My Week of Digital Midfulness

I don’t know about you but I am connected to the internet way too much.

Last Sunday, a week ago today, I had some time to reflect on how I’d been feeling this semester and the news was not good. I’d been staying up too late on weeknights which resulted in almost never getting eight (or even seven) hours of sleep… and the sleep that I had been getting was shallow and fretful. Although I have been blogging and writing a bit over the past few weeks, most of my internet time was spent checking Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and blog stats… flipping through from one tab to another the way that some people flip through television channels to see if anything interesting is on.

Actually, that is exactly the way that I was using the internet. Is there anything interesting and meaningful and relevant for me NOW? How about now? Okay… is there anything now?

Finally, at the end of the evening, I would close my computer and walk to my bedroom to go to bed but the problem was that my heart was still racing. I was all keyed up from several mindless hours online.

I absolutely know this isn’t good for me. Almost daily, I talk with high school students about their internet usage and I help them to develop a better awareness of how they use their time online. We talk about how to achieve greater balance… how to get their work done and to also have online time which is a treat. (Ah… the irony is not lost on me.)

Clearly, I am not anti-internet. So many of my most important social connections and my creative outlets occur online. The wonky bit… the reason that things slipped out of balance… was that I had stopped unplugging between those important bits of connection and creativity. I had absolutely moved into the world of the internet and had become a bit of a junkie.

Here the thing… I am a real live woman and I want to live in the real world.

The first thing I did was to go through my Twitter feed and cull, with very few exceptions, all of the people who were not following me. I felt lighter immediately; the amount of stuff coming at me via Twitter suddenly felt more manageable and relevant. Honestly, I’m still not sure that I have found my tribe on Twitter. Generally speaking, my experience of Twitter is that people are there to sell their own thing and most folks are not reaching out to form communities of like-minded souls. For me, Facebook is a much better online community but I also know almost all of my Facebook friends in the real world.

My second digital mindfulness decision was that during the week of May 14-18 I would not go online before or after the workday. With the exception of my Gratitude 365 project and emails that had to be sent, I would not be online at home. How hard can that be, I thought. As it turns out, it was extremely challenging at first; upon waking each morning, I had to remind myself not to reach for the computer to check my personal and work email. Amazingly, after the first couple of days, I actually began to feel physically better. I slept eight hours or more a night. In just six days, I read two novels, including Holly Thompson’s amazing YA novel Orchards and started a third book. We cooked more meals at home, I watched some television and a movie with DP and I worked on several writing projects.

When it was time to upload my Gratitude 365 photo each day, I’d say to DP, “Okay. I’m uploading my gratitude photo to Flickr now” and he’d nod and smile because I certainly didn’t need his permission… but he knew that I like that level of transparency. By reporting my usage, I was letting him know that I was keeping my Gratitude 365 commitment but also honouring my week-long promise to myself to stay internet-free at home.

At the end of this week, I feel more peaceful. There is less (random, meaningless) junk in my brain and I like how that feels. This evening, I imagine my mind as a vast open space of soft, green grass and blue skies where I can write novels and play more often. The extra sleeps makes me healthier, more energetic and more patient.

This is the beginning of a habit of greater digital mindfulness. This one week has made it much easier for me to snap the lid closed after I have blogged or worked on a writing project for an hour. One week of digital mindfulness has made my off-line, real-world choices seem more obvious and more attractive.

Ultimately, I hope to find a comfortable balance of online and off that allows me to benefit from the best of what the internet has to offer… without disappearing into the (virtual) quicksand.

Update on 20 May 2012:
I found this amazing resource from Learning Fundamentals. Jane created this mind map after reading Leo Babauta’s (free) eBook Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction.
* Please note that I will not be reading this book today! 🙂
**Click on the image to see a larger copy of the mind map.

What about you? Is this something you struggle with? How do you achieve balance?

10 comments

  1. Can’t tell you the degree to which I can relate. I imagine others can say the same. At least we are mindful of it. Though social media seems to be the cigarettes of this century…

  2. Great post! I have found that the best way to “disconnect” is to find more meaningful ways to spend your free time. For example, I have taken up yoga which is by far the best way to become more mindful of your body and mind. 🙂

    In addition, it’s nice to have a plan for the time your spend online. For example, “I am going to spend X amount of minutes on Twitter, Facebook, etc. then I will log out.”

    It is more about self-control that anything else, like all other nasty habits (including cigarettes).

    My wordpress blog focuses on social media and PR, but I just wrote something similar about disconnecting from technology on my Tumblr: http://sweetserendipity03.tumblr.com/post/22149481481/a-few-moments-without-technology

    1. Thanks, Amanda. Great ideas about yoga and setting a time limit for using social media. I think it’s also an issue of awareness… the awareness of what we are missing when we are constantly plugged in.

  3. I love your blog, writing, and photos and check in frequently (LOL)! I can relate to what you’re saying…my silly little iPhone makes it way too easy for me to keep up with social media sites and stay connected…by the way, I lived in Beppu many years ago. Perhaps you’ll be able to go there while you’re living in Japan…

  4. I can relate 100% to everything you said. I need to learn to manage my time better online and a week long detox might be just the thing. Usually when I DO have something purposeful to do online I end up spending so much time checking FB, Twitter, Google Reader, Flickr, etc., that I am too tired to do the thing I sat down to do! Alerts on the phone are no help either. In the morning when I wake up I check all sorts of emails and notifications squinty eyed and half asleep that I later forget about the important emails I read.

    1. Thanks, Lindsay. You’ve raised a really important issue here… about how we have started to fall into a mindset where all of these messages we’re receiving have equal value or priority when they clearly do not. I like how gmail allows you to star certain items so that you remember how important they are.
      Also, Twitter makes my heart race because I feel like I’m not reading the stream fast enough. I’m probably doing something wrong 🙂

  5. It’s such a difficult habit to manage, isn’t it? I can certainly relate to your feeling of not being able to control your on-line habits. One thing that helps me tremendously is that when I have a blog post to write, I do it sitting on the couch, not connected to the internet (which is in a different room–I don’t have wireless at home). That way, I have my blank page in front of me, I’m comfortable, and I feel like my mind is cleared of the temptation to hop on-line.

    Your blog and Flickr posts are always a treat, Monna. Also, you have validated my decision to not join Twitter! I’m on Facebook for my family, but I’m grateful to have avoided Twitter because I’m sure I would love it too much 😉

  6. Thanks for the excellent post. This is something I struggle with as well, and also must discuss with my students. And thank you for posting that excellent graphic–can’t wait to share that with my students in the fall.

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