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The case for the technology purge

Written by: Dr. B

A few months ago I made the decision to have Technology Purge Sundays. I walked into Verizon and asked them to help me set up my new Blackberry which would serve as my red phone; the emergency line should someone need me or I fall into a hole. They were intrigued by the request and poked at it with a stick as they tried to recall how in the world to set one of these up. I was buying my sanity back and incurring the additional monthly cost as my self-imposed tax for quality life.

My Blackberry has changed my freaking life.

 

Just as vulnerable as anyone else, I'm the quintessential tech junkie. This became most apparent the first few weeks of my experiment when I would reach out for my phantom phone, horrified at my impulsive reflex to reach for it first thing in the morning and any breadth of pause longer than 10 seconds. My Blackberry was only a hair better than those phone surrogates that came out a while back. "Here, hold this black weighty brick so it feels like you're holding the real thing." My arm would spasm out and recoil back in sad, horrified recognition that I was, indeed, left to be with myself. WTF. This is exactly the kind of wild-haired idea I'd sign myself up for. 

I bought myself an iPod to accompany me with the specific purpose of music, podcasts, and audiobooks with no other apps to entice me with.

The mental difference between that and just putting my iPhone on airplane or Do Not Disturb was enormous. I was cut off. The possibility didn't even exist. My Sundays are now my most precious days. I sit in my backyard with my headphones on as I listen to books that have been rotting away on my reading list; looking at the trees and tanning under the hot Texas sun with my sweating mason jar of lemonade beside me. It's absolutely delicious.

This Sunday, the extra brain space prompted me to look around and pick up a book I bought at Barnes and Noble last Christmas that's now turned into decor on my bedside table. It's the latest book by David Sedaris; a compilation of diary entries called Theft by Finding. I cracked that baby open and took a peruse. Journaling is one of those things I do off and on.  Reading Sedaris' entries inspired me and reminded me of why I enjoy the practice so much. He mentioned his observation of a stranger eating a sandwich with his eyes closed and how freaking captivating he found it. I've missed having the bandwidth to see more of that kind of sh*t. Observation is one of my favorite past times. It's what's always kept me happy and in the moment.

As a culture, I'm afraid we're fostering an environment for ourselves that leaves us restless and infuses a sneaking sensation of unfulfillment via lost hours of life (that are snatched in 15 minute increments) and subtle messages regarding other people's successes versus our own.

When I'm mid technology purge, I don't seek out to do more with my time. My Sundays rather, are about the opposite. They're about doing less. But once the noise is gone I'm left with nothing but myself and less obvious opportunities soon present themselves to me in tiny, meaningful packages.

>> So here's my invitation for you. For the sake of fostering a new type of environment that doesn't subtly suck you dry of time and spirit:

1. Take on a technology purge.

Whether that's putting your phone on Do Not Disturb and leaving it in another room entirely or going more out-there like me (note: that's not because I'm more extreme, it's just because I know my impulse control and prefer to not have the option to slip back into old patterns). Limit yourself to activities that bring you true enjoyment. That could be music, cooking, writing, reading, or similar activities that move positive emotions and pull more creative and engaged thought. That's part of my hunch with technology's effect on our mood: we're doing something and nothing simultaneously. As human beings, we feel more fulfilled when our mind has the room to open, chew on things, and build. It allows us to ponder and engage more creatively.

2. Engage in 5 minutes of sense and savoring throughout your day.

One of my girlfriends is a psychologist and we went on a camping trip together last year. She had just come back from a week long retreat on mindfulness and thought it would be fun to do an exercise together (because mindfulness is awesome and we're nerds for psychology). The activity is to put away your phone and for 5 minutes, you tune into your 5 senses. That means bringing your awareness to what you see, hear, smell, feel, and maybe even taste. Once I stopped judging myself for how silly we probably looked as we meandered in the woods, I was amazed by what unfolded in front of me. All of a sudden I noticed the texture of the bark and the gorgeous variations of color in each portion of the tree in front of me. The bird song became more distinct and melodious. My body softened and joy came pouring in in the form of awe. Now, anytime I notice I'm going a mile a minute, I slow down and give myself 5 minutes. Whether that's to eat lunch or listen to the rain outside on the back porch with my dog. They invite contentment and bliss into my life. My 5 minutes of sense and savoring are some of my favorite moments of the day.

3. Make a list of the people you'd connect with and things you'd do if you had more time (and then refer to it).

When I feel like I'm piddling around doing nothing, I have a list I go to that helps me re-focus my attention on something I actually want to be cultivating. So when I notice I'm scrolling, I remember, "Hey, B, there's this cool new relationship you want to nurture, why don't you go ask them to coffee instead?" or "Hey, remember that time you said you wanted to be like Blues Traveler and learn how to play the harmonica like a boss? Why don't you grab that ol' thing and give it a whirl much to your husband's delight?" Sometimes we need grounding. Sometimes we need redirection.

4. Keep a journal to note your observations every day.

This practice will prime you to slow down and reflect. It's also really fun to read back as it jogs all kinds of memories that would otherwise get lost and pruned away for more important neural connections like who got into a beef with who in the latest season of Real Housewives. Write down your observations for the day. What you noticed. The moments that brought you contentment. It's something to read when we're old so we can remember that yes, we lived and it was freaking beautiful amidst all the grief and all the hard that comes with living. Or you can read it next week because we forget things REALLY quickly.

So give yourself a moment, or heck, even a day. DAYS of just being with yourself are the most incredible. No more neglect. No more sneaky sadness when your cup runs dry and you don't know how. Take on the technology purge. I'm curious to see what unfolds for you in unexpected ways. 

To the well lived life,

Dr. B

 

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