If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that we’ve taken on the topic of digital distraction many times over in the past (for ex., here, and also here). It’s a perfect platform for a conversation about mindfulness, since those shiny little devices, and the people who design their content, are so unbelievably good at grabbing our attention without us even realizing it – or at least realizing how they did it.
This week has been a different kind of “fun” for me, though. On Sunday, my phone died. Well, to be more precise, it had a life-ending accident. The details aren’t important, but let’s just say it may have involved a major mindfulness lapse on my part. Regardless, the diagnosis is terminal, and it’s nothing but a black screen at this point.
I know, I know, let’s talk about a real problem in the world, right? I get it. But, mindfulness is everywhere, and this one’s got some good insights for us.
It’s been a whole three days so far of living without a phone for me (not even without technology – just the phone!), and the difference has been shocking – but not at all in the way you’d think.
Yes, I’ve become aware of how often I look at my phone to allay boredom, or distract me from other tasks I want to avoid or take a break from. While waiting, working, even walking from place to place, I have to just deal and do that thing only. I’ve also run outside in silence, and remembered that the wind does, in fact, make a sound, and the city around me is a cacophony of them. I talked to a stranger in line, and it turns out we had a lot in common. I’ve navigated my way through traffic with the routes I already know, and my best guess about congestion based on time of day. Speaking of time, I’ve asked people at least twice a day what time it is, because there have been several moments when I literally don’t know.
I’ve had to remember or reset my logins for multiple websites, because I’ve come to rely on apps for tasks like workout class reservations and photo editing. And photos! I used a real, live camera this past weekend. It’s a nice one, and you may not be surprised to know, the photos were gorgeous.
This isn’t about congratulating myself or asking you to do that for me, though. This hasn’t even been a real digital detox, by any means, as evidence by this blog post you’re reading. It has, however, been an eye-opening experience into the ways that our phones both distract us and also make our lives better and easier. They help us do some things faster, get around more efficiently, and connect with people more easily. They have great powers for good, and also, for pure nonsense.
You only learn the difference when you go without it. Or, you could choose to pay attention. It’s definitely not easy, because those phones are literally extensions of our bodies, and we often don’t even realize we’re holding them, although we always know where they are. The question is, what are you doing with it? Each time, I mean. When you reach for it, why are you doing so? Do you need a new route through traffic, or do you want to make a dinner reservation? Or, are you feeling some kind of awkward discomfort – likely boredom – that you want to soothe with seeing how much you are “liked” or “commented” on?
Of course, this conversation slightly ignores the fact that the phones own us, and that’s terrifying. For now, we’re thinking about our behavior with them, which ultimately, we control. As you’ve heard me say before, you can choose to give your attention away freely, or you can be mindful about where it goes. Just be conscious of that choice is more than half of the point of mindfulness, because it makes what you choose to do next intentional.
In the meantime, I’m staying hopeful that my phone-free life is on its way to wrapping up, but to be honest, I’m glad it happened. I’m more aware of my habits than I was just a few days ago. The trick, of course, is to harness that awareness to be more intentional with using the phone once it’s back in my life.
That’s always the trick, though. Mindfulness in a quiet meditation is one thing. Mindfulness in real, busy, hectic life is another. But what’s the point if you can’t bring it there? The constant variable in those two situations is you, and the main difference is how you perceive each one. Take a breath, and pay attention. No matter what you choose to do next, it will be clearly, decisively, and consciously on purpose.
If you have any questions, call me. Just not this week… ;-)
Photo credit: ISO Republic