Recently, there’s been a lot of writing about how to mindfully cope with our addiction to technology. We’re beginning to develop a whole new lexicon, that includes words like “text claw” and “wexting” (texting while walking) to speak about this strange new world. I’ve written before about how technology is supposed to help us feel connected, but, in fact, amplifies an experience counter to this, fueling a sense we are missing out on connecting with our friends, community and the natural world around us.
Inspired (perhaps ironically!) by these web articles and by the always thought provoking and relevant podcast Note to Self, I recently went on a tech cleanse in order to experience JOMO (the joy of missing out). Rather than trying to peruse and accumulate as much information as possible, I set a personal goal that I would only consume information over the course of the week that allowed me to be more in tune with myself. Over the course of each of the 5 days of my cleanse, I refined the process by which I strove towards my goal: I did one thing at a time, tried to meaningfully reflect on the information I was looking at, and did my best to ignore the internet memes that I encountered every time I picked up my smartphone or opened my computer.
As I embarked on this tech cleanse, I found having a goal for what I sought in the information I poured through helped me to thoughtfully navigate, and to some extent, even spare myself my usual state of information overload and general overwhelm. With the knowledge that I was picking up my phone or opening my laptop to find resources that would help me to get more in tune with myself, I didn’t get sucked into my usual swiping-scrolling-tapping trance. Over the course of the week, the constant impulse I usually felt to reach for my phone for fear of missing out on the latest constellation of headlines and trends began to fade.
At the end of the cleanse, I put a sticky note on my laptop reminding me “read what you want, not what you ‘should.'” And it did work for a little while. The sticky note is still on my computer, though I notice it less and less as I am immediately pulled, like a moth, to the glow of my laptop. I can’t say I’m doing the best job sticking with this goal. To my disappointment, now that the cleanse is over, I have noticed that my old habits are creeping back. But I do engage differently with my smartphone and computer. I haven’t been checking Facebook or Twitter as much as I previously did. I’ve even felt more comfortable batching my emails and responding to them a few times a day, rather than constantly checking my account.
As I look back on this experience, the fact that I had to do a guided tech cleanse in order to regain my sense of natural spaciousness and connection concerns me. Some claim that tech designers have an ethical responsibility to design apps and other new technologies that do not feed on our FOMO (fear of missing out).
Perhaps Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom that falls slightly less than a month from now, can serve as an opportunity to try this cleanse again and check in on how I’ve been relating to the information I encounter in the interim. During the eight days of this holiday, Jewish people around the world clean out their “hametz” (leaven), which some interpret as the stuff that swells our egos, junk food for the soul (a great way of characterizing internet memes, if I ever heard one!). This year I invite you to join me in a tech cleanse, however you feel comfortable doing it, for this eight day journey toward liberation (and check out Infomagical on the “Note to Self” podcast if you want a helpful guide!).