The problem is that if you’re a human being who wants to, you know, hold down a job, stay informed, go to school, or communicate with friends, it’s really, really hard to truly shut down. Fortunately, you don't have to go all-in on a digital detox in order to feel more connected to the real world and your surroundings.
“I don’t want to live in a world where we pathologize technology.”
“Being able to spend some time without our devices is basically a good [thing], since being overly dependent on something is rarely healthy,” says Rohan Gunatillake, creator of the beloved meditation app Buddhify and author of Modern Mindfulness. (He'll also be leading a panel on this very topic at New York City's Rubin Museum on January 25.)
“But if turning everything off is our only strategy," he continues, "that is a massive problem, since technology is so integral not only to our lifestyles, but also our societies and economy.”
Here are Gunatillake’s top tips for embracing technology, while still keeping a foot in the real world.
1. Accept that technology is a reality in today's world—and that’s okay
“Just the phrase itself—‘digital detox’—is charged with problems, since it straight-up states this massively important force is effectively toxic,” Gunatillake says. “I don’t want to live in a world where we pathologize technology.” So the first step in not letting technology drive you bonkers is simply pushing back against the notion that if you pick up your phone, you're an automatic failure. (Don't you feel more Zen already?)
2. Note your personal distraction tendencies
One of Gunatillake preferred practices for making sure your technology use is actually serving (not deadening) you is to simply pay attention to the specific apps or programs that tend to be your go-to distractions. Instagram? Gmail? “The idea here is to simply get interested in the process of distraction and see how early in the process you can catch it,” he says. “Sometimes it all happens so fast and before you know it, you’re lost in your feed.” If you know your triggers, you can catch yourself before you're 45 minutes deep.
3. Tune into the physical experience
Yes, it is possible to turn technology into a daily mindfulness practice. Notice what it feels like to hold your phone, for example, noticing the texture and the smoothness of the screen. “This may sound strange, but when part of our mind is aware of the physical experience, it is—by definition—present,” Gunatillake says. And that's a straight-up mindfulness exercise.
4. Remind yourself: The internet is full of humans
The internet is so vast—and the amount of information we take in every day is so huge—it can easily overwhelm our brains and sense of what is really worthy of our attention. Just taking a few seconds to remind yourself that behind every photo or app there is an actual person can make the whole thing feel more, well, human and immediately ground you back in reality.
Try all of this, Gunatillake says, and in a few days or weeks, you'll start to notice you feel a bit more focused, more self-aware, and your mind is a little bit quieter. Yes, all without giving Snapchat.
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