Have you ever found yourself falling down the rabbit hole of the Internet? Perhaps you sat down to watch your favorite television program, only to realize four hours later that your eyes had been glued to your phone the entire time. Maybe you thought you were going to go to bed early, but wanted to quickly check social media first. Awhile later you finally turned your phone off and went to sleep, only to find that you couldn’t because your mind was restless. Or have you been in a situation where you go out to dinner with a group of friends only to become aware halfway through the meal that everyone, including yourself, hasn’t done much but stare at their phones the entire evening. I know I have found myself in these scenarios many a time. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that when these things happen, I am overcome with a terrible feeling afterwards. As a matter of fact, there is an explanation for both the behavior and the feelings afterward. I thought last week was going to be the last post on phrases that begin with the term “digital” but, alas, I am back again to write on the topic of digital mindfulness.
In order to get a clear definition for what digital mindfulness is, we first need to break it down. According to this website dedicated to digital mindfulness, the definition of mindfulness is, “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment” and mindfulness in digital form entails, “blend[ing] the principles of mindfulness with the ongoing creation of our digitized world to shape how we think about our digitized lives, and improve the quality of our lives within digitized environments.” Essentially, it is the process of becoming aware of how one interacts with the technology around them, and then using that awareness to improve quality of life within one’s technological environment.
So what does digital mindfulness look like in real life? Well, my first paragraph provided some examples of poor digital mindfulness, which one could argue is unfortunately more abundant in today’s society than healthy digital mindfulness. However, I don’t want to only present that case. Let’s spin those examples:
Have you ever found yourself enjoying the world around you without the Internet? Perhaps you sat down to watch your favorite television program with your best friend, and then spent the entire night re-hashing the season finale face-to-face while consuming inordinate amounts of junk food. Maybe you had a productive day and wanted to go to bed early so you could do it all again tomorrow. You turned your phone off, had sweet dreams, and woke up refreshed. Or have you been in a situation where you go out to dinner with a group of friends only to realize that you all laughed the night away?
Each of these new scenarios would display healthy digital mindfulness, but I’m afraid I am being slightly misleading. Digital mindfulness can and does include not interacting with the Internet at all, but even more so it refers to a balance. One should be aware of their Internet usage, and use that awareness to their advantage. For instance, it is completely okay to surf the web sometimes. If you have a few free moments, by all means hop on AskReddit and scroll for awhile. However, if you are in the presence of people who are important to you, don’t try to multi-task. Put the phone down and show them your full attention. In this TED Talk a man quit the Internet for a year, and he said the most powerful lesson he learned from it was about living in the moment. When he no longer had technology to distract him, his sister told him he had finally become emotionally available, and that stuck with him. Make yourself available to others… they might not be there tomorrow, so your smartphone and laptop can wait.
Personally, as aforementioned, I struggle immensely with digital mindfulness. I spent last weekend at my grandparents’ house, and I realized my second night there that I had spent the entire evening “watching television” which translates to empty scrolling on my phone. I was so angry with myself; the time I spend with them is precious, why was I wasting it on something dumb like Instagram? I’d like to say that was a big turning point, and it was, but change from it has been coming in baby steps. This week I’ve tried to spend less time glued to my smartphone. Sometimes I succeeded, and more often I failed. Becoming digitally mindful is a learning process, just like anything else. It is a challenge, considering how dependent we as a race have become on technology that is for sure, but it is so necessary. I don’t want to cut myself off from the Internet, but I don’t want to waste my life with it either.
I will leave you with this question: what does your digital mindfulness look like? If you can say that you have a casual relationship with the Internet, kudos to you. If you are more like me and need some distance with the Internet, take heart in knowing you are not alone. Technology is wonderful, yet tricky thing. The way I see it, God gave us this beautiful world and much, much later He gave us technology. We should enjoy both, but very much in that order.