Over the last couple weeks I’ve been writing this “Overwhelmed” series as I’ve thought about the connections between technology and stress, and reading through William Powers’ book “Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building A Good Life in the Digital Age”. As I look back on the series, I continue to explore ways that I can live more meaningfully and peacefully on and offline.
These are some of the areas that Powers covered in his book, and thoughts on how they can be used in our lives. He stressed that what he proposes are just suggestions not prescriptions, and challenges each of us to imagine ways we can be more intentional in our online time, and live our offline lives more fully.
One of the simplest ways (in theory) to detach from technology is to set it down and walk away…but this can be very hard to do in practice. I feel that we’re all becoming very conscious of just how many screens we’re exposed to everyday, and how often we view events now through a screen/lens, our own or someone else’s. In particular, whenever I’m at a concert I feel hyper-aware of all the phones held up, how many people are seeing the celebration before them through the minuscule eye of a recording device…we’re so wrapped up with recording, saving, processing, sharing, declaring “I was here!”, that we may miss what is right before us. I hope that as we learn how to live with our new technologies, we will in time learn to put our devices back in our pockets, and allow ourselves to again be, live to, just in the moment. Our mind, our attention, in the same place at the same time as our bodies.
In the post “Driven to Digital Distraction”, I explored Powers’ observations about old vs. new technologies. One way to be purposeful in our utilization of technology is embracing elements that are offline, including carrying a notepad and pen with us when we want to write, or a camera on an evening stroll instead of a phone that can take pictures. It can often be extremely handy to have an all-in-one device in our pocket, but it also stimulates the mental itch to check e-mail, texts, social media etc. in a time that could be better spent on inner reflection and relaxation. I find it very difficult to put my phone down, but as I’ve worked on this series I’ve tried to make time “off the leash”, free from digital distractions. It has been strangely liberating, and has made me realize just how much my dependence on/obsession with screens has changed my perception, without my even realizing it. It has also been liberating to realize that adapting to new technologies has always been a struggle for humanity, and gives me hope that as our digital life matures, we will find ways to find balance just as our predecessors have.
In the post “Ben’s Example”, I shared Powers’ exploration of the life of Benjamin Franklin, and a method he developed at the age of 20 that he believed helped him become the astounding politician, philosopher and inventor we recognize today. Though it is simple to think “today I’ll put away my phone and go for a walk”, we may find halfway through our stroll that it has still found its way into our pocket. Franklin stressed that we must find the root causes of our compulsions, and work at understanding ourselves to find ways to slowly change for the better. It isn’t an easy road, he warned, but he believed so strongly in his method that he touted “follow the Example & reap the Benefit”. The catch may be, we may need to put down technology and find a time of contemplation, to find ways for us to walk away from our gadgets.
Zones of Solitude
In the post “Home of Refuge”, I shared Powers’ thoughts on philosopher Henry David Thoreau, and his personal experiment of creating a “zone of solitude”, a home in the woods, away from the hectic bustle of town. His thoughts on what constitutes home, and the need for barriers against the pressing chaos of the outside world, can be instructive to us today as we imagine ways to disconnect today. The struggles Thoreau faced are all the more pressing today, as, instead of being connected by telegraph, the walls of in vs. out may almost entirely vanish in a digitally connected home, constantly offering diversions and distractions from all over the world. Today, we may want to create zones in our homes where we intentionally keep screens out (many families work to reduce or remove entirely screen use in bedrooms), or have “screen free” times, which can be hard depending on shifting needs of different family members. Though strictly enforced screen off times may not be welcomed, if time away from devices can be encouraged, it may become a welcome practice in time. The hard part is slowly developing these practices, something I am definitely still working on!
One of our favourite ways of spending time with others is over board games (Settlers of Catan and Power Grid are our new favourites). With the distance often between us, it can be fun to play games like Scrabble online with friends and chat as we play, but there’s nothing like meeting together in a home, sharing food and conversation as we play. For the past few months, we’ve tried to make a Wednesday night games night a ritual with a group of friends. It can be difficult to find the time, and not everyone can always make it, and sometimes the day is shifted in the week to better accommodate everyone.
It takes effort to slice out the time from hectic lives, but we’ve found it extremely worthwhile! Is there a group of people you haven’t seen in a long time? A favourite activity away from devices you haven’t done lately? A social night away from screens might be a great way to bring some calm and fun to the week.
I hope that you’ve found this series interesting! It has been both fun and challenging to write, as it has been on a subject I find fascinating, but has also made me face many of the things bringing me stress, some without me even realizing it. With screens and distractions so readily available, it can be hard to switch off, both externally and internally. This process has helped me contemplate just how much time I spend online, and how little of it is of value…I find I have come to almost continually slide from one window to another, unfocused and retaining little. My goal from this writing and reading isn’t so much to spend less time online, but to regain focus and understanding of what I do take in. As I consider my digital practices, I hope to continue to refine how I connect, and disconnect. I also hope to continue to find ways to live a more intentional life online, and a more meaningful life offline, and that this series has helped point to ways others can too.
From here I’ll return to previous posts on community, about small communities as well as ways we can all connect over common causes and interests across communities. I’ll also be in Kitchener next week at a conference on community and neighbourhoods hosted by the Tamarack Institute, I’m very excited to participate, and share everything I learn there, here.
Next post: Sharing Community