtually all the time is fragmenting our attention and reducing our peace of mind. The average American checks their phone 80 times per day – every twelve minutes – and there are a lot of adverse physical and mental effects of this behavior. The author isn’t suggesting that we all become Luddites, but he is recommending that we draw more limits around our online time. Everyone’s threshold is different, but many of us would be well-served by being more deliberate about how we engage with the Internet and social media.
I have already taken quite a few steps to reduce my phone and Internet addiction. I removed Facebook and Facebook Messenger from my phone last summer and also disabled all mobile notifications except those for voice and text messages. I reduced my social media time dramatically since I first started tracking it two years ago, when I learned that I was spending upwards of 20 hours per week on Facebook alone! I now mostly engage with people via email and phone (and sometimes in person, which is the best), and I only visit Facebook two or three times per week on average. My phone is not with me at all times and instead is usually hooked up to its charger in my living room.
Taking Steps toward Digital Detox
All this said, reading the above-mentioned article and listening to The Minimalists podcast episode on social media made me aware of the need to make further changes. In the comments section of the Raptitude article (reading fewer articles affords me more time to read comments, many of which are excellent), I learned of two additional resources:
Both of these articles include many helpful suggestions for simplifying the way we use technology and reducing information overload. I’m sure I will implement more of these ideas moving forward, but I was inspired to make some powerful shifts right away after reading the authors’ recommendations.
Cleaning Up Displays
The first thing I did was clean up my phone and desktop displays. I removed all unnecessary and distracting apps and icons. This is now what those displays look like (gotta love screensaver images of cats and Lake Tahoe):
The phone apps that remain will mostly be accessed via the applications menu rather than the home screen, but I do have some frequently used but not distracting apps on a secondary screen.
I no longer have the Gmail icon in my phone’s menu bar, as it was all too easy to check my email in a reflexive manner almost every time I picked up my phone. With my current lifestyle, I could easily just check email once or twice a day, so I’m hoping that having to scroll to a secondary screen in order to do so will stop me from doing it automatically. If I continue to be an “email junkie” on my phone, I will remove the app altogether. I almost never reply to email on my phone anyway, so it definitely isn’t necessary to have access to my in-box at all times.
To further simplify the way I use email, I have removed myself from most of the mailing lists I was on. I want to minimize the number of email messages I receive each day in order to free up more time to communicate with people one on one and increase my overall productivity. I also deleted a number of old messages I’d been planning to read someday (see a pattern here?). Yes, there was some FOMO that hit me when I did that, but it was soon replaced by relief and the peaceful feeling of seeing a more streamlined in-box.
I had to disable Instagram because, although I don’t post there often, I’ve found myself searching and scrolling quite a bit recently, particularly for photography, recipes, and beauty tips. The time on Instagram (and social media in general) can go by very quickly when you’re working with a never-ending feed! I wish it was easier to use Instagram on my desktop, where I’ll be far more deliberate with it, but I’ll just have to do the best I can because I really want and need to reduce distractions. I may bring it back in the future and set some parameters around its use, but for now I’m taking a break from having Instagram on my phone.
Programs and Tabs
Another change I made was that I now only have programs and browser tabs open on my computer for things I’m working on at any given time. So right now, I just have Microsoft Word open, as that’s what I use to type up my blog posts. I’ve had to look up a few things online while writing this essay, so I have accessed my Chrome browser several times, but not having the Gmail tab open has mostly eliminated my compulsion to check email. Just the one step of having to open my in-box has been an impediment to my “twitch” behavior.
Conclusion and Your Thoughts
I’m hoping these changes will help to increase my focus and productivity, as well as decrease my anxiety and sense of overwhelm. The Internet and our smart phones are powerful tools, but we should be the master of them rather than their slave. I’m feeling much better about my interaction with technology since I’ve made the aforementioned changes. I’m sure I will continue to evolve in this regard and I’ll keep sharing what I learn with you here.
Now I’d love to hear from you. Here are a few questions to spark your thoughts, but feel free to share anything you’d like about this post.
- Have you struggled with Internet and smart phone addiction? In what ways has it adversely affected your life?
- What steps have you taken to regain control of your time and your attention?
- What do you see as the role of technology in your life moving forward?
- What tips do you have for those who feel their screen time is out of control?
As I mentioned previously, the comments sections of blogs often contain a wealth of useful insights and information – and this blog is no different. I always love to hear from you and I learn a lot from what you share with me and each other.