Cultivating high-quality alternatives to digital distractions

From a recent nature walk – Oshawa, Ontario

Once upon a time, a high school student tells a group of peers and adults that she has deleted all her social media accounts for an unspecified period of time.

The reason? She’s spending too much time on social media and comparing herself to her peers online.

Everyone nods in agreement, relating to the reasons she listed for her decision.

‘What do you do instead?!’ one peer asks, ludicrously.

We all laugh.

Another time, I’m hanging out with my niece and nephew. I’m also doing laundry.

They ask me persistently, “are we going back to the laundry room? are we going back to the laundry room?” The whole time, they don’t take their eyes off the game they’re playing on their devices.

Uninterrupted, they spend hours online playing games. Especially, if the alternative sucks. Doing nothing is torture. Why do nothing if they can easily pick up their iPads and find unlimited entertainment?

Yet, when the opportunity presents itself, they abandon their games for the adventure of taking the elevator two floors up to the laundry room for all but two minutes. Such mundane activity is entertaining enough that they would momentarily pause their game for it.

It helps that I’m their favourite aunty.

We, adults, are a bit different.

For one thing, we are not as easily entertained. Going to the laundromat is not an adventure, it’s a chore.

As adults, most of the things we do on a daily basis are chores and responsibilities. This undermines our motivation or desire to cultivate high-quality leisure in our day-to-day life.

Planning leisure feels like another responsibility, another to do item on our long lists of to-do items.

So, we turn to readily available, and often mindless, entertainment to relax and unwind from a long day of adulting.

We outsource our leisure life to the media, corporates and now the Internet. We binge-watch Netflix, mindlessly scroll through our home feeds, and constantly switch between apps for relaxation.

We have settled for low-effort entertainment available at the tap of a screen.

For those of us looking to minimize our digital dependancy, it can be frustrating to find ourselves constantly going back to the digital world for entertainment.

After a long day, especially those long and challenging days, all I want to do is go online and consume information that doesn’t require me to exert energy, physical or otherwise. I have tried many things to combat this issue, but without alternative options, I end up going back to my tried-and-true digital distractions.

I can hide my phone.

Put an app to block time-wasting websites on my laptop.

I can even leave my devices behind completely.

Then, what?

I can trick myself for a day or even a few weeks, but the self-imposed, will-power powered resistance gets too exhausting.

There is so much will-power one can exert to not turn to the digital world for entertainment, especially when the alternative is uncomfortable boredom.

It wasn’t until I read Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism, specifically the section on creating a well-developed leisure life, I realized the issue wasn’t my digital addiction as much as it was the lack of high-quality alternatives to my digital addiction.

I’m bored.

I want entertainment.

Oh, look, funny memes!

Since that realization, I have been consciously working on reclaiming my leisure life.

For me, developing high-quality leisure means cultivating offline activities that I find enjoyable, that I look forward to, and that I don’t need to force myself to get off the Internet for.

What we consider leisure is going to be wildly different for everyone. Some questions to help you determine:

  • What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
  • What activities do you find relaxing?
  • How would you like to spend your free time?
  • What brings excitement into your life?
  • If digital distractions didn’t exist, what would you be doing instead?

Answering those questions can help you actively and consciously cultivate a leisure life that doesn’t depend on low-effort digital distractions for entertainment and to pass the time.

It is also important to note that reclaiming leisure is an ongoing process.

For one, the attention economy is constantly vying for our attention with enticing digital distractions. Secondly, as you evolve and your interests change, some of your leisure activities can become no longer interesting. You must continuously tweak and adapt to these changes and challenges, and remain diligent with reclaiming your free time.

The important thing to remember is that it is a worthwhile endeavour to dedicate yourself to finding ways to enjoy your free time away from the noise from the online world.

Until next time… 🙂

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