Because sequels are all the rage these days, it’s time for the sequel to my post about technology stealing your soul. This is the Great Technology Ripoff 2: How to Steal Your Soul Back. Yes, technology may have taken something very valuable from you, but you can take it back and return to your original, creative, focused self. It’s going to take some work and more than a little willpower, but it is possible to have technology in your life without letting it steal your very essence. You should run it, it shouldn’t run you.
Simple awareness is really the first key in getting your soul back. Days get busy and it’s easy to lose track of just how much time mindless technology use is sucking up. (Remember the 50 days per year statistic from my prior piece? Keeping that in mind will help here. Nothing like scaring the crap out of yourself to snap yourself in line.) A few scrolls in the morning, some scrolling after dinner, some mindless surfing during the afternoon and easily a few hours are gone.
The first step in recovery is figuring out how much time you’re losing. Start tracking your usage. When you log on or start scrolling, note the time. Note it again when you put it away. Be mindful of when you’re using technology and why. Are you bored? Avoiding something? Are you having fun, doing something productive, or just killing time? Knowing these two pieces of information (how much and why/when) will help you get a handle on your consumption. And make limiting your use easier. (It’s much easier to limit usage when you can see that it’s excessive and mostly unnecessary.) Once you’ve got that information, here are some ideas for getting your soul back.
If you know you’re using tech too much, it’s time to moderate that usage. There are a few ways to make this work. There’s simple willpower — “I will not log on until 2:00 PM,” for example. Or you can pretend that you’re being charged by the minute. You can set timers when you log on or begin scrolling and stop when the timer’s up. There are apps that will physically block your online access for a period of time, or blacklist problematic sites for you. Or both. (You can also go app-free and just unplug your router, making it inconvenient to hop on and off the internet at random intervals.) You can put your phone in a drawer or safe for a couple of hours while you work on other projects.
Use whatever method works for you. This will help you break the habit of mindless, unnecessary use. When you have a time limit, you’ll be more likely to do only what’s necessary and no more. If you’re using blocking apps or unplugging the router, you’re forcing yourself to find other things to do and to question whether or not you really need to be online.
Go cold turkey, at least for a while.
Moderation doesn’t work for some people. Some people just need to go cold turkey, at least for a while, in order to break that mindless connection. It may be painful and inconvenient, but for some it’s the only answer. If you can’t exercise enough willpower, you can shut off/suspend your home internet service. Give your phone to a friend for safe-keeping, or put it in a bank box. If you need internet for things like paying bills or job searching, use public terminals in the library. The goal is to stop automatically reaching for a device every time you have a spare moment, or when you’re bored or anxious. Going cold turkey will allow you to find other, more useful things with which to fill your time.
Stop beating yourself up about the waste to this point.
I see many people beating themselves up over the time they’ve wasted. “I’ve wasted years of my life that I could have been… [insert goals here].” Don’t do that. It’s fine to acknowledge the waste; that can motivate you to change. But dwelling on it is pointless. You can’t change the past, or get that time back. Move on and vow to do better in the future.
Spend more time in the real world doing analog activities.
When you’re looking for things to do, put the devices down and venture out into the real world. Go to a bookstore and read or get a coffee. Do something physical like go for a bike ride, or even try bowling or skating. Hang out with friends at a park or restaurant and ask that no devices be used during the time. Check out your local museums and attractions, and look for festivals or fairs to attend. There’s probably tons of stuff in your area you’ve never done. Find clubs or classes related to your hobbies and interests. Real life doesn’t happen behind a screen. It happens out in the world. Get out there and see what’s going on.
Use technology for useful things only.
When you’re moderating your usage (and after you’ve got it more under control), it’s useful to ask yourself, “Is this useful?” before going online or opening an app (and as you move from site to site or app to app). Looking up the weather forecast? Useful. Doing research for school? Useful. Scrolling Instagram? Not useful. Playing yet another game of Candy Crush? Not useful. Breaking down your usage into useful and not useful categories can help you see where you’re wasting time. Limit your use to productive things and you’ll see your device time go way down. (And be honest. It does you no good to convince yourself that an hour on Twitter was somehow useful because you saw a news headline.)
Stop procrastinating on the things you want to do.
Whether we mean to or not, technology often becomes a form of procrastination. “Oh, I couldn’t do XYZ today because I was so busy!” (Where “busy” is code for “wasted the whole day surfing Reddit.”) Technology allows us to avoid doing other things while still looking like we’re doing something. In the end, though, you aren’t really doing something. At least not something that matters to you in the long run.
Instead of defaulting to technology, start defaulting to all those things you say you want to do, but which get buried under the hours of wasted time. Want to read more books? Then read them. Develop your art or music skills? Practice. Spend more time with family? Go visit. Whatever you’re avoiding, go do the thing instead of reaching for the device. Train yourself to default to the meaningful things in life.
Work on your real self, not your social media self.
Im amazed at how much time and effort people put into creating and maintaining their social media personas. Taking pictures, applying filters, coming up with pithy captions or cute tweets, chasing followers… It all takes time. And for what? So people can look at someone (you) they don’t even know and say, “What a life this person has!” What’s the point of that, other than ego gratification? Where’s the real life?
It’s more worthwhile to work on your actual self. Learn new skills that can help you in your career, or which you find useful or fun. Work on whatever issues and weaknesses you have so that you become a better person. You know, the kind of person people want to be actual friends with. Improve your mental and physical health. Learn more about the world so you can be a better citizen of it. Volunteer with those less fortunate and practice empathy for people with struggles not your own. Work on being a better human being rather than spending time becoming a virtual human.
Remember that time is your most precious resource. Use it wisely.
This is the most important thing. Time is a finite resource and it’s passing whether you’re scrolling through your feeds or climbing mountains. You don’t know how much time you have, so you’d better not waste it. Do you really want to lie on your deathbed recounting all the things you saw on Facebook, or would you rather recount the times you did amazing things in real life? Always ask yourself, “If it all ends tomorrow, is this [insert activity or online usage here] what I want to have done with my time?”
Eventually that question becomes internalized and you’ll find yourself thinking of everything in terms of time. Sure, there are things we all have to do that suck and steal our time. Jobs, chores, dealing with life’s issues and problems. That’s life. But why compound the waste with mindless technology usage? Your free time is precious. Use it wisely.
(Image by Lars_Nissen_Photoart)