I’m once again reconsidering my relationship with networked devices. After my recent holiday abroad I’ve been reluctant to re-immerse myself in the ‘social web’. Many of the notifications I receive come from bots telling me what people may be doing. Not the people themselves. I have put my phone on silent permanently and have ‘Do Not Disturb’ activated from 8pm to 8am. I don’t need 24/7 rolling news. I’ve turned off all but a few sporadic notifications on my watch and am still attempting to trim down phone alerts. I read that having your phone within eye line can lower available cognitive capacity. It’s become much easier to put my devices out of reach. When I need to completely immerse myself in nature, I also have my ‘Dumb Phone’.
Last week it was easy. I put work to one side and no WiFi had me leave my laptop at home. For a daily email scan, occasional web browse, a few tweets and private messages, I had of course packed my phone. I’d also packed my iPad for rare gaming moments.
The phone remained out of site. Only retrieved to grab photos. This would inevitably lead me to spot and then ignore non-urgent notifications.
This week it’s the other way round. I’m still leaving my phone in the other room. But I’m opening the laptop when something web based needs to be done.
As I type this into a distraction free writing app on my Mac Air, these points seem trite. I may be stating obvious behaviour. But I need to be reminded that without my phone to hand, the shutting of a laptop screen is a firm step back from the networks. How can I retake control of my attention?
When closed my laptop is not dormant. In wifi range it still checks for email, performs updates and downloads. But it’s not bothering me with notifications. Even more goes on in the cloud. My mail is being managed and stored ready for my next glance. Bots read my website and my data is scraped. This isn’t about being online or offline. Even the few Westerners without an internet connection have chunks of their life managed in these spaces. We are all onlife now.
The behaviours around internet usage have twisted our conceptual framework. Ownership verses usage, agency verses intelligence, presence verses location. Writing these reflections I hope will help me take note of this and lead to new behaviour. My smartphone dependence is high. I depend on it for my work. Researching, navigating, capturing and sharing stories. For banking, shopping, learning, validation and so on. Like me, you may feel as habitually intertwined with the always-wired world. With the hyper connectivity a pocket computer enables.
Odds are you are reading this on your phone. Don’t put it down just yet. I’m well aware of how life can be enriched by these functions at our fingertips. With the connections to information and each other. There will come a time when we interface with the infosphere as seamlessly as we do our memories. Till then our online interactions are clunky and disruptive. The mechanisms designed to keep our attention take us down one rabbit hole after another. I’d like to rebel against that. To experiment and train my mind. To see if my well-being is increased by reducing my casual, unproductive screen time. I can still visit all all those places vying for my attention. But on my terms.
Quality of life is only one facet to well-being. I’m wondering if I can improve it by feeling less chained to my devices.
The World Health Organisation defines quality of life as:
…an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns. It is a broad ranging concept affected in a complex way by the person’s physical health, psychological state, personal beliefs, social relationships and their relationship to salient features of their environment (World Health Organisation, 1997)
Well-being according to the OED is “…the state of being comfortable healthy or happy.”
Happiness is not the feeling of pleasure you may experience during that micro moment of validation during a like or reply. Happiness can be characterised by the feeling of contentment, satisfaction, joy, accomplishment and love. Some research suggests that happiness may be genetically determined. But with continuous effort your happiness baseline can be offset.
My experiments vary. You may already do some of these but here are a few things I’ve tried and can recommend.
Place your phone in a bag and not always in your pocket.
Never place your phone on the table during a meal.
Dial down non-urgent notifications. Especially ones that hit the lock screen.
Set your phone to ‘do not disturb’ for at least 12 hours.
Don’t sleep with your devices in the same room.
Finish your working day writing a list for the next.
When you wake, check your to-do list before your email and do the easiest thing first.
Unsubscribe from emails that only advertise. If you need something search for it.
Make time to exercise without technology. No phone, no fitbit, no headphones.
Rather than saturate yourself with rolling news, dip into more considered journalism.
Was this time well spent? It was certainly a goal. To write my first blog post in weeks. Therapy and reflection for me, perhaps something of value for you. I find a great sense of well-being in the ability to fulfil goals. No matter how small.
Sources and further reading:
The mere presence of one’s own smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity. http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/691462
Defining well being [PDF] https://internationaljournalofwellbeing.org/index.php/ijow/article/viewFile/89/238
Shin, D., & Johnson, D. (1978). Avowed happiness as an overall assessment of the quality of life. Social Indicators Research, 5(1), 475–492. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00352944
Understanding happiness. (A CAGE Policy Report) [PDF] https://www.andrewoswald.com/docs/HappinessReport2017V1.pdf
Luciano Floridi. Does the internet make us happy? [VIDEO LINK]
24 hour news killed journalism. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-sorensen/24-hour-news_b_1813081.html
How have 24-hour news stations affected society. http://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/tv-and-culture/24-hour-news-stations-affected-society.htm
Too much time in front of screens is deadly. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21232666
Push notifications are ruining my life. https://www.wired.com/story/turn-off-your-push-notifications/
Rebalancing my relationship with technology http://documentally.com/2016/10/16/rebalancing-my-relationship-with-technology/
How much screen time should children have? https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/how-much-screen-time-should-children-have/
The Online manifesto. http://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319040929