Something funny happened to me the other day.
My family and I left the restaurant around seven, piled into the car, and started the long drive back to the house. We were all quiet, content with the meal we’d just had, and I — by reflex, I guess? — took the silence as an opportunity to dig out my iPhone. I checked Twitter. I skimmed the list of updates, eyes glued to the screen, and then — just seconds after we pulled into the driveway — yawned and stretched, glancing up.
The picture above stunned me. Streaked red and orange, lines of color that covered the entire horizon, the sky took my breath away in the same instant that it poked me hard in the back of my skull. I hadn’t noticed it. I’d had this incredible sky all around me for half an hour and not once had I bothered to look up.
I was on Twitter, after all.
This has to change.
And, after a few weeks’ deliberation, I’ve decided something: it ends now. It ends today, for me, and maybe it’ll end for you too. I’ve never been shy about my love for technology, but I’ve never hidden my love for life, either.
One of them is interfering with the other. I think you can guess which one it is.
MY LIFE NOW
I wake up in the morning, roll out of bed, and immediately reach for the iPhone/laptop. Feeling a twinge of excitement, I’ll load up my three separate email accounts and get ready to tackle each in turn. Sometimes I’ll have new email, so I’ll spend the next hour firing off responses. Sometimes I won’t, and my mood will dip just a bit before I’ve even really started my day.
But that’s okay! I keep checking my inboxes. This little voice in the back of my mind says “Oh, you haven’t checked in awhile. Go for it!” and so I take every free moment as an excuse to sneak over to my laptop. It’s even worse when I’m feeling bored, when I’m just digging around the Internet and clicking links aimlessly. Somehow, somewhere, I end up opening a new tab to check my email account. It happens so often that I don’t even realize I’m doing it anymore.
When I leave the house, the iPhone comes with me. When I have a free moment — even just a second or two — I dig out my phone and check Twitter, spending the next few minutes thumbing through the updates. When I’m stuck waiting in line somewhere, I’ll check my email again, feeling that familiar twinge of disappointment when nothing new awaits me.
When I sit down to write, I’m constantly battling distraction. I’ll have six tabs open in my web browser, each serving as a tiny reminder of other things I need to do or read. The never-ending beeps and alerts about new email or other new nonsense prevent me from ever devoting my full attention to my work.
During the evening, I pair my dinner with the dull glow of my laptop. I scroll while eating, checking any new links that pop up on Twitter, focusing on my food in spurts just long enough for the fork to reach my lips. An hour before I go to sleep, I shut down all electronics and read a regular book until I’m tired, but often feel tempted to sneak one more look at my inboxes before I try to fall asleep.
Technology has taken over my life.
To be fair, it hasn’t made my life any worse. I’d argue that my days have improved for the chance to constantly interact with the incredible people I’ve met on my social networks.
But I’m distracted. I’m multi-tasking every moment of the day, juggling my attention between two or three things at any given time. I’m ruining my ability to focus, to take each part of life as it comes and devote my full attention to it — to enjoy it with every part of me. I can’t eat without wanting to check my email. I can’t explore the world outside without bringing my connection along for every step of the way.
There’s something wrong with that. Really wrong.
And so I’m changing it.
MY LIFE FROM NOW ON
I’ll roll out of the bed each morning and leave my phone on the table. I’ll do three or four rounds of Sun Salutations and then sit down to meditate for as long as I want. I’ll eat my breakfast as leisurely as possible, focusing on the flavors of each bite, and take whatever minutes remain to check my inbox and rattle off a few brief replies.
When I’m out and about, now, I’ll keep the phone in my pocket. I’ll study my surroundings, locking eyes with the friendly faces all around me instead of the glowing screen of my phone. And when I’m in the car, driving or just riding, I’ll refuse to even look at the device. I’d rather devote my full attention to the conversation, if I can, or maybe just the blue sky overhead.
I’m going to keep the laptop closed when I don’t need it. I’ll use it for work, sure, but I’m going to radically rethink my idea of free time. I won’t reach for the laptop. I won’t spend hours bumming around the ‘net (after I check my email, of course!). I’m going to take a walk, instead, or read one of the many books I have waiting on my to-read list.
And when I write, I’m going to do it differently — I’m going to do just it. I’m going to disable the Internet, close my web browser, and refuse to do anything other than pour every creative impulse onto the page.
I’m going to change my life.
And isn’t that Three New Leaves is about in the first place?
WHY YOU SHOULD JOIN ME
This is drastic stuff. I can’t deny it, folks, and nor can I claim that it’ll help you as much as it’s already helping me. My own experiences with digital sabbaticals really drove home how tech-dependent I am, after all, and you might be on the opposite side of the spectrum.
Here’s the thing, though: I bet I’m not alone in this. Sure, you might not be as tech-obsessed as I am, but there are a number of things you might do without even realizing it:
- Do you ever hold conversations with people without ever looking at them (too busy texting, maybe)?
