On Mindfulness in “Screenworld”

Cartoon by Mick Stevens. Source: The New Yorker via Condé Nast Collection

Cartoon by Mick Stevens. Source: The New Yorker via Condé Nast Collection

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much time I spend each day looking at a screen — computer, cell phone, TV — and how much of that time is useful and focused, versus how much of that time is due to lack of inertia. It was serendipity that, in my doctor’s waiting room today, I came across an article in the August 2013 issue of Mindful that covered the very same subject. The more I read about mindfulness, the more I feel like it’s something I need more of in my life. This article brought up many excellent, provocative points that I want to share and add my thoughts to.

The article is a conversation between three people, all leaders in the technology field, about how they’ve found ways to focus their energy and attention, becoming more productive, creative, and engaged. They certainly aren’t anti-technology, obviously; they are all supporters of using technology in a way that connects us rather than disconnects us, improves our quality of life rather than detracts from it.

I think this piece is a must-read for anyone who finds themselves absentmindedly clicking into a social media site at work, swiping at their cell phone for updates seconds after they’ve just put it down, checking their Blackberry or iPad during meetings, bringing mobile devices into what Irene Au of Udacity calls “sacred spaces, so to speak” (yoga class for her, dance class for me). It’s about being present, and actively engaging in technology only as it serves to strengthen your life. They aren’t saying, “Don’t watch funny cat videos.” They’re saying, “Only watch funny cat videos during the specific time you’ve created for yourself to recharge while watching funny cat videos — and maybe that time shouldn’t take up a significant chunk of your day, yeah?”

Part of the article is a page titled “Take Control of Your Tech Habits,” and that’s something I would like to focus on at this point in my life. With that in mind, I borrow the following goals as my own:

  1. “Come back to your body, to doing one thing at a time and knowing why you’re doing it.” This is key. This mantra can be applied to so many parts of my life — work, food, dance. I want to strive to be in the moment, fully present, as I work to achieve a healthy and fulfilling life. (Worth noting that I haven’t checked Facebook or my cell phone once while writing this post!)
  2. “…agree on when it’s acceptable for each of you to be on your devices and when it’s not.” I’m too often guilty of the terrible millennial trait of putting my phone on the table when I meet a friend for dinner. It’s entirely too acceptable to say, “I’m here with you, until something or someone else pops up, at which time I’ll give you about 50% of my attention, if that.” No more for me, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask my friends and my Matt — poor Matt, always getting dragged into my whims — to join me in this.
  3. “Choose your sources wisely, budget the time you spend there, and when you feel your mind tiring, move on.” Again, this quote is meant to be about technology and information overload, but it resonates for so much more. It’s about choosing where and with who you invest your time. It’s about being an active participant in the way your life is run.

Yes, yes, I do realize the seeming irony of me staring at a screen as I write this post — and, for that matter, of me staring at a screen as I read the rest of the article. (Darn doctors being on time for their appointments and not letting me finish my magazine…) But it’s not ironic at all. It’s exactly the point. I chose to engage myself in this article and this blog post, and I did. And now I’m done with screens for the evening. As soon as I check Facebook. And then I’m really done.


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