A couple of weeks ago, the internet in our house stopped working. Videos froze. Emails wouldn't load. I couldn't work in the way that I normally do, and I panicked. After six hours on the phone, five days without service, two trips to pick up a new modem, two home visits, and one crane, our connection to the world was restored. Somewhat surprisingly, we were only reluctantly glad to be back online. During our week without the internet, I slept more, finished a book, saw more friends, and cared less about responding immediately to emails. It was, of course, frustrating at times, but it also felt like fresh air had wafted into our lives. It was also expertly timed, as I had planned on writing this post months ago and was given this opportunity (read: was forced) to intentionally re-negotiate my relationship with my phone, the internet, and television (hereafter, "technology").
Our ability to connect with new ideas, people, and places across time and space is amazing. We're able to integrate our work and our personal lives in a way that gives us more flexibility and autonomy than ever before. Technology is truly a gift in that regard.
But like any good thing, too much of it can be destructive, and this has proven to be true in my experience and in the lives of so many others I know. Our constant connectivity feels exhilarating and intriguing at times, but we're also left feeling overwhelmed and fractured. We can't sit and read for hours on end like we used to, everyone on Facebook looks like they're having the time of their lives, and we measure our self-worth in likes and shares.
This post isn't about what you need to stop doing. We all have a finite amount of self-discipline, and if you're reading this post, you probably already have other things you're working on in order to improve your life. This post is about becoming aware of how you relate to technology. It's about having more time, attention, and feeling more depth. It's about expanding the things that nourish you so that you feel less compelled to refresh your Instagram feed every five minutes.
Your relationship with technology can change. It can be re-negotiated so that you have more room in your life for the things that actually feed your soul. Here are some ideas for how to do that:
Set an intention for change. Before you do anything - and if you do nothing else - just intend to change your relationship with technology. You can simply say something like "I intend to change my relationship with the internet so that it's energizing and not draining." I know it might sound kooky, but just try it. You've gotta start somewhere, and nothing will shift unless you intend it.
Imagine your device is a tool, like a car. Sometimes we talk about technology like it literally owns us, but it doesn't. Technology is just a tool, that's it. It's an awesome example of design and engineering, but it's there to be used. A car is also pretty amazing, but it exists in order to transport us from one place to another. You can choose to drive it or not drive it. It can be a blessing, or it can leave you on the side of a highway and guzzle up all of your money in repairs. The point is this: your phone, computer, the internet - all of those things are just tools that you can choose to use as much or as little as you want. Technology is mundane, and we're always in the driver's seat.
Notice when it feels good and when it drains you. I know that if I'm checking email after 8:00 at night or so, it's because I'm bored or anxious. I don't enjoy it, but for some reason, I feel compelled to do it. It's the same with any online activity - after a certain point in the day, it's not serving me any purpose, it's just using up precious attention and energy. Get to know this difference for yourself - when does getting online or on your phone feel helpful, and when does it leave you feeling anxious or drained?
Make a list of things you'd rather be doing. What do you want to do instead of perusing your Twitter feed, reading online news, or binge watching shows on Netflix? What are the things you're always saying you wish you had more time to do? These don't even have to be things you want to do - maybe you just want more time to be. In my experience, limiting my time online or in front of the television frees up the space I've been looking for in life, and it might be the same for you. What are the things that excite you or really feel rejuvenating? Can you add any more of those things into your life, even if it's just in 15 or 30 minute chunks?
Set boundaries and unplug. I would argue that most good things in life are even better when they exist within a container. You love your spouse, but you need time alone. You love your work, but you need time away from it. You love your kids, but oh my gosh, you need a weekend alone at the beach. It's the same with technology. It can be awesome and totally expand your world, but it needs to be shut off from time to time. You need to unplug. Your brain and your soul need you to unplug. Whether it's putting your phone on "do not disturb" at night, turning off internet access every Sunday, or going on an email sabbatical* once a year, do it. Do your relationship with technology a favor and give it some breathing room.
I want to reiterate that this isn't about you doing anything wrong or the need to make big, sweeping changes in your life. Actual change is much more sustainable when we're making small shifts that feel good to us, so if you want to change your relationship with technology, just focus on what you want more of in your life.
When you focus on the things that actually nourish you, your relationship with technology will, almost without you noticing it, transform into a healthier one.
Know someone who could use some help putting this into practice? Coaching gift cards are now available on my website! Click here to learn more.
*Check out this podcast episode with danah boyd, a technology researcher who takes an annual email sabbatical. She literally does not receive email for an extended period of time every year, and it sounds amazing!