For the past couple of decades, we’ve seen an impressively powerful technology revolution. In just 20 years, we’ve gone from having less than half the U.S. population with internet access to having the vast majority of Americans rely on the internet for work, socialization, and leisure for most of their day. The movement has been to develop more technology, use more technology, and integrate technology into more areas of life.
For the most part, these changes have been positive. Workers are more productive than they’ve ever been before. People are able to talk to friends and family inexpensively, no matter where they are in the world. And, of course, we get a chance to search for movies, TV shows, and even memes we’d otherwise never dream of seeing.
But the next digital revolution may be a more nuanced one. Instead of pushing for “more” technology, it may be time to scale back—at least in some ways. It may be time to spark a revolution of “mindful” technology use. But what is this concept, exactly, and why is it so important for our health, productivity, and daily interactions?
Mindful Technology Use
You may associate the term “mindful” with “mindfulness meditation,” and you’re not too far off. In case you aren’t familiar, mindfulness meditation is the practice of mindfulness, or paying attention to the present moment. In the course of daily life, our minds tend to wander; we drift between an annoying song stuck in our heads, a grocery list, an imaginary argument with someone who upset us earlier, and random stimuli in our environment, all during an important work meeting. Mindfulness encourages us to be presently conscious, if only in brief, fleeting moments between these competing distractions.
Mindful technology use follows a similar principle. The idea is that we’re constantly afflicted with technological distractions, and we’re tempted to use technology far more often than is warranted—and far more often than is healthy.
Some people have advocated abandoning technology altogether, such as quitting social media or abandoning email in favor of traditional phone calls. But the productivity-increasing potential of technology is far too powerful for this to be a smart move.
Instead, our goal should be to become more aware of how and when we’re using technology—and only use technology when it benefits us to do so.
Non-Mindful Technology Use
It’s perhaps easiest to understand what constitutes “mindful” technology use when we illustrate “non-mindful” technology use.
A perfect example of non-mindful technology use: losing time in an infinite scrolling social media feed. Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and dozens of other social platforms now utilize a mechanism known as “infinite scrolling.” The users can endlessly keep discovering new content by scrolling — possibly forever. Nearly all of us have fallen victim to mindless scrolling at some point, forgetting that we’re spending time doing this and losing ourselves in consumption.
How much time would you estimate you have lost in your scrolling adventures?
Here’s another example of the non-mindful use of tech. Have you ever found yourself bored for a moment, whether it’s waiting in line or dealing with an unnecessary meeting, and found yourself opening an app on your phone without thinking about it? Suddenly, you’re in the middle of using an app — you didn’t choose this. You didn’t think about it. You just did it. Unconsciously. You maybe even started playing one of your games.
In these contexts, technology functions as a kind of 301 redirect for our minds. We automatically follow this pattern of behaviors, even if it’s not good for us. And the fact that most digital apps are specifically designed to be addictive just makes us more vulnerable.
All of the data about the consequences of mindless scrolling are complex:
- Wasted time. For starters, we waste time. We spend too many hours on apps that are meant to provide us with temporary entertainment. We end up dwelling on apps meant to increase our productivity in a way that renders us unable to do any “real” work.
- Lost attention and focus. We also lose our attention and focus. If we’re compelled to open an app and start scrolling every time we’re bored, we’re practically unable to pay attention in conversation or focus on our more important work.
- Bad habits. Mindlessly using technology leads to bad technology habits, which can follow us for years if not addressed. For example, we’ve all conditioned ourselves to drop what we’re doing and respond to notifications whenever we receive them—at least at some point.
- Mental health issues. Some forms of non-mindful technology use are associated with mental health afflictions. For example, chronic social media users tend to be more inclined to feel lonely, depressed, and anxious.
Principles of Mindful Technology Use
Mindful technology use sounds great. But it’s also a bit vague. So what does mindful technology use look like? How can we achieve it?
The principles of mindful technology use include:
- Simply learning more about the effects of technology can make you a more mindful technology user. If you know that an app has the potential to be addictive, you’ll be inclined to use it less frequently or in less repeatable patterns. If the claims a productivity app makes are dubious, you’ll consider using an alternative.
- Mindful technology use is also about minimalism. That doesn’t mean restricting your use of technology or using as little as possible; instead, it means avoiding wasted technology use. It means not using more apps than you can reasonably handle and focusing on the tech tools that are most beneficial for you.
- You need to be transparent and aware of your own habits if you’re ever going to improve. That’s why mindful technology use is heavily focused on awareness. Consider tracking how much time you spend on each of your most popular apps and documenting instances where you feel like you’re not in control of your own use of technology.
- Mindfully using technology also requires intention. You shouldn’t be using technology because you feel like you have to or because they’re a part of your habits or routine; you should be actively choosing to use technology if and when it suits you.
- Analysis is the gateway to improvement across all these tenets. You have to understand your own behaviors, feelings, and attitudes if you’re going to change them.
Changing Bad Habits
It can be difficult to change a bad habit—especially if it’s been deeply ingrained and reinforced for many years. However, there’s always time to change your patterns of behavior.
With technology use, most of our patterns rely on triggers and/or repetition. For example, when we receive a notification, we look down at our device; this is a trigger that encourages a natural response, and it’s all too common now that most of us are working remotely. If the trigger continues, your response will likely continue.
Breaking a bad habit reliant on a trigger requires breaking the trigger in some way. Ideally, you’d get rid of notifications entirely and only check your communication channels when you truly intend to do so. However, reducing or changing your notifications may also help.
Repetition is another issue. If you can engage in the same sequence of actions repeatedly, you’ll easily build a habit, whether you mean to or not. For example, you may mindlessly tap an app on your phone, knowing its location so familiarly that you don’t even have to look at it.
Again, you’ll want to break the pattern. In this case, that could mean moving the app to a different location on your smartphone, so you’re forced to think about whether you truly want to open the app or whether you’re doing this mindlessly.
Toward a More Mindful Future
Almost anyone can benefit from practicing more mindful technology use. It’s challenging to break bad habits and resist the natural tendency to engage in behaviors encouraged by modern tech. However, it’s extremely rewarding to regain control of your own mind, health, and productivity.
Image Credit: armin rimoldi; pexels