Family · Kids · Mindfulness · motherhood

Finding peace with your smartphone

Do you ever feel like you’re an elastic band? Stretched thin and pulled in every direction except for the one you’re longing to be. That is inward, towards you. Your centre. That place of peace and listening and knowing within yourself. Sometimes I forget that place even exists, or how to get there.

Life can feel like an hourglass, my time quickly depleting, held in the controlling hands of all things external. Commercials and billboards, tweets and e-mails. And though I want to invest in the world and the people around me, there is only so much of me I can give away until I become useless. An overstimulated, irritable, unapproachable individual. I prefer the happier me. The one that can pause mid sentence in the book lying open on my lap and answer your questions, listen to your stories, laugh at your jokes.

I am trying to slow down and simplify. To find my focus again. I want to piece my thoughts back together, myself back together, so that I feel less like that near-to-splitting rubber band and more like the whole me. The best me.

I am trying to minimize what I can so that I can maximize who I am.

Enter my Achilles heel – my beautiful, faithful, smartphone. The wonderful world at my fingertips that has so much to offer yet more often than not feels like I possess some kind of serious weapon which I have little training for.

It’s nothing new. I think we’re all familiar with the powerful, never-ending pull of technology on our lives. We experience it when we log on to Facebook to check when the birthday party starts, yet we find ourselves, 30 minutes later, still scrolling through our news feed. And we still don’t know the time of the party. We laugh it off. Harmless distractions, it seems. Until this happens again, and again, and again. And that elastic band just keeps on stretching. Those windows of time to find my centre, to be who I am, to dive into the ideas that are calling to me, getting smaller and smaller.

I know I am not the first person to be concerned about the effect technology is having on my day-to-day routine, and on my children’s. But I don’t think the solution is to just shrug my shoulders, whisper a ‘suck it up buttercup’ to my more idealistic self, and accept that this is the world we live in. I guess I just want to take charge again. Of my time, my attention, my life, and what it is I want to be doing with these things. I want technology to support me, not hinder me.

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“We need to acknowledge that we are persuadable…We need to see ourselves fundamentally in a new way. It’s almost like a new period of human history like the Enlightenment, but almost a kind of self-aware enlightenment. That we can be persuaded and there might be something we want to protect.”

This is a quote from a recent Ted Talk by Tristan Harris, who spent three years as a Google Design Ethicist. His job there was to figure out ways to use screens to “ethically” steer the thoughts and actions of billions of people. Yes, there are rooms of people sitting at computers inventing ways to make you and I spend more time on their apps and websites, and if that doesn’t make you want to be more self-aware about your technology use, I don’t know what will.

It’s not new, or secret, information that technology is racing for our attention. I’m not even a minute into the YouTube video I’ve purposefully set out to watch during that golden hour of my toddler’s nap, notebook and pen perched in front of me like an eager student, and a link pops up on the screen that reads “Suggested video…”. Now instead of focusing on the speaker on the screen, I’m wondering what the suggested video has to offer me that the first one might not. And then, just seconds after my video ends, a new one autoplays. I don’t even have a chance to think twice. Not to mention the long list of “Up Next” videos that run down the side of the screen, it’s no wonder that I feel like I’ve completed some marathon-like feat if I’m able to close my computer after watching the one and only video I had intended to watch.

Do I want to feel this exhausted every time I enter the world of technology? My two boys are enough of a pull on my attention. Tugging on my arms, yelling at me from opposite ends of the house, speaking over each other until my gaze stops directly on them. Going on social media only adds to the noise, though it’s more like being in a room with 50 toddlers screaming for my attention, not just one.

I understand the positives. Technology connects us. Teaches us. Inspires us. But it definitely has it’s downsides.

Creators of smartphones and social media platforms want our attention, and they’re getting very good at this. With features such as the “like” button they have found ways to hook us with spurts of dopamine. It’s nearly impossible to resists the red icons — they chose this colour for that very reason — that are begging to be clicked on my Facebook and Instagram pages. I can barely ever resist the “scroll down to refresh” feature, it’s a slot machine at my fingertips. What did I miss? What will show up next? Am I famous yet?

It’s not a surprise that there are and will be negative consequences when these systems are just a click away and available to us any second of the day.

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And yet, I haven’t thrown my phone away, deleted all of my social media accounts, or decided to disconnect from the Internet entirely.

It’s little changes that I’m finding are helping. Removing any and all push notifications (yes, these are optional). Being more self-aware of why I’m checking an account (am I bored? lonely? looking for validation? Didn’t I just check this 3 minutes ago?!). Leaving my phone out of reach whenever possible (one mommy blogger I follow keeps hers in the kitchen drawer during the day). If I’m on my computer for a specific task I might write down my purpose on a sticky note (i.e. write for 30 minutes) so that if (and when) I feel the pull elsewhere, I will remember what I came to do. It’s about using technology to help me, and not letting it control me. 

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Last week we woke to a winter wonderland. Rooftops and tree branches were blanketed in the brightest, softest, most dazzling snow. We begin the long process of bathroom trips, sweaters, socks, and mittens and when everyone is (finally) bundled we step outside into the fluffy white.

All is calm.

Don’t you love how snow quiets everything? After it snows it’s like the world stands still for a moment. Time slips by, unnoticed. We catch snowflakes on our tongues, laugh ourselves silly as we sled down a 2 foot hill in the backyard. The hourglass is in my hands, I’m sure of this. I snap a couple pictures but other than this my phone remains untouched. I feel light. I feel free. Like the way it is supposed to be.

It is possible to find your way back to centre. To protect the things that are important to us. To resist the pull without losing our minds.

We can do this.

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Tell me, what are some ways you manage your use of your phone and the place of social media in your life and/or your business? What helps you stay centred with all of these distractions? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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