Distracted from distraction by distraction

 

It may be a little early for new year’s resolutions, but it occurs to me that its rather arbitrary to decide on the first of the year to change a bunch of things.  Arbitrary and often ineffective.  So maybe its better to just start when you have the idea and let it run its course.

On my quest to become a better thinker, I am starting to be more intentional about my use of technology, specifically anything with a screen.  I’m not going Amish (yet) and I also don’t think I am a ‘tech addict’, but I have noticed a few things that trouble me a bit, so best to nip them in the bud.

Specifically, I have noticed myself slipping into the pattern (again) where the first thing I do in the morning is “check my feeds”.  I’m looking for news, entertainment and conversation.  There is nothing bad about any of those per se, but I think I am going to impose a personal ban on screens for an hour after I wake up.  That should give me time to properly wake up and set some intentions for the day before getting sucked into a rabbit hole.

I’ve also noticed getting ‘lost in the scroll’, spending far more time on social and video sites than I sometimes intend.  Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all gotten very good at “and now this” – giving you something else that you are likely to want to see.  I don’t blame them.  Getting me to scroll improves what they know about me, and the more they know about me the more they can sell to me.  It’s just business.  But in the same way I am trying to be a smarter consumer of what I put in my body at the grocery store, I am trying to become a better, or at least a more concious, consumer of what I put in my mind.  Some of that has to do with what I follow and some of it has to do how much time I spend scrolling vs. deep reading and writing.

I have a two pronged approach to getting lost.  First, I am trying to be mindful of setting an intention before I open a laptop or pickup a screen.  What is it specifically I am trying to accomplish?  Check the weather?  Post a podcast?  Write a blog?  Sometimes I even write a few things down on a scratchpad before I start just in case I forget along the way.  On addition, I’m also starting to use tech to fight tech in this area, specifically the StayFocused plugin for chrome that lets me set daily limits on specific sites and the Moment app for my iPhone that lets me track how much I use my phone each day and on what apps.

Anyone that knows me knows I am no luddite.  I would not have nearly as rich a life as I do without tech.  I wouldn’t have rediscovered a love of reading, I wouldn’t have discovered a love of philsophy, and I wouldn’t have found my ‘tribe’.  Tech is just a tool and like any other tool, you have to learn to master it if you want to get the most out of it without hurting yourself.  These are the steps I am taking.  What do you do to make sure you don’t become a screen zombie?

Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
With slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plentitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

– TS Elliot, Four Quartets

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