Being present and living in the moment is one of the key principles I’ve learned through my meditation practice over the past few years. Meditation reinforces the principle by having you sit quietly and observe your thoughts. It’s an interesting process, and one that can be unsettling and sometimes a bit scary when you have a mind as active as mine.
Anyways, my meditation practice has encouraged me to look for ways to improve being present when I’m not sitting alone with my thoughts. There are so many things that vie for our attention during the day that it’s easy to get distracted. If I were to list the biggest offenders, the internet and my phone would be near the top of the list, if not at the top.
While I’d like to experiment with disconnecting for multiple days, it’s not something that’s easy to do given my work. So I find it interesting to read (and learn) about others’ experiences. The latest experience came courtesy of David McCain, who runs the blog Raptitude.com. You can read about his full experience here – https://www.raptitude.com/2022/02/what-i-learned-during-my-three-days-offline/
I really enjoyed the post and figured I’d share the things I learned from it.
(Not lost on me is the irony of having to be online to read a post about what I learned about someone else being offline, but that’s a topic for another time.)
- It’s not that hard
It’s easy to make excuses for why I can’t spend one or two days offline. The reality is that it is about making a choice and being disciplined to stick with it. It also helps, as David did, to put your phone and computer out of sight. “Out of sight, out of mind” works.
- Online activities are driven by habit over necessity
The need to be online is a learned behavior that becomes a habit. Is it really necessary to constantly monitor emails and social networking feeds? Of course not. We tend to reach for these instinctively when we need to fill time, even if it’s just a few seconds. It’s no different than a smoker who instinctively reaches for a cigarette when they’re bored.
- The internet has fragmented our attention span
The internet does not encourage us to focus. It encourages us to jump mindlessly from one activity to another. Check the weather, read the latest news, check sports scores, scroll through feeds, read a couple emails. None of these activities require deep, intense focus. It’s no wonder we walk around in a fog, a state of continual distraction unable to remember why we walked to the kitchen. As David pointed out, with which I would concur, “…my phone habits could only have trained my attention to branch constantly, seeking gratification on demand, and instantly-Googled answers to every question occurring to the mind.”
- Our phones and the internet are tools for us to use, not the other way around
Taking a break from being online allows one to re-evaluate how one uses the internet. As such, it allows one to create intention when using it. Instead of the internet being a place that leads one around by the hand, the internet becomes a tool that one uses with intention. It’s a subtle change, but a powerful one.
- The big platforms are in control, if one allows them to be
I’ve been around the internet for over 25 years. In the early days of the internet, you found out where to go primarily while offline, talking and sharing with friends being one of the key ways. Sure there were places like Yahoo! that curated links, but those sites weren’t driven by algorithms that are intentionally designed to hijack your attention and keep you online. No matter where you go these days, the big platforms are lurking. They’re feeding us what they want us to see, all in the hope of getting us to stay online a little longer, to see more ads, to click through every now and then. I don’t use this word lightly, but the big platforms are exploiting us, the users, for profit. I’ve already voiced my opinion on this subject. You can read the full rant here.
- Being online is convenient, but not a necessity
Think about what you do online. While some people, like me, use it for work, most of our activities are banal. Scroll through some feeds, respond to and file emails, check the weather, jump from one news site to another, respond to a text message or two. Are these really mission critical activities? As David found out, you don’t miss out on much by being offline for a few days. If anything, you discover more of what you have been missing out in the real world. Now, I’m not saying you should go AWOL and be incommunicado. You should still be reachable by phone and check-in on text messages. It’s more about having the discipline of using the tools rather than the tools using you. And I will tell you this, up until mid/late twenties, I enjoyed life just fine without a phone. I survived without being reachable 24/7, which is the basis of a story or two I’ll tell another time.
I highly recommend reading David’s post. Do so while considering your own phone and online usage patterns. His post has some great information and a few recommendations that can help you adjust your online habits, for the better. I know that It was a good reminder for me to re-evaluate how I use the internet when I’m not working so I can be more focused and present, two things that would make my ‘virtual’ meditation instructor mighty happy, not to mention those around me.