- Do you instinctively turn on the TV while you eat?
- Have you ever found yourself watching TV while playing with your laptop at the same time?
- Do you check your inbox multiple times within the span of thirty minutes — not out of obsession, but maybe just out of boredom?
- Do you find yourself juggling incoming messages, texts, and IMs all at the same time?
- Do you ever sit down in front of your laptop, determined to get some work done, and look up a few hours later with the feeling that you didn’t accomplish much at all?
The list goes on. But here’s the last question: did you say YES to any of the above?
You’re not alone.
TRY AND MAKE A CHANGE
Here’s my “plan of attack.” Yours might not look the same.
Email: I’ll check it twice a day. Once in the morning, if I have time for it, and once again in the evening. I’m doing this to try and break the mindless habit of eyeing my inbox, and I’m trying to stop letting new email — whether I have any or not — affect my mood.
It won’t be easy. But I’m also going to drop down and do twenty pushups every time I find myself checking without thinking, which should be just wacky enough to work.
Twitter: I won’t limit the number of times I check it, but how I check it. I took the Twitter app off my phone. I don’t think this is 100% necessary, sure, but it’s a good way to break the habit. And, honestly, what would you rather do: live life, or read someone else’s tweets about it?
iPhone: I’ve nixed the Twitter app, sure, but also my shortcuts to my inboxes. I did this about two weeks back and fretted about missing something important (or time-sensitive), but here’s some truth for you: emails are very rarely pressing. That’s not to say they’re not important, and that’s not to say you won’t ever get one that needs to be handled immediately — but the overwhelming majority can be handled in a designated email window without causing problems.
This won’t apply, honestly, if you’re the high-stressed business type. But if you are, I get the feeling you’re looking to change that, and rethinking whether you need to be constantly connected is a great way to start.
Writing: Internet disabled (blocked, actually, using the Mac app Concentrate), browser closed, nothing open on my screen save for my writing program of choice. I’m going to sit down, I’m going to write, and anyone who tries to stop me had better be very, very afraid.
TV: I don’t watch much in the first place. Next time I sit on the couch, though, I’m going to do just that: sit and watch. I won’t have my laptop open, I won’t have my phone in my hands. If there’s something on TV that is worth my time, then I’m going to give it my full attention for as long as it needs.
Life: I’m going to enjoy it. I’m going to savor each bite, fully devote myself to each conversation, and take a chance to admire my surroundings whenever I’m out and about. I’m removing the Internet as my go-to time-waster, now, and substituting a book, movie, or friend instead.
Notice the common trend?
I’m doing one thing at a time. I’m dropping out of a culture that favors multi-tasking and productivity, and I’m doing what I want to do instead.
I want to live free, unencumbered, and fully absorbed — fully alive — in every moment I get.
Your individual changes will be different, I’ll bet, but the intention — the goal — is the same.
You want to bring the focus back to life. You don’t want to spend hours each day with your eyes locked on a computer screen. You want to remember what it feels like to be fully involved in the outside world again, without the crutch of technology to keep you happy or entertained.
Maybe you just want to have a true, proper meal with your family for a change: no TV, no phones, no distractions. Maybe you just want to remember how many beautiful things exist in the world around you — and maybe you realize how hard it is to see them when you have one eye on the sky and the other on your iPhone.
Maybe you just want to focus. Maybe you want to try giving your full attention to just one thing at a time — to every second of the day. You’re tired of juggling a thousand different thoughts and a thousand different browser tabs and a thousand different distractions — you want to do one thing at a time, and you want to do it as well as you can. You want to enjoy it, too.
You just want to be open to the life all around you. You want to close the laptop and share coffee with a friend. You want to keep the TV off when you come home from work and go throw a ball around with your kids. You want, more than anything else, to create memories — the kind that’s hard to make when you’re stuck on Facebook.
This world is a beautiful, crazy thing, and you don’t want to miss a single moment of it because you had your eyes locked instead on a little glowing screen.
Trust me on that one.
Join me. For the month of November, if nothing else, and maybe for every month after it too.
Leave a comment below with some ideas for how you’re going to make changes in your own life, and please spread the word as far as you can if you like this post. There’s a certain irony in using the Internet to spread a message about backing away from the Internet, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant in a world that lives and breathes on the speed of its broadband connection.
And one last thing: go read Focus, Leo Babauta’s new book. I downloaded the free version on a whim and really enjoyed the ideas contained inside — particularly the emphasis on focusing on one thing at a time.
The idea to reduce my dependency on technology — and, subsequently, this post! — are a direct result of reading it. Thanks, Leo, for helping me focus on what matters.
Thanks so much for reading! If you like what’s going on around here, then why not have free updates sent directly to your inbox or to your RSS reader? I really appreciate it! And you can follow me on Twitter, too. That always makes me smile.