Lately, I’ve been having trouble focusing. I’m restless and nervous all the time. I’m constantly playing with my phone – jumping from app to app; checking my Gmail; posting on Twitter; should I be posting on Litsy? check Litsy; did my table sell on Letgo? check Letgo; new episodes of my favorite podcast? download; listen to podcast; put phone down. Jump on internet or turn on the television. Anything I want to stream on Amazon Prime/Netflix/Hulu? Watch trailers. No. Turn off the television. Pick up a book. Read. Think of something to Google. Maybe I should be writing? Put down book, pick up phone. Open game. Play game until out of lives. Begin cycling through apps again.
Tech is playing havoc with my reading.
I’ve become obsessed with de-cluttering my house. The truth is that my head is crammed full of information/to-do’s/desires/ideas/regrets. Like a Japanese Zen garden (resist Googling Japanese Zen Garden – success) that’s littered with trash, I need to devise a slow and purposeful way to rake the sand clean again.
My phone is trying to addict me. Not really the phone – just like not opioids, not meth, not nicotine, not caffeine. Drugs are not viruses. They do not consciously recognize that they benefit from my addiction. Companies recognize the benefits. It is in Google’s/Facebook’s/Twitter’s/Amazon’s/Instagram’s/YouTube’s best interest if I don’t disconnect from my screen. There have been articles and studies (resist Googling synonyms for “built-in” – success) explaining that tech companies build-in features to make their applications addictive, complete with psychological triggers and rewards in the form of likes, emojis, hearts, hearts that sparkle and pop (resist Googling articles and studies – fail) which make us feel seen. Everyone wants to be seen.
I like Star Trek’s version of the future. I bought a Google Home Hub because it came with two free minis. I already own a mini. Our house is small. A friend who works for a big tech company I’ve already mentioned doesn’t own any home devices. His social media footprint is small. He’s surprisingly analog outside of work. Should I be paying attention to this? Does he know something I don’t? The Matrix wasn’t intended as metaphor and yet, metaphorically, I can’t help thinking we’ve all voluntarily connected ourselves to the matrix. The film (resist Googling for “the matrix film” – fail), released in 1999, is no longer a convincing depiction of the future. The tech has aged badly.
Fortunately, my addiction isn’t wreaking havoc on or disrupting my relationships, other than my perception of them (FOMO). But if it’s interfering with my reading life, an activity that brings me happiness, can I still say tech has improved my life? (Google “breaking tech addiction”. Resist tinfoil hat paranoia – fail. Google “quit smoking”. Click on smokefree.gov. Substitute “screens” for “cigarettes”).
- Make a Plan – Set limits in order to wean yourself off screens. This is something Cal Newport talks about in Deep Work (download audiobook from Audibles.com). Rather than schedule time off – the oft-cited tech hiatus – designate your time on. Beginner goal: keep screen surfing time to ninety minutes per day. Track in journal.
- Stay Busy – Find meaningful projects to replace screen time. Plan things to do: books you want to read, write more, visit friends, go to the gym, work in the garden, take the dog for a walk. Gretchen Rubin recommends scheduling phone dates with long distance friends on her Happier podcast. I’ve tried and find it a satisfying alternative to Facebook for keeping in touch.
- Avoid Triggers – Limit impetuous searches. Write down the things you want to search and go back during designated screen time. Delete games. Gradually delete social media sites, starting with the ones you rarely use. Set Forest phone app (resist Googling “phone apps to keep you off screen” – success) for maximum minutes to discourage picking up phone. Use internet blocks when writing. Avoid SNL videos on YouTube.
- Stay Positive – Limit Instagram & Twitter use. Identify the kinds of online activity that makes you sad or nervous. If you feel disconnected, find offline ways to connect (yoga class, browse a book store, go to the park).
- Ask for Help – Ask your partner to hold your phone for blocks of time. Ask close friends and family members to call if they need to reach you instead of texting. Go somewhere. Be around other people. And, (resist cliche – fail) recognize that other people will probably be staring at screens of their own.