On the Far Side of Distraction

Most of my adult life I have been known as a “techie”. Family and those I work with turn to me with their questions about technology. At one place I used to work, I was so “digital” that I was teased every time i printed something out. I have social media accounts. I read a lot, usually averaging a little over a book a week. And, as you can tell by the list in the column to the right of this post, I listen to a lot of podcasts.

But something odd has happened over the last few years. As the rising public concerns over online security and privacy have increased, I started to question my digital engagement. I stopped posting to social media as much as I used to. I started reading more physical book instead of exclusively ebooks. And after some personal challenges in the last two or three years, I started to question why I had filled my life with so much “noise”. There is so much media coming at me or piling up to be looked at and read that I’d sometimes find it overwhelming. And I started to ask myself, Why am I doing this?

As I started to quietly ask myself that question, I found something very odd happening. My desire to engage with others and my technology increased. Why would that happen? As I considered this in the relatively few quiet spaces in my life, I realized something. I was avoiding the question. Filling my days with engagement was a way to avoid self-examination. As a result, I made some changes.

Perhaps the biggest was that I banned my smartphone from the bathroom, specifically when I am getting ready for work. I used to listen to podcasts in the shower and while I shaved. No more. I also started meditating and taking purposeful breaks where I did nothing or went for a walk outside. In the beginning these were all very hard to do. The desire to fill the quiet space with some sound or engagement was strong. But I discovered on the other side of that burst of distractions a wide open peace where I could see myself honestly and compassionately, loving myself while also seeing those places where I can improve.

I am still challenged by the urge to distract myself. And sometimes I even indulge it. But I strive to break through these temptations to that space of peace and love for myself and others. It is difficult work making time for thoughtful reflection and simply being present in my world. But the rewards have been increased self-knowledge and peace with myself and others. I encourage you to explore for yourself what is on the far side of distraction. I think you will be glad you did.

How I Took Back Control from my Smartphone

There was a time when I felt phantom phone vibrations. That’s when you feel a notification vibration on your smartphone, pull it out to check what notified you, and realize that it never vibrated – there is no notification. If this has ever happened to you, it might be time to scale back your use of your smartphone. Here is how I did it.

First, I turned off all the notifications on my phone. All of them – email, social media, games. Anything that pings you to look at your phone. All of these apps install with notifications turned on. The currency of these apps is our attention and they are all vying for it. So I took it away. When I want to look at these app, I will decide when I look at my phone, not the programmer of these apps.

Next, I removed all of the unused apps on my phone. There were a lot of apps that I downloaded to try out but didn’t use anymore. So I simply removed them from my phone. If they aren’t there, they cannot distract me or take up space on my phone.

I don’t use social media very much. When I do, it seems to suck me in like one of those bad movies that you just can’t stop watching. Wanting to gain some more control over my time and attention, I decided to remove all social media apps from my phone. If I want to look at Facebook or Twitter on my phone, I still can. I just need to do it in a browser. That little bit of extra work means that I really need to want to do it.

I also removed all the games from my phone. I realized that, like social media, they were just another time suck. When I was bored or didn’t know what to do, they would call to me mentally, drawing my hand to my phone and turning on the screen. Again, if the app isn’t there, it can’t distract me.

It’s amazing the freedom this has brought me. I am reading many more books now. I committed on Goodreads to reading forty books this year. I am ahead of schedule and expect to finish more than that by the end of the year. I no longer feel like a slave to my phone nor do I feel those phantom vibrations. My smartphone feels more like the tool it is – a tool that serves me rather than the other way around.

I got some of the ideas for this digital detox from a fantastic podcast called Note to Self, particularly the series called Bored and Brilliant which is also a book that is coming out soon. I recommend you check out the podcast and consider pre-ordering the book. Another great series from that podcast is the Privacy Paradox. And in the sidebar to the right is a list of other podcasts I listen to that you might find interesting, entertaining, or helpful.

Let me know in the comments if you find any of this helpful. I really appreciate feedback. It helps me get better.


P.S. Last week I ended my post by telling you that I would explain why you might want to use open source software. In preparing to write this week’s post I realized something important – nobody would care because it isn’t very easy to take action on for the average user. Since my goal on this blog is to empower the average user, I decided to skip it. If you are interested in learning more about open source software, take a look at Ubuntu or Libre Office. You can also contact me to ask me a specific question, if you’d like.