This post is inspired by a post on the Human Tech community forum titled, how I went offline (mostly).
In the post, the person offers four stages to going internet-free in most areas of our lives, and the first stage they propose is to “establish a place for the internet.”
Simply put, set boundaries between yourself and the online world.
Although I have come to the realization that digital tools aren’t the problem, it’s still important to establish routines and structures that help us avoid compulsively reaching for our devices, mindless browsing the internet, and engaging in online activities that bring minimal value to our life.
Setting boundaries can help us use these tools for their practical purposes, and not for escapism or to avoid real life.
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Despite my best, and almost obsessive, efforts to curate my phone and internet use for practical purposes, I still find myself engaging with technology in ways that are more detrimental than useful to my life.
It remains a continuous and constant effort to stay mindful and intentional about the way we interact with the digital world, and setting boundaries is critical.
The boundaries we put in place can help us replace the automatic habit of mindless browsing with better habits.
These boundaries can be physical, emotional/mental, or otherwise.
Physical boundaries can include assigning a physical space to put your devices at home or work to avoid mindlessly and compulsively reaching out for your phone. Another idea is to leave your phone at home, at least when you’re leave for only a very short period of time, like while walking the dog.
Ivana from Consciously Digital Meetup Toronto Chapter often mentions that even knowing your phone is reachable can be distracting because it tugs at your attention to reach for it in case there is something important to look at. By removing the devices from your reach, you can create boundaries that are important to cultivate healthy technology use.
Learning about the attention economy has been critical in creating the mental space that motivates me to be mindful and intentional about my technology use. It has helped me create emotional distance from websites that are addictive, such as deleting social media.
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However, I have found using apps to set boundaries with technology to be the most effective method.
I personally don’t fair well when it comes to using pure self-control, willpower, and other extraordinary human capabilities to develop a healthy relationship with technology.
If I like it, I binge on it. It’s that simple. #knowthyself
Recently, I have gone back to using the SelfControl app on my laptop, and have also uninstalled browsing apps on my phone for the digital declutter challenge for the month of July.
The SelfControl app is a no-nonsense approach to blocking distracting websites. What I really like about this app is that once you set it for a specified time period, there is no way of getting around to it besides patiently waiting for the timer to go off.
I only need enough willpower to hit start after setting it for a time period, and I’m compulsive enough to make rash decisions like set it for a 24-hour period.
It’s done wonders for my productivity and just doing other things beside reading online forums (my digital vice). For the first time ever, I was able to post on my blog four days in a row, and felt good to get notifications from WordPress congratulating me for my efforts.
It always blows my mind how insanely boring the internet can be when you remove the websites that are highly addictive. As a result, it is easier to refocus your attention and energy towards other boring, but at least useful, activities like reading, studying, working, practising a craft, and so forth.
In addition, removing browsing apps from my phone has been a game changer!
Again, my phone is insanely boring now. Since removing Safari, I’ve been increasingly reaching for my digital library app, the most entertaining app on my phone at the moment, and reading more.
If Safari is available, I know I will go on online forums despite my best efforts. It’s just so tempting, so good, so entertaining that it is almost impossible to stop myself from gorging on funny memes, interesting debates, and hilarious videos.
These boundaries have made it much easier to avoid wasting time online, and instead do more of the things I value.
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Of course, distractions aren’t inherently bad. Entertainment is good for us. Memes are one of the best things that came out of civilization.
Personally, I have found these boundaries to be important to enjoy the entertainment aspect of the internet. When the timer on SelfControl is up, and I can access my online vices, I enjoy them a whole lot more. There’s no guilty consciousness pestering me about what I need to be doing instead.
I use technology as a tool for entertainment, rather than escapism.
But, when these technologies prey on our weaknesses to keep us glued to our devices, especially while we let other important responsibilities fall apart, then we should rethink our attachment to the digital world.
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Is it possible to create boundaries, in any capacity, to use technology as a tool and not a distraction machine?
If you didn’t have instant and constant access to social media feeds, online forums, memes, YouTube videos, Netflix series on your phone, what would you do instead? What would you use your phone for? What would you use the internet for?
Until next time… 🙂